The "Good in the Hood" Food Marathon
Saturday's food marathon was one of the longest in distance (over 100 miles) and time (five hours). A lot of research went into it, with 14 possible locations analyzed and mapped. The theme was "south of LAX," although we might have broken that rule a little.
First I want to talk about south central LA. It's an area that has gotten a bad rap (pun intended) from mainstream media. Images of the 1992 riots always come to mind. Reginald Denny getting beaten at the corner of Florence and Normandie. Boyz in the Hood and Menace II Society. Lyrics from rap songs "The sun went
down when I hit Slauson, On my way to the strip, now I’m just flossin" (Dr. Dre/"Let Me Ride"), "How to survive in south central... a place where bustin' a cap is fundamental" (Ice Cube ), "C-O-M-P-T-O-N, and the city they call Long Beach" (Snoop Dogg/"Nuthin' but a G Thang") even Skee-Lo/"I Wish" "You know I take the 110 to the 105, get off on Crenshaw tell my homies look alive." The cumulative result leads to a belief that south central LA is a battleground, a live version of Grand Theft Auto, where you'll most likely get murdered and at best robbed. Obviously this isn't the case. The sheer size of south central means there's a range of socio-economic backgrounds and races. Many parts look like Van Nuys or Torrance or any city USA, complete with Starbucks, McDonalds and Home Depots. There's obviously some bad pockets, but for the most part south central is just another part of the vast Los Angeles metropolis with excellent food.
As we headed south past LAX a 747 sat on the runway overpass.Our first marathon stop was a Jonathan Gold recommendation, Bruddah's in Gardena. A simple long storefront with three rows of tables leading towards a "specials board" that included short rib stew, poke and lau lau. We chose the Hawaiian french toast (thick slices of Hawaiian sweet bread), Beef Kalbi (marinated for days and grilled over an open flame), Portuguese sausage patties (a special) and macaroni salad (short segments of spaghetti and a sesame-inflected dressing, dyed a deep yellow with pureed egg yolks). The large portion of beef teriyaki was as tender and sweet as described. Unfortunately the sausages were dry and bland, but the macaroni was simple and effective. The french toast was the highlight- light, airy and delicious. We felt good walking out onto the quaint Gardena street, not having eaten too much at our first stop.
Stop two, Spoon House, was very close by and another Gold recommendation. Although it was described as a Japanese Italian spaghetti joint, we didn't quite understand the extent. The restaurant literally was a sushi bar and the bar itself remains. Japanese patrons, waitresses and ingredients (sea urchin, squid) round out the Japanese portion of the restaurant. The Latin American cooks stand where the sushi chef once did, but at Spoon House they cook spaghetti.
Not only that, they have a unique cooking system where the dry pasta is precisely weighed before being tossed into a metal "Al Dente System" which cooks it. We stayed simple with an order of spaghetti with eggs and bacon in a meat sauce. The sauce reminded me of my grandma's, very sweet as most of her cooking was. The pasta was cooked to perfection and we happily left knowing we wouldn't have a similar meal any time soon.
This is where the marathon took a turn, literally. We checked Jay Bees House of Fine BBQ in Gardena and joked about ordering one rib. We opted against it as we had more faith in our other BBQ options. Renu Nakorn has been on my list of Thai restaurants for a while so we drove east. On our long drive we witnessed a car accident, air bags deployed, children screaming- this should have been a sign. Despite being told the new address during the marathon planning phase (I forgot that it was destroyed in a fire) I hadn't properly noted it and we ended up at the former location, an empty lot. I called and got a message that they would reopen in December. On to contingency plan 1, Golden Dome Falafel.
Driving though lovely Norwalk, Bellflower and Cerritos we passed the CIF-SS Track and Field Championships at Cerritos College , what looked to be the premiere event of the region. Again bad planning as we arrived to find the restaurant that used to be Golden Dome was now Taco Nazo. The hour-long diversion left us hungry and depressed so we turned back to Crenshaw where we knew BBQ would save us.
On the way to Woody's BBQ we drove past a local's recommendation Taco Mama- or at least where Taco Mama was supposed to be. There was a Taco Mexicano at the location, but it looked decrepit so we passed. Woody's was officially stop number three, as we hadn't eaten at the three earlier mis-stops. In a strip mall on Slauson (with a crackhead outside) stands a small take-out shop billowing pungent smoke through the parking lot. Said crackhead tries to order just one rib and gets an earful from the woman behind the counter, "Damn it, you can't order just one rib! You either pay the $8 for a half slab or get outta here. And none of my customers are gonna buy you anything either!" We order a half slab of pork ribs with mixed sauce (as per Philips BBQ: "We have mild, mixed, or hot sauce. We do not know what medium is so don't order it.") We threw the ribs in the back seat and continued on to Inglewood to get some tacos. We figured there'd be seating at stop four, Taqueria Morelia.We passed The Forum before reaching Morelia, a Taco Hunt recommendation, which is just a small grocery store with a grill set up in front.
Buckets of sauces line a folding table, and a man and woman flip chickens on the grill. We each ordered a carne asada taco and would split a carnitas burrito.
We sat at the lone table, unwrapped the ribs and dug in. The sauce was spicy and sweet, coating the ribs and our hands. The meaty pork ribs were tender and numerous. Our tacos were ready and we doused them with sauce before downing them in a few bites. The tortillas were fresh and the steak was flavorfully packed with salt and herbs. The burrito was large, packed with rice, onions, pork, cheese. I added their spicy guacamole as well. Between the ribs and burrito we easily used all our napkins.
The final stop on the marathon is a landmark in Los Angeles. Known more for its state of the art design and geographical location, Randy's Donuts is almost as famous as the Hollywood sign. There are drive-thru and pick-up windows offering a simple list of donuts and coffee. Like Dunkin Donuts coffee is where donut shops make all their money.
We had an old fashioned glazed which wasn't good and a coconut with glaze filling which was phenomenal.Despite the eastbound detour, the marathon was a total success breaking the record of total mileage and introducing us to many new restaurants in LA. Bruddahs
1033 W Gardena Blvd, Gardena
1601 W. Redondo Beach Boulevard. Gardena, CA 90247 (310) 538-0376
Jay Bee's House of Fine Bar-B-Que
15915 S Avalon Blvd, Gardena, CA 90248-2504 Phone: (310) 532-1064
Cross Street: Alondra Boulevard
13041 Rosecrans Ave Norwalk, CA 90650 (562) 921-2124
Taco Nazo (fka Golden Dome Falafel Restaurant)
10316 Alondra Blvd, Bellflower, 562-925-6013
Taco Mama/Taco Mexicano
Corner of Vernon and Hooper
Tienda Latina Carniceria/Taqueria Morelia
10333 S Inglewood Ave, Inglewood 90304, at Lennox
3446 W Slauson Ave Los Angeles, CA 90043
805 West Manchester Avenue, Inglewood CA 90301, 310.645.4707
The next marathon will include papusas, dumplings, burgers and pie. Stay tuned...