Petrillo's Pizza

Originally uploaded by illewminator.
I almost don't want to write about Petrillo's because it's already eternally mobbed that we always have to wait an hour for a table. But since it is probably one of my top ten favorite grub spots in LA, it would be disingenuous of me to omit Petrillo's from grubclub for my own purely selfish reasons.

A family favorite for years, Petrillo's is THE go-to spot for pizza in the San Gabriel Valley -- perhaps in all of LA, even. Even though we grew up in the *other* valley, we would still make the trek to Petrillo's every so often. Nowhere else can you get the Petrillo's Special: a huge, rectangular shaped pie of thick, chewy crust topped with their tangy sauce, and tons of toppings: pepperoni, sausage, mushrooms, green peppers, onions, olives and, for us -- always -- anchovies. The entire thing must weight at least 5 pounds.

Add to this the dense, chewy bread that arrives warm at your table (made with the same dough as used for the pizza crusts, but somehow seems different in loaf form) and a big antipasto salad that had generous toppings of pepperoni, salami, mortadella, chunks of mozzarella cheese, olives, onions, and pepperoncini... what more could you ask for?

Lately, we've taken to calling in our order and picking it up a the take-out window next door. It's less of a risk than having to wait an hour on the sidewalk for a table to open up. Just make sure you have somewhere close to take it to, since you'll want to devour it as soon as you get that Petrillo's scent in your car.

Petrillo's in on the north side of Valley, just east of San Gabriel Blvd.

Luscious Dumplings

luscious dumplings
Originally uploaded by illewminator.
On a tip from "J," an occasional contributor to this blog, I went to Luscious Dumplings in San Gabriel (or is it Rosemead? I can never tell where the boundaries are in the San Gabriel Valley).

This tiny spot is clean and spare in its furnishings -- a good sign that they focus their energies on the food. Taking J's cue, my friend and I ordered 2 orders of the pan fried dumplings and decided to split a noodle soup and veggies.

The dumplings were luscious indeed. They were nicely fried to a golden crisp on one side, imparting a nice crunchy/chewy texture. The pork filling was juicy and tasty -- just right. You could also get them steamed or boiled, which would definitely cut down on the fat, but where's the fun in that???

The veggies were baby bok choy doused in oyster sauce. The noodle soup was rather unmemorable -- I guess that's what we get for ordering soup in a place called "Luscious Dumplings." But, still, it was a good complement to the dumplings to make it more of a meal. We couldn't quite finish all of the dumplings (I think we had about 6 left), so I took them home and had them for breakfast the next day.

If you're a dumpling lover, then you should check this place out. If you're a big eater, then dumplings alone probably won't fill you up enough to make you satisfied. But if you're just looking for a nice lunch or snack, these dumplings will definitely hit the spot.

Luscious Dumplings is located in a mini-mall (that also houses Vietnam House - mm! - and some other place with Shanghainese food that I'm curious to try out) on the SE corner of Mission and Las Tunas.


Flor Morena (Not So) Fine Foods

Originally uploaded by illewminator.
I wanted to like this place... I really did. It's on Rowena Ave. in Silverlake, just before it becomes Glendale Blvd., and I'd pass it almost weekly, watching its s-l-o-w development and wonder what it would be when it finally opened.

And so it finally opened, with a spare, slightly funky decor and colorful painted windows featuring the "Flor Morena Fine Foods" logo. It looked a little like a mini grocery store from the outside, but I think it's just the look of the deli case and the strange bar/case near the front door (I have no idea what that area is for).

The menu is a mixture of mexican and soul food, I think reflecting the ethnic background of the owner. I got the beef tamale with rice and beans, as you can see in the picture. Other friends ordered the BBQ beef brisket sandwich and the meatloaf. I recall also seeing ribs on the menu, and a variety of sides, including creamed spinach, baked beans, cole slaw, potato salad and mac & cheese.

As I said, I was really hoping to like it, as I'm always looking for another local grub spot, but it was really not so great. My tamale was quite unimpressive, rather dry and seemed like it was purchased elsewhere (perhaps frozen) and then reheated and served here. The rice had little bits of hardened grains in it, as if it had been sitting in the pot a few hours too long. And the beans seemed straight out of a can. In short, it was pretty much like what you'd get in a school lunch, but at about 3x the price (I think the tamale place costs about $6 or $7). And it was not even very filling.

My friend reported her beef brisket sandwich to be also unremarkable, except for the fact that it was served to her on burnt toast. The meatloaf was probably the best choice, in that there was really nothing wrong with it. Not that that should qualify it as *good*, mind you, but compared to our entrees, that was a plus.

I had heard the desserts were the best part of eating here, so I was looking forward to sampling the red velvet cake. However, I was informed that they did not have any cake the day I went. They did have banana empanadas, so we got one, as you can see in the top left corner of the photo. It was good, but a little small, and at that point, I had about given up on any hope for this place, anyway.

[It didn't help that their front door seemed to be missing that little arm thing that makes it shut slowly and quietly. We were seated pretty close to the door, so everytime someone came in or went out (which seemed to be every 30 seconds), there'd be a big BANG! and the whole front glass wall would shake as the heavy door slammed shut.]

I understand that this place just opened and they may still be working out some kinks. I really do. But I would still have hoped to see some glimmer of potential in the quality of the food... which I just didn't see.


Phong Dinh

Originally uploaded by illewminator.
Not for vegans, picky eaters or the faint of heart, Phong Dinh is kind of like adventure eating ala that Kitchen Confidential dude on the Food Network. As I discovered on my first outing to this Vietnamese restaurant in Rosemead, I am no Anthony Bourdain.

As the sign on the restaurant proclaims, it's all about the "baked fish" here. However, I didn't quite expect it to be a giant catfish on a platter, blackened and arranged as if it were swimming for its life. Now, I'm no wimp when it comes to eating whole steamed fish, so my issue with this place wasn't the presentation of the fish.

In fact, the fish was quite tasty, as long as you don't dig too deeply into it and strike black gold (i.e. the bitter, blackish stuff that you hit when you get to close to the fish's stomach). The chosen method of eating the fish is carefully separating one (or, in my case, two; every time I tried to pick off just one it would rip and I'd have to ball it up and start all over) of those thinner than paper, rubbery rice paper "tortillas", filling it up with a chunk of fish, along w/ some vermicelli, lettuce, shredded/pickled lettuce and radish, and sprigs of various herbs, then rolling the whole thing up like a little burrito.

No, my problem was with the fish sauce, which I was only able to single out as the offending ingredient toward the end of our meal. Since I had tasted fish sauce before and had no problem with it ever before *and* because we had also ordered a salad that was billed as having shrimp and "lotus stems," I thought something in this dish was causing the highly unpleasant taste in my mouth.

The only thing I could figure is that this fish sauce was the *real thing* where other Vietnamese restaurants I've been to use a watered down, sweeter version designed to please the American palate. Anyway, this stuff was rank and I felt like I was going to gag as soon as it hit my mouth. My dining companions didn't seem to have as strong a reaction to it, though, so you should try it and see for yourself.

As for the rest of the Greenpeace-offending menu goes, be forewarned that this place is also known for featuring exotic game meats. Some of these options include: frog, snake, deer, fox, alligator, and kangaroo. Our waiter encouraged us to come back to try some of these specialties. I've tried kangaroo and alligator before and would probably try the other meats, too, if I had different condiments that didn't involve that nasty fish sauce.

The place was pretty packed with Vietnamese families, all of whom had a gigantic baked catfish among many other dishes whose cousins were probably featured in National Geographic. My guess is that it's pretty authentic Vietnamese cuisine. Maybe too much so for me.

Phong Dinh is on San Gabriel Blvd north of Garvey.


Chichen Itza

Originally uploaded by illewminator.
Chichen Itza (or as I refer to it in my voice of an ignorant American: "Chicken Itza") is one of those little Los Angeles "gems." Located inside the Mercado la Paloma, a nonprofit community economic development project near the USC campus, Chichen Itza is a small stall that churns out quality, authentic Yucatecan food. Well, I'll have to assume it's authentic, having never had the opportunity to have Yucatecan food on any other occasion.

Either way, it's some tasty grub. In the above photo, I had the chicken pibil with black beans, rice and fried plaintains. My dining companion had the bistec milanesa, being a sucker for deep fried meat wherever he dines.

Basically, the mercado is like a food court (FYI: it also has other stalls that sell other types of food, juices, and non-food specialty items) -- you order at the counter, they give you a number on a stick which you put on your table, then they bring your food out to you at your table when it's ready.

Parking is also validated (one-hour w/ purchase). It's located right across the street from the DMV near USC, on or around 37th and Grand, just east of the 110 (in fact, you can see the colorful mural on the wall with "Mercado la Paloma" painted in the sky if you're stuck in traffic heading north on the 110). Go check it out, buy some earrings or a Mexican blouse after lunch, and support the cause.

Joe's Shanghai - NYC

Originally uploaded by illewminator.
If you're ever in New York and you get a hankering for dumplings, go down to Chinatown and check out Joe's Shanghai. It's on a teeny tiny street a block or two south of Canal. It's not a huge place, but not tiny, either. The weekday lunch crowd was fairly light the day we went (lucky for us), but I've heard the place is a zoo on weekends.

These are Shanghai style soup dumplings, also known as "xio long bao." Basically, they're very delicate, bite-sized dumplings that release a bunch of liquid when you bite into them, thus the "soup" moniker.

Here's how you eat them: Before you take a bite, dip your dumpling into a soy sauce mixture with a bit of vinegar and some thin shards of ginger sliced in. Next, place it in your soup spoon, so that all that savory liquid inside doesn't run down your chin and onto your lap. Then, carefully bite into one end to make sure the liquid won't burn your mouth (if you're sure they're already cool enough, then you can pop the entire thing into your mouth).

The ones we ordered had pork & crab filling, the specialty at Joe's. We also got an order of pan fried rice cakes (see below), also a Joe's specialty, as we were assured by the friendly Chinese people seated next to us, and scallion pancakes.


Compared to Din Tai Fung (the "world famous" Shanghai style dumpling house in Arcadia), these dumplings blow those away. These are not only bigger and juicier, they also seemed to have much more flavor.

I'll post the address below when I find the card. But I know there are a few Joe's locations -- they've expanded based on the success of their original Chinatown location.

Price: quite reasonable. Lunch for 2: around $20.

Address: 9 Pell St, NY, NY 10013 (Chinatown location -- 2 other locations in Midtown and Flushing).