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When I was walking back from lunch on Saturday, another storefront caught my eye.  The exposed Edison bulb chandeliers and dark wood surfaces made me think this was going to be a hip coffee place on the rejuvenated Main street in Alhambra, but it was actually Honey Badger — yes, the same Honey Badger as the popular coffee, tea, and study spot just a few blocks down on the same street.

Honey Badger Restaurant, unlike Honey Badger Cafe, has more of a focus on food. Their specialty is their house-made noodles, and you know how much I like noodles. So much that I returned to the same area for dinner just so I could try out the restaurant, even though it was in their soft-opening* phase.

From the limited menu, Will and I ordered the Honey Badger wings, roulette peppers, garlic noodles, and eggplant noodles.

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The roulette peppers are fried shishito peppers tossed with a savory, slightly tangy sauce. None of the ones I had were all that spicy.

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The Honey Badger wings was my favorite dish of the night. The sauce was garlicky, salty, with a slight tang that made it hard to resist licking my fingers after the wings were done.

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The man who took our ordered recommended the garlic noodles only if we were garlic lovers, and boy, was right about that. The bouncy, chewy noodles were doused in a lot of garlic.  So much so that it was almost too garlicky for me, and I do love a bit of garlic.

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The eggplant noodles were a little more muted in comparison. I liked the slightly sweet taste of the eggplant noodles. While the noodles were of a great texture, even slightly stretchy, the slight sauce on the noodles made them a bit too sticky for me.

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To drink with our meal, Will ordered an iced chrysanthemum herbal tea, light on the sugar.  It was shaken with crushed ice and was a wonderful refreshing drink to have with the meal.  I went with the classic almond milk tea (also light on sugar) and it definitely hit the spot.  If the mug looks large in the picture, it’s because it is very large.

It’s nice to have a new, different spot to dine at in the neighborhood and I’m curious to see what their more established menu will bring.

Honey Badger Restaurant
555 W Main St
Alhambra, CA 91801
(free parking in a lot right next to the restaurant)

 

* Here’s my gripe about soft openings:  I understand that they’re useful for restaurants that want to try out their menu and staff, or still have a few kinks to iron out, but if that were the case, then the restaurant shouldn’t be charging full price.   If you want diners to help you test out your restaurant, then give them a discount, or make it free.  If that’s not financially feasible, then open it to only friends and family at a discount.  It seems like restaurants use the ‘soft opening’ term so that people are less critical about their dishes. I think it’s only fair that if a restaurant is charging full price, then it should be critiqued under the same standards as fully-opened restaurants.  It’s not a criticism of Honey Badger specifically — just restaurants who hide under the ‘soft opening’ term.

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taco party

When we were thinking of what food to serve at Robin’s 1st birthday party, we primary wanted things that 1.) tasted good, 2.) was low effort, and 3.) most people would like.  After shooting around some options and finding pros and cons of each, I suddenly thought of Colonia Taco Lounge. Will and I already loved their food, but the question was whether or not their stuff would travel well and whether or not they would do party trays.

The answer is yes and yes.

Some taco fillings at Colonia are better suited to making the trip in a party tray from the restaurant to the park than others.  Luckily, the folks at Colonia took the stress out of deciding which fillings traveled better than others by giving us a suggested list of things to pick from. We chose the tesmole (chicken and mole), pork & pumpkin, huitlacoche, chayote, and a tray of guacamole and chips. The trays also included their delicious house-made tortilla. The total turned out to be $200 not including tip.

We were told that each tray would feed 15-20 people, so we expected four trays (plus a tray of guacamole) to feed at least 60 people. Well, their food was so good that the two meat trays were gone in a short amount of time and the vegetarian trays (huitlacoche and chayote) were also very popular.

I was happy with our decision to get the party trays from Colonia because it meant we didn’t have the stress of cooking or making food for our guests at the party, and we got to eat delicious food.  The restaurant also went out of their way to accommodate us by having a person at the restaurant on a day when they were closed (Labor day) so that we could pick up the food. A-plus!

I would have taken a picture of the food, but I was too busy eating and by the time I was done, there was not much to take pictures of.

Colonia Taco Lounge
13030 Valley Blvd
La Puente, CA 91746

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Are you sick of the word ‘artisanal’ yet? Because I am. I should have known Modan Artisanal Ramen was going to be disappointing.

An average bowl of ramen at an above average price. But I did get to sit next to one of my fav chefs who was also eating there, so worth it! #modanartisinalramen

I was excited when I read about a ramen shop opening in South Pasadena, which is just a stone’s throw away from me. We already have Benten ramen, which works in a pinch if you don’t want to drive all the way to Sawtelle for Tsujita, but it’s always good to have other choices in the neighborhood. What really got me excited was that their menu said the veggie ramen was vegan!

Alas, it was not so.

When Will and I got to the restaurant a few nights later for dinner, the menu had the word ‘vegan’ crossed out. The noodles have egg in them, so the veggie ramen was just vegetarian, not vegan. For what it’s worth, the broth was decent and the agedashi tofu was a nice addition.

I was put off by the addition of truffle oil in Modan’s signature bowl of ramen, and I wasn’t in the mood for spicy, so I just went with the shoyu ramen. Apparently, I chose poorly. The broth was okay, but lacked a certain something that made it a good ramen broth. Whether it was richness or depth, the shoyu broth just didn’t taste like ramen broth. Maybe I should have just gone with the tonkatsu broth of the signature bowl, but if they’re not going to make a good shoyu ramen, why have it on the menu at all?

The noodles were nothing to write home about either, which just makes me angry. If noodles aren’t going to be vegan, then they’d better be good enough to warrant that!

The chashu also was a surprise to me. Instead of the slices of buttery soft pork I expected, I had two large slices of dry, slightly tough, grilled pork. It wasn’t tough enough that I didn’t give Robin some pieces, and I guess it was in her interest that the pork wasn’t more delicious because I would have eaten more of it myself.

Overall, Modan wasn’t good enough for me to go out of my way to return to, especially when Benten is slightly better tasting and a better value. I don’t mind paying more for ramen that’s exceptional, but in this case, it wasn’t.

Modan Artisanal Ramen
700 Fair Oaks Ave
Ste G
South Pasadena, CA 91030

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In and out. 4 hand roll special. I devoured the 4th: blue crab, before snapping a pic.

Whenever I’m in San Francisco for work, the pre-lunch conversation usually goes like this:

Me: “Where to go for lunch?”

Colleague: “How about we go to blah-blah?”

Me: “What’s that?”

Colleague: “It’s Chipotle for Korean/Vietnamese/Thai/Japanese/Indian food.”

The fast-casual, assembled to order, fresh ingredient restaurant has been popular in San Francisco and I usually lament that there aren’t more of those in LA.  Well, now there’s a Chipotle for sushi right in downtown LA called Kazunori.

Unlike its SF variants, this one has a limited menu and mainly serves handrolls.  While there are sushi purists who lament this Chipotlezation of the sacred Japanese art of combining fish and rice, I embrace it.  There are times where I want sushi but I don’t want to commit to 2 hour lunch, but I also don’t want to ride the danger zone of pre-made rolls at the supermarket deli.

KazuNori is a tiny restaurant tucked next to a downtown parking structure.  The U-shaped bar has a bunch of stools pulled up to it and you’re greeted by a simple menu that can be checked off, dim sum style, upon entering.  The menu is limited to 3, 4, or 5 hand rolls or a la carte, or cut rolls for takeout.  I sat down at the nearest open spot and checked the 4 handroll option with the daily special (toro), salmon, bay scallop, and crab.

For its second week of opening, the KazuNori handroll machine is efficient.  The sushi chef handed me a roll about a minute after I turned in my menu and as I finished rolls, the next one would be made and handed to me just as quickly.

I can talk about the fish, which was of decent quality, but the stars of the handroll are the nori and rice.  The rice was served warm, bordering on hot, and seasoned assertively. Although you have dishes to pour soy sauce in, the soy sauce was unnecessary. Each bite was perfectly salted thanks to the seasoned rice.

Then, there’s the nori.  The half-life of toasted nori is a short one. The distance from the sushi chef’s hand to your mouth should be as short as possible to maximize on optimum nori time.  At KazuNori, the distance is short enough that the nori enters your mouth still toasted enough to flake off, almost like a good croissant.  The optimum toastedness of the nori makes it hard not to scarf down each handroll as it is presented in front of you.

Of the rolls I had, the bay scallop and crab roll stood out. The bay scallop had a mayonnaise-based sauce, which usually isn’t my thing, but in this case, highlighted the velvety texture of the scallops.  The tiny amount of fish roe mixed in gave it a nice textural contrast. The ubiquitous crab roll was lighter on the mayonnaise if there was any at all, and the sweet taste of the crab meat was a perfect meal-ender.  Who needs dessert when you can finish with the crab roll?

KazuNori is located at strategic spot in downtown LA.  Because a meal there is fast, it’s perfect for someone working downtown.  The price is decent, not counting the $5 to park in the lot next door.  While the craftsmanship and quality may not be as good as the 3-handroll special at Kiriko, I do like that the chef waits for you to finish each roll before making the next.  Once they get their beer license in order, I am sure its 11pm closing time will make it a popular spot for the late-night dinner crowd.

KazuNori Sushi
421 S. Main Street
Los Angeles, CA 90013

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Well, I finally made it down to Maruhide Uni Club.  When I first read about this uni-lover’s heaven, I really wanted to go, but it was just so far south that it didn’t seem worth it.  I’m here to tell you it is worth it.  I had the uni ikura salmon don and it was every bit as good as I had hoped.

Yes! Uni explosion in my mouth.

The uni was fresh, rich, salty, and tasted like the sea. I like that the restaurant provides different types of uni, which made it easier to compare tastes.  Some bites were fresh and sweet, while others had a more savory, salty note.  What surprised me was that the salmon in the bowl was also decent.  The three generous pieces had that wonderful oily, salmon texture and the perfect amount of salt.

Instead of the usual tamagoyaki, the bowl also included slices of uni tamagoyaki, which had the briny sea urchin layered within the rolled omelette.  It was the first time I had it and now I’m wondering where it’s been all my life.

The included bowl of uni soup was an enjoyable departure from the usual miso soup.  Its light, delicate taste was a foil to the unctuousness of the rest of my meal.

At $19 for this amount of uni, salmon, and salmon roe, it was a steal.

One caveat: the menu is fairly limited, which is great because then people can focus on just eating uni.  I was looking for edamame or an avocado maki for Robin and they didn’t have either. Lucky baby had to eat uni omelette, ikura, and rice for lunch.

Maruhide Uni Club
2130 W Redondo Beach Blvd
Torrance, CA 90504

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I don’t usually think of Spanish food as vegetarian friendly, but when I inquired about the menu at Contigo, the woman who picked up the phone said it would be no problem for not only a vegetarian, but even a vegan. And no advance notice was necessary! With that type of attitude, I couldn’t not go to Contigo with Will.

The restaurant sits in the middle of Noe Valley, flanked by expensive childrens’ apparel stores and expensive pet apparel stores. The space itself is scarcely big enough to contain a large wood-burning oven, the open kitchen, a bar, a few seats, and an outside patio.  Thankfully, the outside patio had heaters and was some-what enclosed, which made our dining experience a lot nicer.

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I started off with a piece of toast with house-cured sardine and a nice bite of olives and anchovies. It was the perfect thing to get me in the mood for the food to come.

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Will had the avocado and pea toast topped with fresh porcini.  The avocado and pea mixture was good enough already, but the porcini sent it over the top.  Can I just sit outside and eat a plateful of that with a glass of Txakoli, please?

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The white gazpacho was similarly great.  It really surprised me because I’m usually lukewarm about gazpacho. This one was creamy, savory, and had those great tart cherries as garnish.

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Next, Will had the chickpeas and spinach, which looked almost like an Indian dish.  They were pretty good and nicely spiced.

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I had the chorizo, chickpeas, and tripe, which is a fairly common Spanish dish.  It was my favorite thing of the night. The tripe was wonderfully tender and the amount of paprika from the chorizo was perfect.  The dish had that wonderful stick-to-your-ribs satisfying taste that only things that are slow cooked for a long time seem to have.

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We also had the patatas bravas which we knew we couldn’t pass up as soon as we saw it on the menu. These were probably the best version of the dish I had ever had. The potatoes were shatteringly crispy on the outside, hot and fluffy on the inside. And the sauces! Wow.  I’m drooling just thinking back to that dish.

Is Contigo worth the bus ride into Noe Valley? Yes.  Would I return again? Yes.  Am I sad that there’s nothing like that near me? Yes, but my wallet is happy.

Contigo
1320 Castro Street (at 24th)
San Francisco, CA 94114
415.285.0250

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The Good

The LA Weekly comped my 2 tickets in hopes that I would write about it. Which I am doing right now.

One of the first tacos I had this Saturday was the bacalao/octopus/seafood salad taco from La Guerrerense of Ensanada. It was so good that I went back to get a second helping. It was so good that both times, I devoured it before taking a picture it. The only bad thing is that I’d have to go to Mexico or wait till next year to try their taco again.

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Eggslut’s pork and quail egg taco was perfect:  Crispy, flavorful pork underneath a perfectly fried quail egg and a pile of thin-sliced pickles and herbs. I don’t know what that puree under the pork was, but it was tasty.  Like their GCM location, the Eggslut tent also had a long, winding line in front of it.  I hope this taco makes an appearance on the GCM menu soon.

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The surprise of the day was that there was a vegetarian taco stand that was super nice about leaving off the dairy to make a vegan taco. The second surprise was that their taco was really good. Taco Maria’s mushroom chorizo taco with house-made chips on top were so good I almost thought Will got a meat taco by mistake.  The best part was that because their taco was vegetarian, there wasn’t that much of a line for it, so it was easy to get seconds.  People who avoided that tent because it was vegetarian missed out, but more tacos for us!

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Thanks to a tip from a friend, I got in line for a smelt taco from Corazón y Miel. It was artfully plated and tasted as good as it looked. The smelt was full of eggs that popped delightfully between my teeth. This was a different take on a fish taco that I enjoyed.

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I had another octopus taco which I believe was from Picca.  It was good, but its flavors were nowhere near as good as the one from La Guerrerense. I thought the flavors of Picca’s was a bit muddied and not as bright as what I would expect from them. What a great problem to have: one tasty octopus taco was not as delicious as another one.

 

The Bad

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I really wanted to like the fish taco at Pez Cantina. They had an impressive array of house-made condiments for the fish taco. But no amount of condiment could disguise an over-cooked piece of fish.  The batter was nice and crispy, but the fish itself was dry, hard, and tasteless.  Maybe I’ve just been spoiled by fish tacos from Taco Baja Ensenada, but this one was just not worth the line.

 

The Ugly

The line to get into the event was pretty slow.  Considering most people had printed tickets or tickets on their phone, I would expect the line to get processed pretty quickly, but that wasn’t the case. But that line was nowhere near as bad as the line for drinks.

Whoever decided that alcohol and bottles of water would be bought at the same measly handful of locations needs to re-think that plan.  Those lines snaked through several food lines, adding to a lot of confusion. If I were one of the people who bought drink tickets with their ticket and I had to stand in a 30-minute line for a $5 crappy beer or sticky sour mix cocktail, I’d be pretty angry.  I didn’t have drink tickets and I’m still angry about that.

From what I hear about the tequila garden, it was similarly disappointing.  I get that the Weekly has to make money off of an event like this, but having big soulless tequila vendors and Spearmint Rhino stands in the festival clashed with the better curated food vendors.

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