At the Shop House

Shop House Kitchen
Where the hell is the Sriracha?

Have you been to Shop House yet? Have you even heard of it? Well, if you’re a fan of Chipotle (i.e. all of the human race), then you’re going to pee. The founder(s) of our favorite environmentally conscious burrito chain have taken their world-dominating dining formula to Southeast Asia. That’s right, Shop House is Chipotle gone stir fry. And when I say Southeast Asia, I mean these people WENT to Southeast Asia, lived there, studied the cuisine, and brought it back to make this restaurant. It totally shows. Stand in the all-too-familiar assembly line and choose every layer of your bowl, from the variety of rice or noodles, to the selection of locally produced meat, to the expertly cooked veggies, to the one of two delicious curry sauces. There are endless combinations, but I usually stick to the salad bowl (made with shredded cabbage) with tofu, broccoli, green beans, green curry, papaya slaw, cilantro, peanuts, and garlic. I’m not gonna lie, it’s kind of the best thing ever. If you’re not a vegetarian you should definitely try the pork and lamb meatballs – phenomenal. And what makes it five stars for me is that it’s more than starving artist friendly. If I get my tofu bowl with just one veggie and bring my own water bottle, I get a hot, spicy, satisfying meal for less than $8. For that price I could do it three times a week and keep it way healthy (aside from the tremendously high salt content).

I frequent the Sunset/Vine location, which is generally pretty quiet, so it’s nice for a date or to treat yourself out to a good meal and some reading/blogging/crying time. I’m also fairly certain this location is a cruising spot since the percentage of clientele that are alarmingly gorgeous lingering gay men seems exceptionally high… but that’s probably not a bad thing… The staff and service are beyond friendly, like, “omg we’re a new restaurant and we REALLY want you to LOVE us so we all snorted uppers” kind of friendly. It’s only mildly unsettling and let’s be honest, I love people who will entertain my banter (see photo above).

In short, Shop House has definitely become my new addiction and with friendly staff, low prices, and seriously good food, I have no doubt it will soon be yours. Next time you think Chipotle, make it Shop House – you won’t be sorry.

Shop House – Southeast Asian Kitchen
6333 Sunset Blvd.
Hollywood, CA 90028
www.shophousekitchen.com

Click HERE to read my review on YELP.

Dinner in Numbers

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It’s been a really long time since I’ve posted largely because its been a really long time since anything has inspired me to write. Leave it to San Francisco to wake me up and remind me the wonders that a beautiful and bustling urban scene can bring.

Here to visit for a concert, I walked to the theatre from where I’m staying and on the way rediscovered why I love San Fancisco so much. Every block, every corner a collection of charming boutiques, cafes, small businesses, all enclosed with the picture windows and fire-escaped facades that make San Fran so…. well, San Fran.

On the same street as the theatre I encountered a myriad of dining choices, most of which were a bit too spendy for the Starving Artist’s humble wallet. On my walk I stumbled into a little scoop shop called Schulzies, which turns out was not an ice cream shop, but a BREAD PUDDING shop filled with incomprehensible combinations of bread pudding served by the scoop. I of course got the maple bacon bread pudding with whiskey sauce. Simply to die for.

As I scoped out options for some *real* dinner food (while eating my bread pudding) I noticed an annoying trend that I thought was just an LA thing. Two fun restaurants that caught my eye and that were actually in my price range were in fact counter service – dining by number as I like to call it. Order your food at the counter, take a number, and everyone is left to fight for a table. And on this night, with a concert crowd, it was indeed a fight. And not one I was particularly in the mood for.

The first place I really want to eat was The Grove, a local establishment blasting comfort food like pot pie and Mac and cheese. The problem? Dining by number. And absolutely mobbed. So on I went to Arlequin, yet more dining by number, but less mobbed and easier to find a nook to myself. I enjoyed a lovely vegetable wrap with sun dried tomato hummus. Mmmm veggies… by number…

I gotta say, I’m a little concerned that all accessible dining is moving in this direction. We’re sacrificing legitimate table service and for what? My wrap was still $10.50. And the staff is doing just as much work for way less tips. It’s true some of my favorite go to restaurants have counter service…. but that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t like a choice every now and then.

More soon dear readers.

Britain in Santa Barbara

Toad in the Hole
Toad in the Hole realness

At least a year ago I was watching Diners Drive-Ins and Dives on Food Network (aka starving artist porn). Guy, in all his frosted California hair ridiculousness, had landed in Santa Barbara at a place called Mac’s Fish and Chip Shop. As you might guess, they serve fish and chips, but not just any fish and chips – real authentic BRITISH fish and chips. How do you know? Because the owner/chef is legit from England, and let me tell you, he knows what he’s doing. Ever since seeing this episode I have wanted to go up there to try it, and the week my parents came was when it finally happened.

Now it’s always an… uncertain thing when one jumps aboard a hype train such as DDD. I mean, of course it’s bound to be good, but can it really live up to the glittering presentation that Food Network gives it? Can it really be THAT good? The answer is an emphatic yes. The restaurant, right on the main drag in Santa Barbara, is actually rather small, just a few tables, and set up like a real seafood sort of joint – counter service, with a flare of 50s chrome and a smattering of British flags. Being there for an early weekday dinner, we pretty much had the place to ourselves. Immediately I was in love with the girl behind the counter with her frizzy red hair and her unflinching cheery responses to a myriad of questions about the food, the menu, her life, her taste in men, etc. Totally down to chat the entire time we were there – THAT is customer service you can’t fake.

Now you might think that the obvious thing to do at a fish and chip shop is to order fish and chips, but there was something else I had in mind that I had seen on that fateful Food Network show: Toad in the Hole. A yorkshire pudding filled with mashed potatoes, covered in gravy, and topped with two sausages. I’m sorry, what?? As much as I love fish and chips, where else could I possibly get such an absurd creation as this? I ordered it with the mushy peas (another British tradition) and I was in heaven. I will probably never order it again just because it was way way too much, but everything about it was outstanding – one of those things you have to do at least once. God those Brits sure know how to make mashed potatoes. I recommend splitting it with a friend… or three…

I did of course try the fish, which was made with fresh cod, my absolute favorite. I’m not normally a huge fan of battered fish (I like a flour coating), but I have to say this was expertly done. Crispy, light, well-seasoned. And at $10.50 for a full portion, it’s a starving artist homerun (not that I have ever played baseball in my entire life).

Though I had some very faint trepidation, I’m delighted to report that Mac’s truly delivered on the promises Food Network delivered. If you find yourself up in SB in need of some seriously good fish with equally good atmosphere, Mac’s is your place.

And ps – if you’re still in need of convincing, check out their website below. It’s hilarious.

Mac’s Fish and Chip Shop
503 State St.
Santa Barbara, CA 93101
www.macssb.com

Click here to see my review on YELP.

Clean Eating at Lifefood

Lifefood Organic Raw Vegan Gluten Free FalafelWhen you’re trying your best to eat healthy, some days you just need an ace-in-the-hole; a place you can go where you know that every single thing on the menu will be a good decision. For me that place is Lifefood Organic on Cahuenga and Sunset. Nestled in a bustling neighborhood that is fast becoming one of my favorite in Hollywood, Lifefood Organic is a health market, a restaurant, and a spa all rolled into one. Stop in to get lunch, stock up on supplements and raw snacks, get your B12 shot, and continue on with your day – it’s no joke. I only ever come here for the food (big surprise), but if I had lots of money to spend I could totally see myself trying all their natural snacks and supplements.

What I love about their menu is that literally everything is vegan, gluten-free, and raw. So if I’m in need of a sandwich fix, but I’m not in a place where I can go all out for a traditional sub, or if I just need to eat some food that I know will make me feel fantastic, this is where I go. Pictured here is my go-to, their falafel wrap, which again is entirely vegan and gluten free and comes with some sort of heavenly green dipping sauce (no idea what it is, all I know is that it’s delicious and I eat all of it). I have also had their pad thai – my friend Brett swears by it. You get all the textures and flavors you expect from Pad thai without ever missing the meat or egg. It’s like vegan magic. They also are a full juice and smoothie bar and even serve vegan ice cream – mmm!

Now I can’t lie, with food this good and this natural, you know it isn’t going to be cheap. This wrap is $13 – worth it both for the flavor and the mental satisfaction, but it is by no means starving artist friendly. And I actually went home after this and ate a salad – lol! Still, it’s a fantastic treat when you’re in the mood to eat out but not in the mood for temptation, conflict, or self-loathing. If clean eating is your thing, then you won’t be disappointed by Lifefood Organic.

Lifefood Organic
1507 Cahuenga Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90028
www.lifefoodorganic.com

Click here to read my review on YELP

Healthy Goodness in Eagle Rock

Mushroom and Wild Rice Soup Four CafeBeyond the 5 freeway towards Pasadena lies a mystical land called Eagle Rock. Charming, hipster, and increasingly trendy, it’s a fun little place filled with lots of unique little boutiques and restaurants that I always remember I’m dying to try when I drive through. This past week I got to one of them – Four Cafe on Colorado Blvd, a fully organic restaurant boasting seasonal dishes made from exclusively local-bought ingredients. Structured like many restaurants are in Los Angeles these days,  you order at the counter, pay, then take a number and your food is brought to you. I’m not sure how I feel about this apparent fad in restaurant dining, but I guess I don’t have much choice. Besides, I’m a big fan of the earth-toned decor in this place. Rustic wooden tables, earthy wall treatments, plenty of outdoor seating, and an absurdly friendly girl behind the counter who had thorough knowledge of everything she was selling and was more than happy to chat us up about it – big points there. Nothing more attractive than a place that is proud about what they serve.

Now when one hears that a restaurant is fully organic and local, it can often lead to thoughts of boredom and salad and… vegans. But such is not the case at Four Cafe. Yes, there is plenty to choose from if you’re a vegan or gluten free, but they also have items like the short rib grilled cheese made with braised short ribs, gruyere, onion, and horseradish, served on foccacia. My friend Kevin got this and was not at all disappointed. A quick peruse of yelp and you can find huge praise for their fish burger, house-made with fresh mahi mahi served on a brioche bun. My mouth waters just typing this. But on the day I visited I was not super hungry, so I opted for a bowl of soup. For those of you trying to watch your weight, soup is always a good go-to in restaurants, particularly when they are house made and vegan like they are here. Supremely earthy and satisfying with just enough wild rice to add a pop of texture. It warms you up and makes you feel good about yourself for making such a good decision. In fact I felt so good that I opted for one of their vegan gingersnap cookies. Moist, spicy, and absolutely delicious. I deserved it. On my list of things to try are the fish burger (of course) and the roasted veggie root salad, which comes with a chili mint dressing. Also – brown butter apple pop tarts!!! Mmmm.  I have to say, I love when a restaurant like this isn’t afraid to have some indulgent food along side all their vegan local wholesome creations. It shows they aren’t pretentious – they really want to attract everyone, which is really important for a starving artist. Sometimes I want vegan soup, and sometimes I want an apple pop tart.

I think what gets me about these “take-a-number” kind of places is that at the end of the day I don’t feel like I’m saving any money by not having to tip a waiter. My bowl of soup and cookie came to $10.36. Worth it, yes, but I know if I had gotten a full salad or sandwich I would have been well over $15, which is not really a starving artist friendly kind of lunch. But in this case I’m ok with it because for one I know the ingredients are of the highest quality, and for another I am getting a meal that I can feel really good about eating. Let’s face it, eating out healthy is not cheap, but a place like Four Cafe is your best bet for getting a good healthy bang for your buck.

So, if you find yourself in Eagle Rock in the mood for a meal you can feel really good about (or a short rib grilled cheese!!), then definitely give Four Cafe a try.

Four Cafe
2122 1/2 Colorado Blvd.
Eagle Rock, CA 90041
www.fourcafe.net

Click here to read my review on YELP