The Quest: A Sandwich in LA

In my opinion sandwiches are a great American pastime. Who didn’t grow up scarfing down PB&J, bologna on white, or turkey and cheese sandwiches? They have been a staple of my diet long before I even knew that burritos existed. My favorites over the years have been The Italian Deli in Los Altos CA, sandwich day in the Louisburg College cafeteria, Subconscious in Raleigh NC, and Marina Submarine in San Francisco. I never got around to finding my favorite sandwich place in NYC, but I have succeeded in finding one in LA! The gold standard: Marina Submarine  In 2008 I ate here multiple times per week and because of that Q, the sandwich maker, still knows my order even five years later. I get a small roast beef with american cheese (toasted), with only mayo, tomato, avocado, and special sauce. The bread is always fresh, he never over toasts it, and the way he cuts the avocados without looking is impressive. I find myself craving one at least once a week.

IMG_5610The winner: The Heights Deli and Bottle Shop in Lincoln Heights, Los Angeles. I customized their roast beef sandwich so that it was as similar to the one I get from Marina Sub as possible. I substituted american cheese in place of mozzarella, added the house sauce and avocado, and took off lettuce. The result was a perfectly toasted, delicious sandwich that was the closest thing to my favorite sandwich I’ve had. The bread was crunchy but not hard to eat, and the cold ingredients (mayo, tomato, avocado and sauce) were still cold. Next time I am craving a Marina Sub sandwich I plan to swing by The Heights Deli to get my fix!IMG_9721

The runner up: Dave’s Chillin and Grillin in Eagle Rock, Los Angeles. First of all, the owner and sandwich maker, Dave, is the nicest person living on this planet, I am sure of it. If you’re having a bad day, visit Dave’s Chillin and Grillin. His thick Boston accent, huge smile and sweet demeanor will turn any bad day around! The sandwich was very different from my Marina Sub sandwich so it couldn’t be a direct comparison, but it was one of the most delicious sandwiches I’ve ever had. Dave suggested the roast beef melt that is marinated in an aus jus sauce and served on fresh sourdough slices with multiple cheeses. It was packed with flavor and I can’t wait to get this sandwich again!IMG_9688

A pattern emerged, during this quest, about my food service preferences. I realized I like to pick out my ingredients by looking at them from behind a glass wall (a la Subway Sandwiches). Besides taste, this is the main thing I use to judge whether I like a certain burrito or sandwich shop. I know it’s an unusual preference, and I laughed when I realized it, but at least I am consistent!

The Quest: Burritos in NYC

I am a bit of a burrito snob. There I admitted it. But how could I not be growing up in CA? I began my affair with burritos in middle school and when I was a lot less picky. My sister and I would ride our bikes to El Pollo Loco in downtown Los Altos and stuff our faces with burritos, chips and salsa. I am not embarrassed to admit I liked the burritos at El Pollo Loco. I loved how, after the burrito was made they lightly grilled it. It had something I have sought in burritos ever since and not found until moving to NYC (more on that further down). San Francisco is where I really honed my burrito snobbery. For a while, I was having a burrito at least once a week (awww that fast early 20s metabolism!). On more than one occasion, I may have even pulled a burrito out of my purse while I was in a nightclub dancing and mingling with boys. I couldn’t and can’t get enough of them!

We were warned that NYC doesn’t have good Mexican food. But we’ve actually found quite a few places that are very tasty and that we would highly recommend (Antojitos Mexicanas in East Williamsburg and Taqueria San Pedro in Harlem). What we have had a hard time finding are burritos.

The Comparison: Gordo Taqueria, Outer Richmond, San Francisco Los Hermanos, Marina, San Francisco and El Farolito, Mission, San Francisco. Honestly, how could I pick just one place in San Francisco as my favorite burrito?IMG_8560

My Base Order: Regular chicken burrito with pinto beans, rice, cheese, guacamole, sour cream, and hot sauce. (Sometimes at Los Hermanos I will add nacho cheese for a real treat!).

The distinguishing characteristic of all these places are that they are taquerias. They are meant to be walked into, ordered from and taken out again. They all have the various ingredients you could fill your burrito with, laid out behind a plexiglass window.  There are many places in NYC that call themselves taquerias that are not true taquerias. They are large chains, their meat is overcooked and dry, and the ratio of ingredients to tortilla is always off. However, there have been a few gems that stood up to my snobby standards! A couple in particular...

The Winners: Fatty Daddy Taco, South Slope, Brooklyn and La Gringa Taqueria, East Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Again, how could I pick just one!

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My order at Fatty Daddy: Small spicy chicken burrito with no lettuce. I add sour cream and guacamole.

It’s true Fatty Daddy doesn’t have an ingredient bar to order from, but you can order at the counter and modify any of their pre-configured burrito options. Every time I’ve had a burrito here it has been heavenly. The first time I had it I was speechless. I hadn’t realized just how much I was missing burritos until I tasted a Fatty Daddy one. My only regret is that I didn’t discover this place sooner. There were a lot of dark days when my craving for a burrito almost made me pack up and move back to SF.

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My order at La Gringa: grilled chicken with sour cream, pico de gallo, pinto beans, rice, guacamole and plantains (that were eaten separately).

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La Gringa had a limited ingredient bar, but it was just enough! I ordered from the menu and then added a few things like Guac (which was $1.73 extra!). They are known for making their burritos and tacos with plantains so I went ahead and put those in too. They were a tasty treat, but I ended up having to pull them out because they didn’t make it an equal comparison. My favorite part about the La Gringa burrito was that they grilled the tortilla before filling it which gave it that crunch that I have been searching for since my El Pollo Loco days!

After trying these two burritos I knew my quest was complete!

*An honorable mention goes out to L.A. Burrito in Williamsburg. They served up a solid burrito, but it didn’t blow me away like Fatty Daddy or La Gringa. The pros: the ingredients tasted fresh and the meat wasn’t dry. The cons: it was too large to be eaten without a fork and knife, the tortilla got soggy, I didn’t feel like I could customize it and the guacamole was $2.75 extra! While it satisfied my burrito cravings, it wouldn’t be a burrito I would go out of my way to get.

A Rustic French, Spring Soireé

It probably doesn’t need to be said, but I love hosting parties (as noted here, here and here). Most of the time, the parties I host surround an event like a wedding, birthday, or the holidays. Sometimes though I get inspired by a piece of decoration, party game, drink, etc. that I have stumbled upon online and I just have to throw a party to incorporate the inspiring idea. If there isn’t an obvious reason like the events listed above to a host a party, I will make one up (shhh don’t tell Rob). A party just like this happened a few weeks ago. I discovered a recipe for French 75 Punch and I had the overwhelming urge to throw a party so I could make it. My birthday had come and gone, Rob’s birthday wasn’t for a few more months and there was nothing else coming up that we could celebrate with a party. So I decided we needed to have a housewarming/goodbye party before we left our last home. We lived in Washington Heights for about 7 weeks after we got back from Cabo, and because I had been sick for the first three weeks, I never got around to having people over to see the new place. I decided that it wasn’t too late to host a housewarming party, but since we were moving three days later, it would also be a goodbye party.

Rob & Sonja’s Springtime Soiree Details

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Colors  I was inspired by the color of the punch which was pink and peach colored. From there I added colors that would evoke ideas of spring, sunshine and warmer weather since the cold winter days were becoming more and more of a distant memory. I ended up with peach, mint green, white, some orange and some gold.

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Decorations  I wanted this party to be as simple to set up as possible so I used a few items that were already in the house; a wood table and white ceramic serving pieces. I bought a plastic tablecloth in mint green, clear plastic appetizer plates and gold cocktail napkins. The tablecloth was folded so that it was the width of a runner, and it ran the length of the table. I used a mason jar to hold the silverware and the the finishing touch was a bouquet I put together. It had baby’s breath, peach and white colored roses, dark green leaves, and peach colored flower buds.

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Food and Drinks  We served roasted tofu with pesto, mediterranean rice balls, taco roll ups, a quinoa fruit salad, cheese and crackers, and a few other nibbles. For drinks we provided the French 75 Punch, and a selection of beers.

Music  I chose a French themed playlist from Spotify to really tie the whole soiree together. It felt like a spring picnic in the French countryside- elegant with a sprinkle of rustic.

Lessons Learned

Our biggest challenge was the food. The mediterranean rice balls never took the shape of balls so I ended up serving it as rice salad. I used too much meat in the taco roll ups so they fell apart before we even baked them. The quinoa fruit salad and roasted tofu with pesto turned out really well. Our mistake was that we had never made any of the dishes before this party. It was very stressful to not know the actual time it would take us to prep and cook the items, and when they weren’t coming out looking like they did in their pictures, I panicked. I could have avoided this near meltdown had I only picked one new recipe to try for the party. Then if that one recipe hadn’t gone according to plan, it wouldn’t have taken the whole party down with it. While our party wasn’t a disaster in the slightest, it is always frustrating for the hosts when things don’t turn out exactly how you envisioned.

Do you have an awesome party feature that I can use to inspire my next get together?