Apple Pan Hickory Burger

The Apple Pan's signature burger: The Hickory Burger

The Apple Pan restaurant in West LA opened in 1947 and barely anything has changed since, except the prices. Seemingly frozen in time like some back-lot period set, The Apple Pan looks like a cute little ranch-style cottage on the outside and the old-fashioned horseshoe-shaped countertop on the inside still only seats about twenty. The owners have resisted any overture to change — it’s still owned by the same family and they’ve never expanded, never added a fancy Micros POS system, never put a kobe beef burger on the menu, never even nodded in the direction of modernity. The menu is slight but timeless, offering only a couple of signature burgers (the Steak burger and the Hickory), a tuna salad sandwich, an egg salad sandwich, fries, and a slew of pies including, natch, apple.

The Apple Pan is a West LA institution.

I hadn’t eaten at the Apple Pan in probably ten years, but on a whim I went a couple of weeks ago, the day after I returned from Costa Rica in fact. I was craving simple food, American food. And as I was cruising by, hungry as all hell, the Apple Pan caught my eye and I squealed into the nearest parking spot on Pico Boulevard. I hustled up to the counter and stopped short; the counter was totally full. But luckily the moment I entered the server (energetic older dude with a serious but friendly demeanor) slapped down a check in front of a departing, burger-filled customer and I had but a couple of minutes of wait-time before I slid into the swivel stool at the burger trough.

The fries were a highlight of the meal!

I ordered a Hickory burger, some fries, and a Coke. The soda came in a can, which my server plopped down next to a paper cone set into a stainless steel pedestal — my drinking glass. A cardboard plate piled high with piping hot French fries hit the counter seconds later and my guy flipped a bottle of Heinz in his hand and asked, “ketchup?” I assented and with a hipster-bartender flourish he banged out a puddle of ketchup onto another, smaller cardboard plate.

The fries were excellent and addicting. They were unseasoned and I definitely needed a generous sprinkle of salt, but they tasted fresh and richly “potatoey”. The fries were crisp, crunchy, and delicious. Perfect fries are hard to find, but these were delightful. I scarfed in about 37 seconds. By which time my burger arrived, wrapped in paper, hot and savory.

It looks like it's a sixty-five years old...because it is!

The old-fashioned counter burger was thin and coarsely-ground. It was beefy and flavorful, although perhaps not as tender as I would have liked and a bit under-seasoned, like the fries. The Tillamook cheddar cheese was tasty, the pickles added some nice sour crunch, and the mound of fresh iceberg lettuce was crisp and inviting. The hickory sauce was pretty much just tomato puree with a touch of brown sugar and smoke, the most rudimentary of barbecue sauces, but it worked beautifully and made up for the absent tomato slice. The sauce was slightly tangy, slightly sweet, slightly smokey. The burger was delicious, maybe a little on the small side. I could have used a few more bites!
My only caveat was that the bun was squishy and crumbly. It didn’t hold up well to the moistness of the sauce or the lettuce. Halfway through eating the burger it started falling apart into gooey, cheesy, tomatoey chunks. Delicious chunks to be sure, but chunks nonetheless. I ate every last chunk.
I’ll make another visit soon. I have yet to try any of the pies, and I’ve heard the egg salad sandwich has a magic all its own, so that’s on the list. Certainly I will visit again before another decade passes me by. But I suspect that even a decade from now, The Apple Pan will be unchanged. 
 
10801 W Pico Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90064
Neighborhood: West Los Angeles

(310) 475-3585

Mario’s Restaurante in Jaco

He's OMNIVOROUS!

My step-cousin Carrie owns a condo in Jaco and she was kind enough to let Regina and me stay there while we were vacationing in Costa Rica. Jaco is a bit touristy, populated partly by a boisterous population of American expats and frequently flooded with tourists from all over Central, South, and North America. It’s pretty noisy at night down the main drag with all manner of cars and people and stray dogs and cars pumping music — much like any other tourist-centric beach town in any corner of the world. Regina and I were happy that the condo lay on the northern end of town, away from the clamor and drunken revelers. It was quiet where we were, conducive to relaxation and a restful type of vacationing.

When we travel Regina and I try to hunt down the local grub; it’s generally more honest, more affordable, and more representative of the locale and the people who live there. You’ll  see I posted a few other recommendations for restaurants in Jaco, if you find yourself in Costa Rica some day. Those are places Regina and I ferreted out on our own.

Excellent, garlicky langostinas!

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Isaga: Further Adventures in Costa Rican Local Grub

This little "langostica" was fresh, cheap, and delish.

In our ongoing quest for local cheap eats, Regina and I keep our eyes peeled for places with a line out the door. Walking the streets of Jaco, Costa Rica last week we stopped at innumerable restaurants on the main drag to check out menus; it was a mixed bag, for sure. Mostly tourist traps with surprisingly high prices or bizarre mish-mashed menus featuring a combination of Costa Rican fare with, let’s say, Greek salad or anchovy pizza. And yeah, sure, I like Greek salad and anchovy pizza, but paying $40 for it while we’re in a foreign land seems a little strange. Also, given that most of the touristy places seemed near-empty on a Friday evening wasn’t heartening. Strolling half a block off the main drag we found the very-packed and lively Isaga, which had at least fifteen people waiting in line out front. They were all locals, by the look of the them. Suddenly our spirits lifted!

Creamy seafood "chowder" is packed full of mariscos!

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Marea Alta Restaurant: Comida Tipico

Very fresh, very simple ceviche mixto.

On the Southern end of the town of Jaco, Costa Rica, where Regina and I spent a lovely week relaxing, exploring, sunning, and eating, we came across a restaurant called Marea Alta (high tide), a place that serves the relatively simple and hearty fare that everyday Costa Ricans eat, their comida tipico — “typical food”. Slightly more adventurous travellers might wander down here to the dwindling end of town, away from most of the over-priced and dubious tourist-and-expat-geared joints that clog the main drag, but the mainly-locals Marea Alta caters to the Ticos, the ethnic nomenclature that Costa Ricans affectionately dub themselves.

Costa Rican food, at least far from the capital of San Jose, is pretty simple really. Most plates center around rice and beans and usually feature a little cabbage and carrot salad as well as picadillo, a simple dish of stewed squash or other vegetables. Almost every plate also gets a wedge of limon, which refers to both a green-skinned and green-fleshed lime variety and another type of sour citrus which features a bright orange flesh (I suspect it’s a hybrid variety of lime and mandarin orange.) and a tart and fragrant juice.

Delicious grilled mahi-mahi.

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Costa Rica Casado

At the moment I’m traveling in Costa Rica with Regina on our belated honeymoon. The day is nearly spent and the Pacific surf rushes and sighs outside the window of our rental condo in Jaco. I can nearly taste the sea it’s so close, and as I post this I take a final few sips of five-year aged rum. Sweet, deep, delicious.

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This place, although touristy, has a real magic to it, and I’m dearly glad to have some time off and to be far away from work, from my real life, from Los Angeles. Two days in and my tan is developing nicely. I’m relaxed, my mind is clear (except for the happy fuzz imparted by the rum), and Regina lies next to me, slumbering happily. Still, being a techie geek as well as a chef means that even in a foreign land I have the means to share with you, loyal readers, my meals and my musings. iPad, wifi, and WordPress app. Huzzah!

Wherever we travel Regina and I query the locals and ask for food recommendations. No gringo food, no pizza, no bullshit sushi, and lord-help-me-now no fucking Kentucky Fried Chicken! The blender-wielding bartender at a tacky resort down the beach that apparently caters to a less-inquisitive clientele gave us a quizzical look when we reiterated the “no-gringo food” part of our travel-food creed, as if sussing us for intestinal fortitude. After a bit of prodding he gave up the name of El Rustico, a locals joint known for their Casado, which is like a cheap-and-easy working man’s buffet lunch. It’s down the main drag, maybe nine or ten blocks, turn right at the Pancho Villa restaurant, he says, you’ll see it.

En route we stopped and bought a pretty amazing agua fresca of sandilla (fresh watermelon juice) which we quaffed as we strolled the dusty main street of Jaco, dodging necklace hawkers, grown men on kids’ bikes, and mongrel dogs lazing on the sidewalk. It was still early, the street wasn’t yet crowded, the heat hadn’t yet peaked. We’d only flown in the previous night, arriving too late to explore and frankly too exhausted to do anything but shower and flop. This would be our first meal in Costa Rica. We were starving.

We found El Rustico adjacent to a desultory surfer-and-expat camping area, virtually empty but for two friendly dogs begging through the chainlink fence for scraps. The place was as casual as can be, but immaculate and inviting. The open-air dining room was almost filled with some thirty customers, not an obvious tourist or gringo among them. We waited but briefly before getting to the buffet. Rice, beans, chicken wings, fried fish, some sort of pork ribs, beef stew of some kind, shrimp, several salads, fried ripe plantains — a small but representative array of Costa Rican casual fare. A couple of colorful agua frescas in those self-circulating lemonade dispensers. A cooler case of sodas and bottled water.

We ordered a huge plate to share, plus two ice-cold bottles of water. The fried fish (probably snapper) was absolutely dynamite — crunchy on the outside and tender on the inside, very fresh and mild, excellent. We doused it with a little Lizano Salsa (the national all-purpose condiment like a slightly sweet A-1 sauce) and squeezed over it a bit of limon, an orange-fleshed and green-skinned sour lemon. Just delish. The chicken wings were also excellent, great crust, super-tender and moist. Miraculously neither the fish nor the wings were remotely greasy. And the rice and beans were perfect, the macaroni salad fair but tasty. By far our favorite dish was the picadillo, stewed minced zucchini with a bit of onion and garlic. So sweet and delicious, it was absolutely superb and positively addictive.

The one monstrous plate of food and our bottled water: nine bucks. Deal!

As we were leaving El Rustico a line of twenty or more people was queued up for this delicious buffet; a good sign of quality if ever I saw one. This was our first meal in Costa Rica. And it was a winner! More to come, lovely reader.

As they say here, “Pura Vida!”

Beverly Soon Tofu (with video!!)

This bubbling cauldron is filled with a delicious tofu potion!

I’m not really the best person to be reviewing Korean restaurants as I’m not Korean, have never been there, have never dated any Korean girls (for more than a night or two), and beyond the occasional batch of kimchee or bibimbap have rarely cooked it. Perhaps I should have solicited the advice of my pal and K-town expert Mattatouille, but time was pressing and my father needed, nay demaded, tofu. My Dad had expressed interest in the now-defunct Tofu Villa in West LA, and the only similar restaurant we (Regina and I) could think of was Beverly Soon Tofu in Koreatown. Maybe Matt could have steered us to some new, stellar, unheralded place, but BST is an old standby. A couple of decades ago BST introduced Los Angelenos to this particular subset of Korean comfort cuisine, embodied by the much-loved soon dubu jjiagae (soft tofu stew). Now I may not have an encyclopediac knowledge of Korean food and I have nothing to add about the authenticity of flavor or food preparation at Beverly Soon Tofu; however, I know a good restaurant when I eat at one. And Beverly Soon is a good one. This stalwart K-town favorite is as good as ever.

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First Impressions: Tsujita LA Artisan Noodles

Delicious, al-dente noodles tsukemen style.

It was over a year ago when Regina and I first noticed that construction of a newish-modern retail building at the intersection of Sawtelle Blvd and Mississippi Ave, along the predominantly Japanese “Sawtelle corridor” of restaurants and little boutiques and izakayas, had been completed. The corner spot had been leased by a company out of Japan called Tsujita, and floor-to-celing posters had been pasted up in the windows. Brilliant color photos of giant bowls of luscious-looking ramen noodles proclaimed the dawning of an exciting new noodle revolution soon to occur on Sawtelle. Being the noodle-nuts that we are, Regina and I were stoked for this new upstart to open its doors. We have many favorite noodle joints in LA, and while we can appreciate the occasional attributes of Daikokuya, Orochon, Chin-Ma-Ya, Yamadaya, or Santouka, we probably love most-of-all Ramen-Ya on Olympic, not least because we live close-by but also because we are fans of the neighborhood in general, the colorful “Sawtelle corridor” being right around the corner. We wanted another killer noodle restaurant in West LA!

Regina used to live a couple of streets west of Sawtelle and our very first date was at Fu-Rai-Bo, the fun and funky izakaya (Japanese pub) just across the street from Tsujita, so we have a sentimental attachment to the neighborhood. Anyway, with the promise of a new and delicious noodle house opening right there, Regina and I waited with bated breath and growing hunger.

I had mixed feelings going in.

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