Ramen in Santa Monica, Finally!

Let’s talk for a second about how deprived Santa Monica has been when it comes to really damn good asian food. I’ve worked there on-and-off for the past five years. While there’s no shortage of green juices, if you get bit by the noodle bug, you’re shit out of luck. Better make the drive out to Sawtelle or Venice because there’s no ramen here for you my friend. 

However, in the past year, SM’s finally got its act together and opened not one, but two new ramen spots right off the main promenade. 

Silverlake Ramen

Silverlake Ramen is a chain hailing from (yup, you guessed it) Silverlake, CA! From the chain itself: 

“Silverlake embodies the free-spirit & casual vibe of Los Angeles. An unpretentious, original way of thinking. Similar to the  environment in which ramen was invented. Now, we are taking that vibe and serving up bowls of it in locations across California.”

I haven’t tried the regular ramen because I will honestly always choose the thick noodles and rich broth of a tseukemen first if it’s on the menu. That being said, the tseukemen is delicious! Tsujita is the gold-standard in my book, but Silverlake Ramen comes pretty damn close. The broth is deep with flavor and tastes amazing with the huge slab of fried pork belly it comes with. I always ask for a side order of spicy paste to mix in, too. Fair warning, you’re in for a heavy, salty AF lunch with this one. 

Ippudo Ramen

Just a five minute walk away, you’ll find Ippudo Ramen tucked into a non-descript alleyway on second street. Look for the small square sign with the squiggles, that’s your cue that ramen time is near. This Japanese chain made the big move to the States in 2008 with its New York location, shortly followed by its San Francisco one. 

Their ramen is more Hakata style. While there are slight variations (vegan, spicy, etc), they’re all more or less the same.  Expect thin noodles, a somewhat lighter broth, but no less in flavor or oil.  They do appetizers too, but honestly, skip the buns. They’re not worth the money and your tummy space is better spent on Kaedama (extra noodles).  My personal favorite is the Akamaru Modern.

Which is better? Honestly, it’s impossible to decide. They’re different styles and both hit the ramen spot perfectly! I’m so sad I don’t work right on that corner anymore. Maybe it’s better for my blood pressure anyways.

Bon Shabu | Koreatown

Eating out can be really difficult when you’re trying to lose weight. Shabu shabu or hotpot, however, is probably one of the tastiest ways to treat yourself in a healthier way. If you haven’t done shabu before, it’s a pretty easy concept. You get a pot of broth on a stove top as well as an assortment of raw meats, veggies or noodles to cook in it. Imagine fondue but clean and soupier. Typically, you can mix and match sauces on the side to add extra flavor. My personal favorites are a garlicky ponzu and goma, a deliciously creamy goma sauce.

Unfortunately, there’s not a ton of shabu places on my side of town. A quick 30 minute drive out to K-town though means plenty to choose from. My sister was in town visiting her boyfriend so they swooped up and we headed out to Bon Shabu!

They do a split pot, so we got half Organic Beef Bone Broth and half Spicy Original. The spicy one had a kick to start, while the beef bone was really light in flavor. We dropped in a bunch of crab to start though and by the end of the night, with all the meat dipped in, it was a slightly sweet, deep flavor. Yum!

It’s AYCE so we tried pretty much all of the meats minus the chicken and basa fish. Most of the cuts were really lean. If you want tender, fattier cuts, go with the pork collar, pork belly, or the chuck top blade. On top of that, there’s a shrimp, mussels, crab, crawfish, fish balls, squid, ramen, udon and an assortment of vegetables – all available salad bar style.

One of my favorite parts was that they offered a bunch of Korean appetizers on the side. My favorites were the tangy fried chicken and the tteokboki!

Shabu’s one of my favorite all-time meals and I can’t wait to go back again! Or maybe I’ll venture out to somewhere new. Where are your go-to spots?

Royal Capital Seafood | Westminster

Royal Capital Seafood has been around for ages. Like so many other older asian restaurants in Orange County, they fly pretty under the radar on social media. Plus, their names, decor and styles of food are all so similar, it can be hard to stand-out. They’re not the cleanest of places. The service is pretty much guaranteed to be mediocre at best and some of the dishes will really just be subpar Chinese food. But! There’s always a hidden gem on the menu with places like these.

The first time I went to Royal Capital Seafood, I was ten years old and it was my great-aunt’s 80th birthday celebration. I remember nothing else from that day, but I remember the Lobster Noodles They were life-changing.

Fast-forward fifteen years and they are still life-changing. The stir-fried lobster is prepared in typical chinese fashion – savory, crispy goodness on the outside, sweet, juicy, tender lobster meat on the inside. Surround that in a bed of chewy, gummy egg noodles and you’ve got yourself a plate of heaven.

I wish I could have had this whole plate to myself. It was New Year’s Eve though so I figured I should probably share with my family.

Our other go-to dish is the House Special Fish. Dipped in batter, then fried in a buttery-garlic sauce, this flaky white fish is equal parts melt in your mouth and satisfying crunch. Eat this first and fast though. The sauce seeps through and the texture turns soggy if you try to take it to-go.

My family usually orders a couple other dishes as well because we roll out with at least five people at a time. But trust, if you’re going to get something, get those two. As with all Chinese special restaurants, you’ll get a soup to start and a sweet soup to finish. Both of which I’m always happy to gulp down.

Happy Eating! xo.

Met Her At A Bar | Miracle Mile

I was lucky enough to have a couple weeks off this holiday season – a rarity in the 9-5 office adult world. It was kind of surprise time-off so I didn’t have time to make any big plans. Instead I spent lots of time with family and peppered in one-on-one friend dates in between. Friend dates should be a more frequent and celebrated thing. I absolutely love them. Anyways, this particular day a friend and I opted for a morning hike through the Hollywood Hills followed by brunch. We were originally trying to go to République, but even on a Tuesday morning, that seemed to be impossible.

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Way too hungry to wait an hour or more, we went a couple blocks down to Met Her At A Bar. Honestly, I was so hungry I wanted literally everything. Figured I would settle for something a little savory, a little sweet and ordered the You Wake Me Up Happy.  As you can see above, that’s a classic waffle with maple syrup and berries and all the proteins on the side. Proteins weren’t mind-blowing, but that waffle was perfectly crispy on the edges and fluffy in the middle. I ate every bit of this.

My friend ordered the Bello Bello Wafflebello Sandwich, a portbello waffle sandwich with tomatoes, arugula and a side of syrup. I didn’t get to try hers because quite frankly, I had enough on my plate. She also ordered a Hibiscus Cooler, but didn’t seem too impressed with it.

It’s a tight space with communal seating and an order-at-the-counter style. I wouldn’t necessarily go out of my way to get there, but if you’re in the area, it’s a pretty great brunch option! There’s plenty of sandwiches and heavier lunch options as well.

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I felt obliged to provide some photo evidence to prove we somewhat earned our brunching that day, ha. The weather was perfect for this short hike up to Wisdom Tree and the Hollywood sign. Here’s to many more friend adventures!

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Grits | Downtown Fullerton

Sisterhood is a love-hate kinda deal for sure, but most days, I wish I lived closer to my sisters. We did everything together growing up, for better or worse. One of the perks of living in different cities though is that we end up eating in these halfway places that I wouldn’t really go out of my way to visit otherwise. The hunt for the world’s best brunch continues! This time in Fullerton.

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Coffee first. The wait wasn’t crazy, but I’m usually early and the sister is almost always late. So I need the caffeine to entertain me. First thing she does when she shows up late too? Steal my coffee. Sisters, amiright?

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Bone Marrow with Cornmeal Waffles served with jam and thin apple slices in a pool of savory bone broth.

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Steak + Chimichurri, homestyle potatoes with a poached egg and an aioli. 

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Maple Bacon Pancake Balls. There used to be one on the menu with a fish sauce based syrup that I think would have been way more interesting to try.

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Full disclaimer, it’s been a while since we went here. Maybe even a full year ago. (Thank my brief distraction from food blogging for that delay lol).

But if time’s done anything, it’s definitely cemented the fact that the Grits menu wasn’t all that memorable. Solid brunch food, but I found all the flavors to be somewhat underwhelming. Food should always pack a punch in my book. Everything was quite mild. While the idea of waffles in a bone marrow broth sounds fun, it really just means soggy waffles.

Grits is a cool, desert-y themed brunch place out in a random lot just off the main street running through downtown Fullerton. Not my favorite though. If you never make it out there, you’re not really missing out. In fact, I just recently looked it up and it seems the location is closed. No tears here.

Have better Southern California brunch spots? Let me at ’em!

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Brenda’s Soul Food | San Francisco

One of, if not the first place that pops when you yelp SF is Brenda’s Soul Food. It doesn’t matter how far out you are, Brenda’s will pop up. All those Southern Cajun flavors…it’s exactly what comes to mind when you picture comfort food. It’s also crazy popular. So we knew what we were getting ourselves into trying to get a table during peak Sunday brunch hours. Brenda’s isn’t exactly located in the most upscale part of town. There’s not a whole lot else on the street it’s on. Luckily, all that space comes in handy because the line to get seated will fill the whole damn block.

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Luckily, Brenda’s bought the small space next door and converted it into a small cafe, Libby Jane. You can get some of their staples (like their gumbo) to-go if you’re in a rush for a quick bite. Or if you’re just killing time until your table’s ready (like us), you can grab a seat at the counter and sip on coffee for an hour and half. They keep track of who’s chilling in there so no worries about losing your spot.

The restaurant itself is pretty snug. They’re definitely pushing max capacity. The ceiling’s are high and covered with plenty of art with that New Orleans vibe. It’s loud. Waiters are squeezing through tables with more people than they can hold. The air smells like butter and cheese and comfort. There was only three of us total, but we’d been waiting for a while and may have ordered a wee bit too much.

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The shrimp & grits were probably my favorite dish of the day. Tangy, salty, creamy, cheesy. It’s a hearty dish that packs a kick. This was the flavor I was expecting from the crawfish beignets. While I had probably been the most excited about those, they were honestly a little too….fishy(?) for me and not enough tomato-y cajun goodness. The texture of the dough outside was wonderful though. The gumbo and fried catfish benedict were both solid choices as well. Though nothing mind-blowing, I thoroughly enjoyed both.

So worth the wait? Ehhhh. But go on an off-peak hour and Brenda’s is definitely worth it.

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Cafe Vida | Culver City

Cafe Vida | Black Coffee
Two coffees straight up!

I wish brunch was some hidden secret that only the lucky few got to know about. Unfortunately, brunch is pretty much a lifestyle for Los Angeles foodies and all the good spots are a far cry from secret. Cafe Vida is one of those places. Right in the heart of Downtown Culver City, this Latin-New American cafe always has a crowd. Expect at least a thirty minute wait even if you roll up in the earliest of brunch hours on a Sunday.

Their fresh-squeezed juices and smoothies are super popular menu items. They’re good, but honestly, a little overpriced. So I skip the blended greens and always start with black coffee. They keep you topped off all brunch (yay for being way too over-caffeinated) and give you two tiny thumb-sized muffin bites to go with it. They’re itty-bitty, but so sugar packed that they go great with a straight-up cup of joe.

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Passed on the powdered sugar & butter, that makes this healthy right?

Every time I come back, I tell myself I’ll try something further down on the menu. I never make it past the pancakes. Namely the brown rice pancakes. I’m a sucker for crispy, crunchy, warm your heart pancakes covered in berries. So my go-to is the turkey burger scramble (gotta get those ‘teins) with a side of brown rice pancakes. You can’t go wrong with their blueberry corn cakes either, a little grittier, just as tasty.

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The boyfriend, on the flip side, has never gotten the same thing twice. Though he never makes it down the menu either. He almost always orders whatever brunch special is available that week. Wet burritos, skirt steak benedicts, banana french toast… whatever the new shiny food is for the week. It’s usually a “latin” twist on a traditional brunch food or a brunched up version of a latin dish. I keep putting latin in quotes because this is hip LA latin-inspired more than it is a diverse array of latin food. We’re talking chilaquiles, huevos rancheros and some sort of taco and burrito. That’s about as far as it goes. Donde estan mis pupusas y ceviches?

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This week was the short-rib breakfast burrito. Delicious! I was spooning off some of that burrito sauce to drizzle all over my scramble.

Disclaimer! If you’re already miles beyond hanger though, skip Cafe Vida for the day. The kitchen can be pretty slow getting food out. Even just getting your coffee can take a good ten minutes. That being said, the waiters and hostesses are all friendly faces (even when you ask them for a fifth tiny pitcher of syrup – no shame).

TL;DR? 

Service: Attentive, friendly but slow.

Food: Not quite “latin”, but delicious nonetheless.

Parking:  Plenty of meters and paid lots within a five minute walk.

Wait: 25 min – 1 hour

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