Thursday, May 29, 2008

City of Angels, City of Lunch

I sit in the United Terminal of LAX feeling as if I am about to pop. In my quest to see what I could of Los Angeles before I fly away from it for who knows how long, I overate. It all started back in Redlands when I met Jim and Gil for lunch at Hello Sushi (I picture Hello Kitty behind a sushi bar every time I think of it). The place has some good tempura and rolls. One roll that stood out big time was their albacore garlic roll. I've never had garlic in a roll, and I wish I would see more of it. Also good was my combo lunch of tempura and Japanese-style broiled mackerel.

After a long drive and a little sightseeing in LA, I headed through West Hollywood (WeHo) to locate a quick bite. My plan was to get a snack, do some more sightseeing, and then get some dinner before my flight. First stop: Pink's Hot Dogs, an LA/WeHo/Hollywood institution for 69 years now. Currently up for one of the eight things that are best about Los Angeles, according to Los Angeles Magazine, Pink's has satisfied everyone from folks who just step off the bus to television and movie stars and producers down the street at the Paramount Pictures lot. The many autographed photos on the walls betray the hot dog lovin' proclivities of everyone from Simon Cowell to Ellen DeGeneres, Celine Dion to Richard Simmons* to, well, Pink. They even have hot dogs named after celebrities, including Rosie O'Donnell, Martha Stewart and the incoming director of the LA Philharmonic. His hot dog sounds like a freaking mess. It's like they threw everything onto it. They have dozens of different varieties which will take too long to describe. Just check their website to see them all. They also serve burgers, but who the hell is going to order a burger at this place?

You wait in a very long line to order, but it is sooooooo worth it. After fifteen minutes smelling hot dogs in the beautiful weather (It clears up just as I'm leaving. That figures.) I go ahead and order a New York Dog – their 10” dog smothered in red onion relish – and a side of onion rings, with a Diet Coke (they also offer everything from Orange Crush to Yoo-Hoo). The total cost: $7.25. And it was a well-spent $7.25. The hot dog pops with every bite, and has the best flavor of any dog I've had in a long time. The onion relish is alright, but my mind is still on the hot dog. The onion rings were crisp – not at all soggy – and only a bit greasy. Plus, they weren't too big to not fit into the little Styrofoam tub of ketchup I got before I sat down.

The hot dog feast, in the golden Southern California sun!

I parked a little further up and walked the rest of the way into WeHo, stopping at the popular LGBT news and book store A Different Light. No, it's not that kind of “bookstore”. I headed back to my car with a copy of Billy's Hollywood Screen Kiss, featuring a pre-Will and Grace Sean Hayes, stopping en route at the little bakery Cake and Art. I had never seen this place, but it obviously does fancy cakes. It also sells a small but fancy assortment of cupcakes. I bought their black and white cupcake for $2.75 and saved it for the flight. I still haven't eaten it as of this writing.**

Behold: the black and white cupcake

Last stop before I hit LAX was one of my favorite LA restaurants. Nyala is on Fairfax Avenue, the heart of Little Ethiopia, and years ago when I lived in Redlands I occasionally would drive 75 miles just to eat there. Granted, there wasn't any Ethiopian food in the Inland Empire so I kinda had to drive that far to get some. Nyala is decorated in paintings of scenes from daily Ethiopian life, with mesob baskets sitting in various places around the earth tone dining room. It was around 6:30 when I got there, and I was the only one there at the time, so the service was pretty fast. I started off with a Hakim Stout beer ($4), made in Harar, Ethiopia. It's hard to describe – a little rich, not very chocolaty, and somewhat mellow. It was the perfect accompaniment to my yebeg wot (somewhat spicy lamb chunks "marinated in red wine and sautéed in seasoned butter, fresh onion, garlic and ginger", $10). It was a little gristly in places but still good, in a complex spicy, buttery red sauce. It came out flanked by a lentil stew and a green salad in a nice dressing, all on an oval plate, sitting on top of the only oval piece of injera bread I have ever seen. And this was after the customary appetizer, a hummus-like dip surrounded by super-skinny pita wedges. The best way I could describe it is a cross between hummus and tahini, mixed with pepper, cayenne and olive oil. I had to force myself not to eat the whole thing.

First, the beer...

...then the tahini-like dip...

...and at last, the yebeg wot. Mmmm, wot.

And so that is why I am sitting on the floor of the United Terminal (you find a closer place to sit next to a working electrical outlet), feeling like I can hardly move. And with about an hour until I board. I hope I can just get some sleep once I'm in the air.

* Am I alone in thinking it odd that Richard Simmons of all people is eating hot dogs? It's not a low-cal sort of place.

** I eventually ate the cupcake, of course. It was rich and fudgy.

Other photos:

Oh my! Now for the president with pink hair.

Until the sun goes down over Santa Monica Boulevard.

The electronic billboard in the back had a changing ad for the new Get Smart flick. I was paying more attention to the dozens of dining options.

WeHo: LGBT mecca of Southern California. Outside of Palm Springs at least.

And lastly: no, I didn't stop in. But I'm sure it would've been a gas, no?