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I was pretty impressed with the Los Angeles Jews

They say its not good to go anywhere with expectations because you will undoubtedly be let down. I came Los Angeles this week with specific expectations. I expected to come away with a firm belief that I could mark LA off as one of those cities I could never live in, similar to the state of New Jersey and Florida and be done with it but,my expectationswere shattered on all accounts.

When people would say LA, things like pollution, earthquakes, rush hour, endless sprawl and seething materialism come to mind. And while these things may be true, the city of LA was shockingly different from what I imagined, especially when it came to the Jewish community.

I spent my first shabbos in Venice which is a 15 minute drive from the central Jewish area of LA, but were figuratively miles apart. I felt like I was in some small struggling Jewish community in the middle of nowhere and everything was so different from the big cities I have been to. Then I went out exploring the Pico Robertson and North Hollywood areas of LA mainly trying to get a handle on the Jews by judging the character, friendliness and of course the food.

Los Angeles is the opposite of New York. The extreme opposite, in fact. Unlike most of the west where people arepolite and friendly, LA people, like NYers,are also blunt and real with you. One of the things I always seem to miss about NY is the real people, the people that tell it like it is while in the west everyone is too nice to be up front. But I guess LA is just different in that respect. Even the rush hour is friendly, I got stuck in my fair share of traffic, but its nothing like rush hour back east, the traffic is moving along and suddenly you stop and then out of nowhere you move along again, its very strange. People dont change lanes every 3 seconds, people stay in their exit lane rather than jumping ahead a few cars and only once did I hear a horn on the highway.

But peoples niceties go beyond that of the car. It is evident in the way they smile at you when you pass them walking their dogs and the way they help you decide what to get in a restaurant. There is no rushed what do you want with scowl. Even the Israelis are nice, but dont let that fool you because their service is still quick.

One of the let downs of LA is its anti cycling mentality. Cars own the road and everyone else better get the hell out of the way. With that said, people actually stop for you if you want to cross the street within a crosswalk and no one tried to kill me like they do in other cities.

The smog isastrange phenomenon. Sometimes you can see throught it for miles, the San Gabriel Mountains with their snow can be seen in the distance and sometimes you cannot see the Hollywood Hills at all.It kind of reminds me of the fog in San Francisco, butin LAI know its just toxic fumes from the millions of cars. Once you get into the mountains the air clears up. I love the fact that you can drive up the coast a few miles past Malibu and venture into the wilds of the Santa Monica Mountains. A fan of mine took me mountain biking in Topanga Canyon Park which is literally 3 miles from kosher food in North Hollywood. I was shocked at the beauty and wilderness so close to a large frum community.

My hosts for the week took me to the tourist sites one day. We went to the walk of stars and that other entire touristy BS, just so I could see it and know I never needed to go back. Can you tell what I think of famous LA attractions? I rode my bike from Venice all around Beverly Hills, which is beautiful and the houses look like those fake Monsey creations but instead of having paskez candy wrappers as decorations they have a Bentley shaded by some palm trees. Then I ended up by the La Brea Tar Pits, which were very unexciting until I learned that they had foundmillion year old intact skeletons on the bottom of the pits. I hung out with some dude named Charlie Cox playing banjo and we spoke of bluegrass, county music and the life of a starving artist.

Other than driving and wandering around, I got to sample a bunch of the restaurants in Los Angeles and I got to hear a bunch of different opinions about the food. LA is much more mature then NY in a lot of ways. Everything is not about Heimishe or how frum something is or looks. For instance there are kosher restaurants in the area that have valentines day events and I know that in New York that shit would definitely not fly, and hashgachos would be removed and all that jazz. Fact is LA is hardly a frummy town. I didnt notice any greasy yeshiva bochrim walking around and most of the folks I saw were modern orthodox, Israeli, Persian or Chabad sure I saw some hats and sheitles here and there but it doesnt seem to be dominated by any one sect and unlike NY the main Jewish area has such diversitywhich I have never seen.

Los Angeles Restaurant Review I wrote about most of these on Yelp so check out my account on Yelp and become my friend.

Nagila Pizza: I have been told by multiple people in LA that Nagila is an icon, but I have no idea why, Sure the pizza tasted fine, nothing great, but is kosher pizza ever really great? The service was very good, some guy tried to cut ahead and the guy behind the counter said that I was first. They charge tax which sucks, because LA has an almost 10% sales tax. Like I said, nothing special, run of the mill pizza with run of the mill surroundings.

Fish Grill: When I came to LA I was told that there werent too many unique eating experiences, but that Fish Grill was one of them and I have to say that they were right. I went to the fish grill in Malibu, and it sure as hell didnt look like any kosher place I had ever been to. In fact it looked distinctly non-kosher. A big surfboard had the name of the place on it and it was located right on the Pacific Coast Highway across from the Pacific Ocean. It had outdoor seating and inside it looked like the classic beach style restaurant. I purposely didnt order the fish n chips because whenever I order this in a kosher place I tend to realize that the fries are crap and the fishhad beenfrozen.

I ordered the Salmon Steak which came with fries and slaw for $11, not a bad priceand it was very good. Luckily my friend ordered the fish n chips and I was blown away by the quality of the fish. Fresh flaky fish with fresh batter really shocked my senses. I thought about checking the hechsher, there was no way this place could be kosher fish from kosher places is notoriously cruddy. They tend to use fish like Talapia and Chilean Sea Bass which sound fancy but according to my chef friends, very poor quality and unhealthy fish. My friend told me I need to try their ahi tuna sandwich next time. I passed by Fish Grill in Malibu the next day on the way to a ride and when I saw two surfer dudes in shorts without shoes or shorts sitting outside enjoying their lunch, I was hooked.

Unique Caf: After this fan took me mountain biking in Topanga Canyon he took me to Unique Caf which is on Ventura Boulevard in North Hollywood. I was totally shocked in a good way that they didnt have sushi. In fact, I havent seen one restaurant in LA that has sushi, I guess its an east coast fad that never caught on here. Unique Caf is milchig and has a bakery, my tuna sandwich was good but nothing to write home about. What I should write home about is the mandel bread that the guy behind the counter let me sample right out of the oven it was very good. I wanted some of their homemade mini hamentashen, but they were 80 cents a piece.

Jeffs Sausage Factory: I was told by multiple people to check out Jeffs and luckily I was taken there by Rabbi Fink for lunch the other day. I think you have to go with someone that knows how to order, because they have a bunch of stuff that isnt on the menu, like the western burger which is piled high with loads of stuff, some sort of very good special sauce and some of the best onion rings I have ever had. No trip to Jeffs is complete without some sausage and I had the smoked chicken and apple sausage which came on a bun with grilled onions it was good, but it really just tasted like a hot dog.

I went back to Jeffs and ordered their steak sandwich and fries and I was fairly disappointed. You see, Jeffs is like an overpriced Carlos and Gabbys and while it ranks very high with the local populace and they make all of their own meats, based on prior food experiences I cant give them such high rankings. They do not have lunch specials, their sandwiches do not come with fries and quite frankly, most of the sausages taste like spiced hot dogs. The burger was good, but the best thing at Jeffs was the onion rings but a very steep price of $5.50 for 10 onion rings plus that ridiculously high sales tax doesnt seem worth it. Im sorry I have to go against the grain, but Jeffs didnt really do it for me it does attract a very diverse non Jewish crowd, is open late and has outdoor seating which is a plus.

Pico Caf: My friend Rabbs told me that on Thursdays Pico Caf has a special until 3pm, any fettuccini dish for $2 really the Jewish deal of a century, especially since they normally cost $10 plus. I got to Pico Caf at 2:46pm and they told they were closed. I made a fuss and they agreed to serve me, then they rescinded their offer. Some good Samaritan tried to see if they would give the special on Friday, I wanted it then and thought the sign should say open until 2:45 rather than 3pm which made me conclude that the folks who run Pico Caf are a bunch of assholes I am sure if I spoke Hebrew they would have hooked me up.

Haifa: Just another Israeli place that you wind up at because everything else is closed. The food was average, and the service was good, the only thing I should add is that the waitress is a super cutie which may make your eating experience a bit more pleasurable.

Mashu Mashu: Another restaurant I was told was unique, I was told it was Asian Fusion. Frummies do fusion all of the time, they just dont know they are doing it. Like when you can get pizza and sushi in the same place, thats fusion baby. Mashu Mashu was not fusion enough for my expectations, several Thai, one Japanese and a few Indonesian items grace the menu, but other than that its a run of the mill Chinese place. Do not order the wing platter, the platter came with wings that looked emaciated and it cost $8. The main dishes however were very nice. They gave you a choice of white or fried rice, no brown? The dishes were smaller than other Chinese places, but the prices were good $12/14 for chicken or beef dishes which is way better than I had experienced and the ambiance was quite nice.

Sierra Tur: I didnt get to go to this place at the Baron Herzog Winery in Oxnard about an hour north of LA, but I am putting it up here because I want to I just dont think I can afford it. They do have an Elk steak I have my eyes on to try.

Overall I wasnt too impressed with the LA restaurant offering but I just scratched the surface. People in LA like their food. In fact the people in LA really know how to cook, but they still love to eat out with 75 kosher restaurants there is a lot to choose from, but many of them are just overpriced and I dont believe in spending $75 on a steak when I know people who can make it better at home, unless of course you want to take me out, then I am all ears.

{ 40 comments… add one }
  • Avi M February 23, 2010, 4:04 PM

    What the heck Hesh!! Where is the love? Touristy BS?? Dude you saw a freaking real life Transformer and a wall climbing Spiderman!!! Oh and what about all the CJ goodness I/we hooked you up with? No plug for Ma’or? Or what about how you were in shock at how Jewy some of us CJs can be. Yes, yes food is important to talk about! But Dude! I want to read about how shell shocked you were at the quality of some of the Judaism you got to experience. LOL Dude that whole night you were like That guy looks so MO or you repeatedly accused me (one of your hosts) of being, what was, it oh ya, Orthodox!

    Common dude theres much more to LA than just food and smiles! There is some great Jewish being done here. Serious, creative and relevant Jewish I might add!

    Oh and what the hell did you do to our cat???? He still wont come out of the closet?

  • Chinese Food February 23, 2010, 5:30 PM

    If your still in LA I highly recommend two very different places:

    1. Shanghai Diamond Garden. This used to be a nonkosher Chinese place and so is actually run by Chinese people. Way better than Mashu Mashu! Yes!
    Shanghai Diamond Garden
    9401 West Pico Blvd.
    Los Angeles, CA 90035
    (view map)
    2. Elias Kosher Market & Alfredo Kosher Catering (Kosher)
    8829 W Pico Blvd., Los Angeles, California 90035, USA
    Phone: 310 278 7503, Fax: 310 278 7504
    Go to the back of this place lunchtime on a weekday and they cook and sale kabobs and stuff for $5 with a coke. It’s great.

  • Yochanan February 23, 2010, 5:38 PM

    You can tell if a restaurant is actually kosher (vs kosher style) by seeing if orthodox Jews actually eat there.

    You can tell if said restaurant actually has good food if both Jews and Gentiles eat there. If only Jews eat there, it usually means that it’s greasy crap that no one else would eat.

  • shoeless February 23, 2010, 6:46 PM

    Hesh did you check out the chofetz chaim in north hollywood or are you too chabad for that?

  • Avi M February 23, 2010, 6:50 PM

    @shoeless we took him to the chofetz chaims star on the Hollywood Walkway of fame. Does that count?

    • shoeless February 23, 2010, 7:05 PM

      I was talking about the yeshiva But thats real classic LA humor i think it must be the smog.

      • Avi M February 23, 2010, 7:19 PM

        By smog are you referring to the potential air quality impact wich may result from our 1000+ medical marijuana dispensaries? Just wondering?

        • shoeless February 23, 2010, 7:26 PM

          Because of people like you i miss LA.

          • Avi M February 23, 2010, 7:54 PM

            Yeah maybe buts its cuz I’m Canadian! We make Angelenos look like New Yorkers! Eh!

  • havdla February 23, 2010, 7:13 PM

    I’m from LA. The traffic is bad, but the smog never bothered me. I don’t notice any effect on breathing or anything. It used to be worse in the 60’s and 70s.

  • NewYorker February 23, 2010, 7:15 PM

    i was on a game show in california about ten years ago and spent the summer there. many of the jews i met (from reform to frum), were EXTREMELY nice. unlike new york, which is filled with frimmeh chazzeirim (born and bred new yorker here).

  • Tamara February 23, 2010, 8:17 PM

    Mashu Mashu is TOTALLY fusion. They serve BBQ sauce with spring rolls 🙂 You did forget to mention my very tasty tofu dish! One commenter said you needed to go to Shanghai Garden. It’s great but not unique. It’s a large, niceish Chinese restaurant. Traditional food, but you pay 15 bucks or so for a place of Orange Chicken and I believe they charge you a buck for rice. And, they don’t even give you a freebie fortune cookie at the end :).

    I have to agree with my husband that you got to see and eat lots of good stuff but what about the home cooked – non heimeish- but kosher nevertheless food. I know you LOVED Avi’s chickpeas and my fancy by your standards breakfast 🙂

    And as far as Chester goes…he’s so happy to have his couch back. 🙂

    Do let us know when you’re in town again. We’ll drag you out to the ONLY good kosher pizza place 40 minutes from here…Pizza Nosh.

    • Avi M February 23, 2010, 8:27 PM

      Oh yeah my chickpeas! Why haven’t you reviewed my chickpeas on Yelp yet?

    • Anonymous February 23, 2010, 11:32 PM

      pizza mayven may be a little old school but their pizza is really good! and their fries and nachos too! people are just too cool to go there!

  • Ilana February 23, 2010, 11:08 PM

    There is in fact a great kosher pizza place in Toronto, Tov-Li: http://www.tov-li.com/website_2/index.php

    I would eat there all the time if I could.

  • EstherK February 24, 2010, 1:19 AM

    Sierra Tur at the Baron Herzog Winery isn’t worth it. But only because it doesn’t exist.

    Next time, try Tierra Sur at the Baron Herzog Winery. Because it not only exists, but is awesome. Great food, although I’m pretty cheap and have only had the hamburger.

  • Ezrie February 24, 2010, 1:41 AM

    Best pizaa in LA is La Pizza or Brami’s – Nagila really is bad.
    Best meat/steak is definitely La Gondola.
    Next door to Mashu Masu is Smokin’. That place is great. Kosher southern style bbq.
    Tierra Sur is excellent like Esther said.

  • Josh February 24, 2010, 3:31 AM

    If you want great pizza, La Pizza is the way to go.

    And if you liked Fish Grill, check out Fish of the C’s in Teaneck (http://www.fishofthecs.com)

  • Yo Mamma February 24, 2010, 3:42 AM

    There are 3 million kosher pizza joints on the planet, and by far the most popular and renown one on the planet is Nagila. People who live next to kosher pizza places in other cities, and even as far away as Eretz Yisroel, will Jones for a slice of Nagila. I’ve literally had to FedEx slices of Nagila to people Back East numerous times. For real.

    I would say that along with the Hollywood sign and Disneyland, Nagila is on the short list of things frummies from out of town almost always want to see when they come to LA. I have numerous family members that insist on going there directly from LAX, when they fly into town.

    Why is Nagila so popular? The quality of the food, the cleanliness, and the unique menu. I’ve heard from countless people over the past 20+ years that Nagila is the best-tasting kosher pizza anywhere bar none. The place is immaculately clean. In fact, in 1998, Nagila scored a perfect 100 from the County Health Board. Of the 15,000 establishments that the LA County inspects, less than 60 received that highly-coveted 100. The menu features stuffed crust, buffalo (thick strips of cheese), Sicilian, and Chicago-style pizzas.

    In addition, Nagila also offers a salad bar with more than 20 varieties of salads. The combo salad is the best deal — four types of salad for less than the price of two of them.

    Finally, the restaurant offers comfortable seating outdoors — much bigger chairs and tables than does Jeff’s Gourmet — and the entire outdoors area is covered, just as is the outdoors seating at Fish Grill in Malibu. And, right smack next to Nagila is their sister restaurant, the Meating Place, which is a meat restaurant. How cool is that?

    • Anonymous February 25, 2010, 12:23 AM

      seriously?! health stats from 98?! ha!

      • Yo Mamma February 26, 2010, 12:32 PM

        The blogger stated that he has no idea why Nagila is an icon. It’s been around for years, so yes, it’s stats from 1998 are absolutely relevant in explaining the restaurant’s popularity since that time. We’re not talking about an overnight icon. We’re talking about a long-established icon.

  • Yo Mamma February 24, 2010, 3:58 AM

    Fish Grill is ok but to be honest, it’s the awesome surf-side location in Malibu that makes that place. I’m not big on fish, so unless I’m really really hungry, I won’t stop to eat there even though it’s 30 more miles from there to the next kosher place in LA. That was not the case, however, before Fish Grill took over the Malibu joint. Three years ago, that was an amazing kosher Mexican restaurant. Meat burritos, tacos, chicken strips, Mexican salads. Best kosher food anywhere! And, the greatest location! But, that’s gone. The location still rocks, you can’t beat gazing at the magnificent Pacific Ocean coastline at Malibu Beach for kosher lunch! Awesome views!

    It’s funny that you mention that you didn’t believe the place was kosher. The truth is that it was a non-kosher chicken joint for many years. Chabad moved in, bought the property, and the next thing we knew, it was a kosher Mexican joint.

    As for Jeff’s Gourmet, I’m not understanding the whole complaint about the lack of fries. My experience there is the opposite. I find myself so often swapping out the fries for a salad because I don’t need the extra high fat food. Seems like everything there comes with fries, and I’ve ordered almost everything on the menu there over the years.

    Finally, a big shout out to my absolute favorite LA restaurant — Milky Way. Great food, wonderful atmosphere, the prices haven’t gone up since it opened 30 years ago — seriously best bargain for the dollar — and the wonderful owner is fantastic to shmooze with.

  • Yo Mamma February 24, 2010, 4:02 AM

    As for Chinese, Chick n Chow. They make the best kosher Chinese food in LA. It’s a takeout, though.

  • joe February 24, 2010, 2:36 PM

    Wow, I used to feel like you but after living in LA for more than a year i felt very different.

    Actually even after first coming here, i noticed that many people were extremely unfriendly, nasty and bitter. As you may very well know, LA’s economy is in shambles. People are finding it hard to upkeep their extravagant opulent lifestyles and me, the poor newcomer, is forced to pay the price. Last time when I returned to LA from NY, I overheard some people (obviously tourists from the east coast) saying: “this is LA, people are supposed to be happy here, how come nobody is smiling”.

    If you’re looking for a good shul, there aren’t many to choose from. BJ and YICC are extremely unfriendly to newcomers. Although YICC does have a dynamic Rabbi and there are some very good people there, you just have to try to get to know them. The Happy Minyan has a lot of freaks, so beware.

    In terms of food, your best bet is the Kosher Subway. And, there is a good sushi place there too, it’s right across from Nagilah.

  • a random goy February 24, 2010, 6:49 PM

    This article was fascinating. You should try the Fish Grill on Beverly Blvd., it’s great.

    Also, I don’t know, maybe I’m missing something culturally here, but there are about 1000 sushi restaurants in the LA area. Plenty of them in orthodox-y neighborhoods too, such as Larchmont.

    re the guy with a year here: maybe you should move away. more room for those of us that live here thru thick and thin. He recommended freakin Subway! hilarious.

  • joe February 24, 2010, 6:53 PM

    Yeah, I’m planning on leaving this godforsaken dump soon. Enjoy this miserable smoggy place, especially when that big one hits…

    • Hugh Dick February 24, 2010, 9:50 PM

      your best bet is subway? are you for real???? all you get at subway is a bunch of bread. Jeff’s totally pwnz that overpriced dump

  • Hugh Dyck February 24, 2010, 9:50 PM

    your best bet is subway? are you for real???? all you get at subway is a bunch of bread. Jeff’s totally pwnz that overpriced dump

  • Sef February 24, 2010, 10:40 PM

    Sounds like you got L.A. down pat. I think most people are disappointed when they come because there is so much hype about it. You probably enjoyed it so much more because you came with such low expectations. One thing I do love about the city though is that the Jewish community is so diverse and (especially in the west hollywood area) well blended.

  • yosi February 25, 2010, 12:28 PM

    yomamma– I am in Malibu for a couple days and I just told my wife the exact same thing. The mexican/burger place that used to be in the Fish Grill was one of the best kosher places I’ve been to. Great tastes, great vibes, great portions…and surprisingly decent prices (especially for Malibu!)

    Boruch dayan emes for such a good restaurant. I am not so hot about the Fish Grill they have now. I have experience really lousy service (they’re friendly, but that doesn’t excuse crappy service). And their menu is hit or miss. Some is good as Hesh pointed out, but some is total garbage. Love the giant cookies though

    • Yo Mamma February 26, 2010, 12:40 PM

      Yosi, yeah, the former Malibu Beach Grill was hands down my favorite restaurant of all time anywhere on the planet, mostly because I’m all about the beach and my favorite food is Mexican. So, I’ll join you in saying baruch dayan ha’emes.

      Since you mentioned the giant cookies, I MUST mention that Malibu Beach Grill made the biggest, fattest giant cookies I’ve ever had, and they were to die for. Chocolate chip. Yum! They cost a lot but were worth it. Fish Grill big cookies are ok, but I’m way more in chocolate chip than I am about oatmeal or whatever they are now. The FG ones are half the size of the old ones and they’re not as soft, yet they cost the same price.

      So, that’s another letdown going from Beach Grill to Fish Grill.

  • OrangeCountyPerson February 25, 2010, 3:20 PM

    I drive about 45 minute to LA just to eat the Kosher sushi at SushiKo. It’s like a real sushi resturaunt. And right across the streat is my favorite meat.

    Neglia Meating place. (the pizza sucks, I agree) However, if you are still in L.A. you have to go to Neglia Meating place and order a Shwarma Laffa. They are just like the ones in Israel. Amazing stuff.

    Neglia Meating Place is attached to Negilla Pizza. And SushiKo is across the streat from both of them.

  • OrangeCountyPerson February 25, 2010, 3:22 PM

    Oh, and it wasn’t for those two resturaunts, and the lack of them in Orange County, I tend to stay away from L.A. like the plague.

  • joe February 25, 2010, 10:04 PM

    Nagila Meating place is hit and miss I guess. I once ordered a shwarma and that thing was swimming in grease and tasted like crap. I’ve had some good stuff there too.
    Sushiko is actually great but not for guys on the downlow.

  • Alter Cocker April 23, 2012, 7:17 PM

    “Los Angeles is the opposite of New York. The extreme opposite, in fact. Unlike most of the west where people are polite and friendly, LA people, like NYers, are also blunt and real with you.”

    LA is the extreme opposite of New York, but it’s like New York? What are you trying to say here?

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