The Presidio Market looks like your bog standard corner liquor shop, huh. But at lunchtime the deli opens up where they serve generous portions at good prices.
Three of us shared a carnitas torta and a chile verde burrito. Each cost $6.
The torta is the long bread roll variety, stuffed with shredded pork and finely diced fresh jalapeno which gave it a good amount of zippy flavor. I happen to be the type that likes a torta as a soft bun, and feel that the long roll gets too tough and chewy, but this was good nonetheless. The filling was fabulous, and that’s the main point.
The chile verde burrito was the winner item with big tender chunks of pork, wrapped up in beans, rice and lots of melty cheese. The cheese gets so hot and melty that this is best eaten with a fork. Basically, this is something normally ordered as a plate of food, except it’s been wrapped up in a big tortilla. Do not eat this on the run.
The seating at the market is sparse and, frankly, a little unaesthetic. It’s easy enough to grab the food to go, and walk it to the sunken gardens, or do like we did and sit in the open patio area of the long closed Acapulco/Stateside in la Arcada.
Bonus: front row seating of the fountain and its resident turtles!
I once read an MFK Fisher story in the Art of Eating about a young girl who slipped away for a day, later revealing to the author that she’d gone into town and sat at a cafe the entire time, spending her week’s allowance on a four hour meal of Viennese coffee, salami, pickles and pastries while she watched the world go by. Fisher called it dining with yourself, and rather than it being a sorrowful state for lack of company, it’s a moment of unapologetic indulgence. The girl also brought back a nice pastry for her mother. I got a similar vibe when I visited the cafe in Nordstrom, which is located on the top floor of the department store. It had an elegant indoor seating area, and a tiled patio area with a view of the downtown skyline. The atmosphere is casual; nobody dining there seemed to be in a rush. It seemed an ideal meeting spot for friends to catch up over lunch, or for a mother-daughter shopping break. It wasn’t very crowded, and I grabbed a great spot out on the patio.
Not one, not two, but three co-workers went out of their way to tell me in the past couple months how much they like the Cafe Nordstrom. The soup was given high marks. This indicates several possibilities. One, this Cafe is very girlie girl to go to. Two, maybe they have a business women’s lunch special, for business women, Romi and Michelle style. Three, they have good food and good soup!
Ordering is done at the front counter, where you pay and then find a seat. Dishes are staged up at the front counter, but a waiter will bring it out for you. My friend and I shared a French Dip sandwich and a cup of the soup du jour.
The sandwich was great, amply portioned and the jus to dip it in was flavorful without being salty. Sandwiches come with an option of kettle chips or a small salad, and I got the salad with creamy champagne vinaigrette. It cost $10, and we split it and shared. Everything tasted fresh, and was nicely plated. In fact, all the dishes coming out of the kitchen looked good.
The daily soup varies, with no predictable schedule. There’s a tomato and basil soup that’s always on the menu, but the artichoke and parmesan soup one co-worker raved about was nowhere in sight the day I was there, so I had a southwestern style chicken and vegetable soup, topped with one of the nicest crostini I’d ever eaten. Crisp on the outside, soft and chewy inside, I didn’t even think that was possible for crostini. A cup of soup cost $3.50.
To confirm that impulse shopping does work, the Cafe displays its desserts right by the cashier where you order your food, and I got suckered in by a large snickerdoodle. All the cakes and pies are brought in from an LA bakery, but the cookies and bars are baked on site, costing in the $2-3 range. My snickerdoodle was $2, large and delicious – a balance of crisp, sweet and chewy. I’d go back there just to have a cookie and a coffee and indulge in a little time with myself. Maybe I’d bring back a sweet for my mother, too!
Cafe Nordstrom, 3rd floor
I’ll admit it – I haven’t been a huge fan of Fresco. Even when it was just the one deli in Five Points, it always seemed busy, which is a good sign for a restaurant, but I sometimes get overwhelmed by crowds. Many of my girlfriends absolutely love the place.
This week, a co-worker who’d transferred out of state was in the office and suggested that Fresco was a place she’d like to revisit for a lunch. She got the quiche and the Greek side salad. It cost around $10. And we got a table without resorting to fisticuffs! However, she ended up being underwhelmed with the quiche and thought it was bland. Sometimes, memory is better than reality. But we tried.
I ordered off the Specials menu, which was offering a bbq pork sandwich, and choice of side salad, and it cost about $12.50, including tax. The pork slices were grilled, and served with a bbq sauce, cheese, and a high pile of finely shaved fried onion rings. It came open face, with the hot components on one side, and the lettuce, tomato and pickles on the other.
What I should have done was eat the salad and half the sandwich, and taken the other half home for dinner. Instead I crammed all of it in and lolled around in a food coma for the rest of the afternoon. In other words, it was tasty enough for me to accept the consequences.
Fresco does offer a selection of their sandwiches in a half portion, and the salad or soup for a couple dollars less. Also, upon sitting down, a waiter brings out a small basket of complimentary bread and butter. It’s a nice touch, considering the diner orders and pays at a front counter.
Fresco Cafe North
Whitefoot is probably the last remaining mom and pop butchery in Santa Barbara. So I am very conflicted to hear that a Fresh and Easy grocery store chain is moving into Whitefoot’s space, along with a row of other mom and pop businesses in that block.
I went there yesterday on an errand to get a tri-tip, some tri-tip sandwiches for friends who couldn’t get there themselves and those sandwiches are their very very favorite, and to buy up a big bag of their smoked ham hocks.
The shopkeepers honestly did not know whether they had to close or stay open, but they are staying open as long as they can. They are also looking to relocate, should they have to vacate the property.
Either way, if you have butchery needs and want to show you appreciate a very local business, go there and show your support.
The tri-tip sandwich is indeed lovely, this photo is of just half the sandwich. In you’re eating in, get the salsa on it, if you’re taking it away, get the salsa on the side so the roll doesn’t get soggy. The salsa is critical to a good tri-tip sandwich. This big gut buster full size sandwich costs about $9 and can feed two.
The *best* ham hocks are available here. They are sold whole, and the butcher can cut them up into several chunks for you. Wonderful for bean soups and stews. Where else locally can you get this?
My tri-tip I bought plain, and they seasoned it for me. Chain store seasoned tri-tip I normally have to wash most of the sauce off before I’ll set it on the grill. Here it’s hand seasoned by people who know how to bring the best out of their cuts of meat.
I took the day off to celebrate my birthday without the hassles of work taking up my attention. For lunch we went to Metropulos to eat a gyro. Theirs are the best in town, made from scratch, and only served Fridays at lunchtime. Since I no longer work in this area, my only hope to get this sandwich is by taking the day off. Coincidentally, that has worked out several times.
We shared the gyro, and also tried the warm turkey and harissa sandwich. Gyro was fabulous, as always. The harissa, however, was too hot for me, even after scraping off as much of the sauce as I could. No more harissa sammies, just the Metro Firehouse going forward. But the harissa certainly was memorable.
We also did a little shopping, picking up some creamy blue cheese, some lovely olives, and no-nitrate salami, for snacks later on.
Photos by Ted Mills.
Metro Fine Foods
I have been wanting to find excuses to visit LA more often. The area has been too overwhelming for me to handle, especially dealing with traffic and parking.
Luckily, Ted’s had some experience with the area, and insisted that Langer’s was the place to go for the best pastrami sandwich. Yes, better than New York! This, I had to see and taste for myself and we made a culinary weekend of it.
We start with the happy chap himself, sitting at the table waiting for the #19 pastrami sandwich to come out. We were also sitting near the official chair for Al Langer to use when he dined here. Up at the counter, with his name embroidered on the seat.
The sandwiches were indeed divine. The ever popular #19, with slices of pastrami, creamy coleslaw and cheese seemed to melt in our mouths. The bread, a rye that’s brought in par-baked and finished on site, was warm yet finely crisp on the crust. Delightful to bite into.
We also ordered the #88, corned beef with sauerkraut and swiss, served hot. Everything was nice and melty. The sauerkraut added more zing to the sandwich, compared to #19. Both were good, but #19 may have been better, with the sweeter coleslaw that didn’t taste as heavy as the sauerkraut.
The waitress also noted our cameras and asked if we were writers. I mentioned my piddly little food blog, but it was enough for her to offer for us to meet the manager, Norman Langer. He was extremely nice, and talked of some of Langer’s history in Los Angeles, how it indeed was considered better than the New York delis (and I have had the pastrami at Katz’s. I think it’s close, but perhaps Langer’s is better!), and then imparted some of the details on their fabulous sandwich preparation, which is how we learned about the par-baked rye bread.
Finally we asked the question I’m sure he heard all the time, “what’s the difference between corned beef and pastrami?” He first pointed to the answer written in the menu. Then he told us.
And if you’re curious: their corned beef/brisket comes from two layers of meat around the breast plate of the cow. Their pastrami comes from the steer, from a different cut of meat, closer to the belly. And it uses different spices.
I was feeling plenty vindicated on my complaint that LA’s driving and parking sucks, due to the asstrocious driving and parking we experienced getting there, but there WAS free parking to be had, just for Langer’s customers. For lo, there is a paid lot half a block away that waives the first hour’s fee with validation from Langer’s. Bless them.
And it is very possible to be in and out in under an hour. The staff makes very quick work of getting you seated, getting food to your table, and settling the bill – with a friendly reminder to get your parking stub validated.
Langer’s (Westlake area)
For what appears to be such a tiny place, IV Deli Mart really packs it in.
Market stuff is in the front of the shop, and the deli portion is in the back, complete with those tantilizing rotating spits of kebab meat.
Boysenberry shishah – good selection of shishah and prices were reasonable. The man behind the counter was excellent that giving advice and talking about the shishah.
Lamb gyro (in picture) – same man behind the counter recommended I try the lamb gyro over the falafel. I did want both, but my stomach real estate won’t allow. The lamb gyro was substantial and tasty, lots of meat and a good amount of crunchy vegetables. The pita bread is good, but it does start falling apart quickly. Keep that paper and foil wrapper handy for holding everything in place.
Meatball sub – acceptable, but slightly underwhelming. In retrospect, McMarko and I should have skipped the meatball sub and gotten the falafel I was eyeing up earlier.
Red vines – they’re red vines.
There is no sit-down option at this deli-market, which helps justify the lower prices, and it’s easy enough to walk over to the park and sit on the benches.
There aren’t many places around that serve shawerma and related sandwiches, so this is a gem. And it’s great food for being on the go.
I.V. Deli Mart
Last February, Jon gave me the heads up that D’vine Deli had the best burgers in town. I had my doubts, but I was not able to sample the goods myself until just recently. Yes, nearly 6 months later. I did alert another friend in the meantime, and he went, and reported them to be somewhere along the lines of kick-ass.
Still, with a weekday holiday thanks to Independence Day, I made the trek over with Jon. He gave the disclaimer that new burgers options in town just might have usurped the title of best burger, but that they were still good.
We hit up the deli just before the lunch crowd hit, and our orders for cheeseburgers received knowing nods of approval from the staff. We sat down, smug.
And here are the results, profile view and front view.
BUT…it’s still not my favorite burger in town. ;)
Do check out the communal wall of conversation fridge magnets out in the dining area. Fun times!
I’ve been coming to CrushCafe enough times that a friend walked over there to say hi, knowing I’d be there. Sounds like “CrushCafe Regular” to me. Woot!
The free wi-fi, while slow at times, is a great perk. And for being in a cute old building, there are a good number of electrical sockets along the walls to plug into.
Lately the clientele has included more men. Looks like they’ve accepted their metro side, and accept that the food is decent and that the world is a better place when their women have cupcakes.
And I don’t mean to get ahead of myself, but I was at a party recently and a couple said they first dined at CrushCafe because I kept talking it up and now they love it. Something about it being “so cute” and it wasn’t the woman who said that. I’m pleased as punch.
But yeah! Food, what’s new?