Azla Vegan, Historic South-Central, Los Angeles

Ethiopian cuisine is one of my greatest culinary loves so I was psyched when a friend of mine from the Craft & Folk Art Museum invited me to come eat at his family’s new restaurant, Azla Vegan. Located in Mercado La Paloma in Historic South Central Los Angeles, this modern space is inviting with it’s vibrant food and friendly staff. Upon my visit, I was met with open arms by the beautiful Nesanet, who so eloquently runs the show, and she kindly introduced me to her mother Azla, who is the chef behind the whole operation. Azla, the only Ethiopian restaurant in South L.A., blossomed from the family’s love for healthy vegan fare but done so without sacrificing flavor. I am so thankful the family decided to share their creations with all of us!

Azla’s menu focuses on creative interpretations of traditional Ethiopian dishes, using local and organic produce. You can order a combo meal, offering 1 to 4 different items (depending on how hungry you are) and it’s paired with your choice of gluten-free injera bread or brown rice. Injera, if you are not familiar, is a porous flatbread that absorbs spices, juices, and flavors perfectly, not to mention an ideal way to eat with your hands, tearing off tiny pieces for each bite. My colorful plate consisted of a rainbow of flavors, including Keysir (marinated beets, red onion), Kale Salad with garbanzo beans + pomegranate seeds, Gomen (kale, collards, garlic), Fasolia (carrots, green beans, caramelized onions), Yatakilt (curry potatoes, carrots, cabbage), Kik (yellow split peas, tumeric, ginger) and a seasonal special of Pumpkin Curry. I had a tall glass of refreshing Sorrel with ginger, which complimented my meal, a drink that spoke to this Mexican American girl forever in love with  jamaica – hibiscus to much of the world. The beauty of eating something so incredibly healthy and dense in nutrients is that it leaves no room for a food coma, or itis if you will. Upon completion of my meal, instead of feeling like I needed a nap, I felt as if I could run a half marathon. Nes and Azla aimed to create a healthy option in the community and they most definitely succeeded.

DID SOMEONE SAY ETHIOPIAN PIZZA? My jaw dropped when Nes pulled a pizza from the oven, something they had been testing out, which has officially been added to the menu. Incredibly flavorful and unique, it’s the best vegan + gluten free pizza I have tasted, with a tomato sauce bursting with berbere, an Ethiopian mix that consists of 15 different spices. Upon my first bite, I literally jumped up in the air thinking I just ate something so few have before me – it was a special moment – and it was delicious! Azla is creating great food that makes you feel good.

Azla Vegan, 3655 S Grand Ave Ste# C2, Los Angeles, CA 90007

Azla Vegan Ethiopian, L.A. Food Blogs

Azla Vegan Ethiopian Pizza, L.A. Food Blog

Azla Vegan South Central

Azla Vegan Family

DeLuscious Cookies & Milk, Hollywood

Not typically a sweets lover, I wasn’t sure what to expect when I was invited to try a box of freshly baked cookies that would be conveniently delivered to my home. I heard the door bell ring one morning and I knew my sweet treats had arrived! I practically skipped to the door and was taken aback with just how lovely my box of cookies were, elegantly wrapped in a beautiful bow, with the words DeLuscious Cookies + Milk displayed on the side. Each cookie is prepared, packaged and delivered with impeccable quality and care; I was overwhelmed with delight as I began pulling each them out, one more intriguing than the next. Nine unique beautifully baked goods, all drool inducing and awaiting my attention. I knew I wouldn’t be able to eat these alone so I enlisted the help of the parentals – who were just as eager – to sample the variations. It was clear we were about to dive into some high-quality creations, so every moment had to be savored.

From top to bottom: Red Velvet Chocolate Brownie, Chocolate Decadence, Peanut Butter Kimchi, Peanut Butter, Gluten Free Oatmeal Raisin, Vegan Gluten Free Chocolate Chip, Vegan Oatmeal Raisin, Vegan Chocolate Chip, Chocolate Chip. This might sound crazy and if they weren’t my own words, I don’t know if I would believe them, but I was absolutely blown away by the Vegan Chocolate Chip cookie and it was undoubtedly my favorite of the bunch. All were spectacular, especially the Red Velvet Chocolate Brownie and Chocolate Decadence, but I my number one remains the same. The flavor was incredible and if you can imagine, was simultaneously soft and crispy. It looks like they’re offering a Holiday Dozen, so if you’re looking for that perfect gift of sweet, DeLuscious has you covered. If you just can’t wait and are in the L.A. area, stop by their shop and cozy up with some cookies and milk.

DeLuscious Cookies & Milk, 829 N. Highland Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90038

DeLuscious Cookies & Milk, L.A. Food Blog

Vinca Giveaway: Sriracha Earrings

It’s not every day I come across food inspired jewelry that I actually want to wear, but that all changed when I was put on to VINCA. Hailing from Austin, Texas, VINCA makes all of their products in the USA and won my heart over with these sunny side up eggs and Sriracha bottle earrings. How could you not love these? I am super psyched to be giving away a pair of Sriracha earrings to one lucky NJ in LA fan. The studs are about half an inch tall, made with acrylic and surgical steel posts. The perfect accessory when you’re craving a bowl of pho! Follow these easy instructions to enter and I’ll announce a winner a week from today.

1. Like VINCA on Facebook  /   2. Follow @NJinLA on Instagram  /  3. Leave a comment on this post

Congrats to Val Joy, you’ve been chosen as the winner!

Sriracha Earrings

The Sycamore Kitchen, Mid-City, Los Angeles

The Sycamore Kitchen has been on my “why haven’t you eaten here yet?” list for a minute, so when I was invited to enjoy a lovely breakfast at this mid-city cozy zone earlier this week, I was happy to come stroll up in the a.m. Nestled between the ever growing design and street wear stores on La Brea, this sun soaked spot is quite the reprieve from the crazy L.A. streets. The space encompasses brick, varied wood, and feels warm and welcoming. Upon looking at the breakfast menu I was overwhelmed with the choices, each selection looking better that the next. I had already made up my mind on the Jerusalem Bowl, until I reached the very last option – Eggs Benedict – and I didn’t have to think twice. At this point in my life, I could probably write an eggs Benedict guide.

The eggs benny at The Sycamore Kitchen is steping up the game, made with honey-sherry glazed pancetta, poached eggs, fried rosemary and hollandaise. The pancetta was killer, easy to slice, and tasted like pork butter in my mouth. But it was the hollandaise sauce that took the dish to the next level, with the brightest flavors of citrus in each bite. I almost felt like I was eating sunshine. The eggs where perfectly prepared and as I poked each one, I watched the yolk ooze like it was a slow motion money shot.

On the sweet side, I enjoyed a Salted Caramel Pecan Babka Roll, which came straight out of the oven, and a healthy slice of Pumpkin Loaf. The selection of baked goods are prepared daily at The Sycamore Kitchen. With pastries, loaves and muffins on display at the counter, it’s hard not to loose your mind while taking in the beautiful scene. It would be difficult not to leave here without a box of buttercups, brioche, and scones, so don’t say I didn’t warn you! For those pastry addicts (and I know many), you need to make this place a priority in your life. My sweet treats paired nicely with my Stumptown Coffee soy latte while I sipped it slowly while basking in the sun. It almost felt like I was on vacation in my own city. I cannot wait to return to The Sycamore Kitchen as I want to try almost everything on the menu, like say the Cured Salmon Tartine, with avocado capers, hard boiled egg, radish and creme fraîche. Who’s with me?

The Sycamore Kitchen, 143 S La Brea Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90036

The Sycamore Kitchen Pastries, L.A. Food Blog

The Sycamore Kitchen

The Sycamore Kitchen Stumptown Coffee, L.A. Food Blog

Sycamore Kitchen loaves, L.A. Food Blog

The Sycamore Kitchen eggs benedict, L.A. Food Blog

The Sycamore Kitchen pumpkin loaf, L.A. Food Blog

Lucky Noodle King, San Gabriel

Lucky Noodle King is one of my favorite places to eat and not just because it’s a 5 minute bike ride from my house. I have been hooked on LNK since my first meal and there have been times where you could catch me eating there at least once a week. Calling me a regular would be an understatement, but with Sichuan this good and my addiction to spicy, it is hard to stay away. I bring all my friends to Lucky Noodle King and always order the same thing for their introductory meal: Dan Dan Noodles, Wontons in Chili Oil and Chongqing Chicken. I have tried numerous dishes at my Sichuan staple, but these are the ones that consistently please any newcomer I bring in. An added bonus is the plate of complimentary pickled cabbage and peanuts tossed in chili, or a special surprise from the kitchen, like a spicy cured sausage that Lee Lee was recently testing out. Yes, I am on a first name basis at Lucky Noodle King.

Dan Dan Noodles are tops for me in the Chinese culinary game. Made to order, the noodles are typically knife cut (though I’ve eaten hand cut around town) and on the softer side. Packed with dried red chilies, crushed peanuts, minced garlic, ground pork and a dollop of peanut sauce, this colorful bowl demands tossing at the table. The flavors are rich and spicy (duh, Sichuan) but I love adding even more heat with the obligatory peppers found on the table. This bowl of noodles is so delicious it’s hard not to devote your entire meal to worshiping their creation. I must warn, you will become addicted! Next up, the Wontons in Chili Oil Sauce, topped with crushed red peppers and scallions. The broth in which these wontons live is hearty and the swirls of bright red chili oil adds to the flavor in which I crave. These are most perfect on a cold day.

Paging fried chicken lovers, the Chongqing Chicken is a stellar dish of spicy fried goodness. Simply peep that heaping mound of peppers and your tongue will be able to envision the kind of heat packed in each bite. I have been eating fried chicken in the SGV since I was a kid and there is something to be said about our popcorn pieces that stand out from the rest. At LNK, it’s fun to pluck these bad boys out from under the mountain of chilies and enjoy the spicy crunch of each morsel.

Lucky Noodle King, 534 E Valley Blvd # 10, San Gabriel, CA 91776

Lucky Noodle King Dan Dan Noodles

Lucky Noodle King Owner

Lucky Noodle King

Lucky Noodle King Spicy Wonton, L.A. Food Blog

Lucky Noodle King Spicy Sausage, L.A. Food Blog

Lucky Noodle King Fried Chicken, L.A. Food Blog

Santa Anita Race Track, Arcadia

A couple weeks ago I was invited by America’s Best Racing to spend an afternoon of drinking, eating and gambling at Santa Anita Race Track in Arcadia. Having grown up just a few miles away and spending Easter Sunday on the infield grass eating a picnic lunch as a child, I jumped at the chance of revisiting the place where I had built fond memories of placing bets with my grandfather, watching my Dad go nuts over a horse and running around with my mother and sister just for fun. I knew things were going to be different this time around being that I am now of legal age, but I decided to still keep it in the family and asked my Father to be my date.

After taking a tour of the track, we settled in the Club House were I hit the open bar and ordered a brewski. Getting turnt up while hanging with your Dad is quite the scene on a weekday afternoon. I quickly became hungry and after taking a look at the newly developed dining area, there was no doubt I was going to order a delicious prime rib sandwich. Just look at the color and fat ends of that piece of meat! I was practically foaming at the mouth. Topped with pickles, mayonaise and mustard, this sandwich is all I needed to accompany my cold beer – I felt like a real player at the track. AMR was not only kind enough to treat me to booze and food, but happily placed $50 in my hands to give the gambling a go! This is where my Dad’s knowledge became crucial, as he broke down each race, betting tactics and feeling out the vibes of the horse. Steve James knew what was up because as I kept losing – basing my choices on names that sounded like rap songs – he kept cashing in!

I was really surprised with how much fun I had just chilling at the race track, time just flew by. Made me think of the crazy time my friends and I could have hitting the bar and then screaming at the top of our lungs as our horses crossed the finished line. Really looking forward to revisiting Santa Anita when the Breeder’s Cup comes to town November 1 – 2. Maybe I’ll see you there?

Santa Anita Race Track, 285 W Huntington Dr, Arcadia, CA 91007

Santa Anita Race Track Food

Santa Anita Race Track Beer

Santa Anita Race Track

Santa Anita Race Track Breeders Cup

Santa Anita Race Track Betting

Santa Anita Interior Design

Bucato, Culver City

Bucato is one of those L.A. restaurants that is on everyone’s tongue and despite how delicious the food is, the first thing I usually hear about this cozy Culver City spot is “did you know there is a strict no photography policy?” That is not what I would want to be known for as a restaurant, but you cannot deny the fact that Bucato has taken a staunch stance against photos – unless that is, you smile kindly and your server is sweet enough to say “I’ll pretend you’re not doing that.” Kinda defeats the whole purpose, doesn’t it? I digress, on to the meal, all shot with my iPhone.

When there is much hype behind a new restaurant you want everything you eat to taste like it was delivered from the heavens. That was not entirely the case at Bucato, and it’s probably unfair to expect that, but my dinner had some major moments in addition to serving up two of my favorite dishes this year – that’s saying a lot! The menu is broken down into 6 different elements: Pane, Spuntini, Pasta Fatta A Mano, Fattoria, Mare and Campo. The show stoppers were without question the Figs with burrata, basil + mostco cotto and the Squash Blossoms with sheep’s milk ricotta and mint. Ironically it was someone’s Instagram photo of the fig dish that got me to Bucato and it tasted even better than it looked, if you can believe that. Perfectly ripened figs paired with my favorite kind of cheese, this was so delicious that I could have ate a few more bowls of this and been happy. Everyone I have sent to Bucato since my meal have been given strict instructions to order this dish. Being that they offer a seasonal menu (love that) you better go now before figs can no longer be found and you’ll have to cry into your glass of wine. Also worthy of your tears are the gently fried squash blossoms. Growing up Mexicana, squash blossoms made their way on to my plate regularly, especially since we were growing them in the backyard! It is such a pleasure to see them on menus and being executed with such mastery, especially these, which offered the most perfect crunch while squirting soft cheese into my mouth. It would be criminal not to order these at Bucato.

Also on our table for dinner were the Heirloom Tomatoes Panzella, stracciatella, and the Batard with goat’s milk butter + ash salt. The Heirloom Tomatoes were solid, packed with that perfect summer flavor and vibrant with each bite. The Batard was the major miss at the meal, for both myself and my date, so much that we both had a bite and abandoned the plate. The bread was chewy, reminiscent of the fatal error of microwaving bread – seemed really out of place among the other incredible dishes we were noshing on. Having heard so much about Bucato’s hand cut pasta, I was prepared to have my socks knocked off but unfortunately that was not the case. Our Tortelloni Romagnoli with San Marzano, butter and parmigiano was delicate, but lacked the flavor we both assumed would come from the three flavors accompanying it. The pasta itself called for appreciation, but the flavor palate was surprisingly dull. A bummer to say the least. Thankfully things were about to be elevated once again when the meats began to arrive at our table.

Our dinner came to an end with the Lamb T-Bone, Confit Duck Leg with chanterelles, roasted corn + wild huckleberries and Porchetta Truck. Yes, we ordered all 3! The sun had already set so I couldn’t quite capture the Porchetta Truck like I had hope but rest assured it was tasty. The lamb stole the savory show for me, being incredibly tender and moist. I barely had to chew my lamb because it melted in my mouth, one of the best feelings while eating no doubt. My date and I were both in agreement that the duck had a perfect skin, crunchy with each bite, and the meat was as tender as we had hoped. The only complaint was that for $21, there could be a little more on the plate. Desserts were ordered and enjoyed, but it was far too dark to capture their beauty. If you have room for sweets – I mean, c’mon – I suggest you go with the donuts, which arrive hot in a paper bag. It’s a perfect end to what should be a great meal.

Bucato, 3280 Helms Ave, Culver City, CA. 90034

Bucato Figs & Burrata

Bucato Fried Squash Blossom

Bucato Culver City

Bucato Heirloom Tomatoes

Bucato Hand Cut Pasta

Bucato Duck Leg

Bucato Lamb T-Bone

Los Angeles Food & Wine Festival 2013

This summer I had the privilege of attending the 2013 Los Angeles Food & Wine Festival. 4 days of incredible tastings, chef demos and all the alcohol you could drink in a giant wine glass they handed you upon entering. I made it to a couple events, one of them being the opening night celebration on the streets of Downtown L.A., directly across from the beautiful Walt Disney Hall. I was super psyched about the kickoff, not just because of the incredible food awaiting me, but because the LAFW had locked in Questlove as DJ for the evening. As you can see, I managed to make my way on to the stage (what else is new) to enjoy his seamless mixes of Michael Jackson, Crystal Waters, and Toto.

There is something about the L.A. Food & Wine Fest that stands out from other festivals and it’s not just the quality of food and wine at your fingertips. What I especially enjoyed was the room to breathe – the crowds weren’t nuts, no one was stepping on my toes and the lines, if any, moved effortlessly. If there is something I cannot stand it is people all up on me and that did not happen once at the festivities. I happily moved from booth to booth, drunk off my Stella Artois Cidre (now addicted), picking up my tiny plates of beautifully handcrafted bites. I had the chance to taste delicious creations by L.A. restaurants Bucato, Bestia and Drago, all of which I have dined at since the event. If you’ve been flirting with the idea of reservations at some of L.A.’s most sought after culinary destinations, you will begin your love affair at the LAFW. Buying a ticket is totally worth it, if only to whet your appetite for the places you have yet to explore and oh yeah, the turn up.

These are just a few up my favorite bites. Have I ever mentioned how much I love caviar?

Los Angeles Food & Wine Fest 2013, L.A. Food Blog

Questlove Food, L.A. Rap Blog

Los Angeles Food & Wine Fest 2013

Italian Chicken and Dumplings, L.A. Food Blog

Caviar Cannoli, L.A. Food Blog

Stella Artois Cidre

LAFW Duck Fat Taco

LAFW Caviar Lox, L.A. Food Blog

LAFW Polenta, L.A. Food Blog

800° Degrees, Westwood

Haven’t you always wanted to build your own pizza but with quality ingredients? I was psyched when I was invited to 800° Degrees Neapolitan Pizzeria in Westwood because recently my friend Whitney was telling me how much she enjoyed it – not to mention, how perfect of a spot it was for a casual date. AND CUZ PIZZA! I started my tour at 800°’s take away jawn, just around the corner from their original location. It was there I learned all about their new Panuozzo sandwiches which are prepared with freshly baked pizza dough and perfect for someone on the go. I ordered a delicious hot lamb panuozza in addition to the cold Salumi, made with Italian cold cuts, caciocavallo, pepperoncini and vinaigrette. This would have been the perfect lunch when I was at my alma mater (UCLA) up the street.

It wouldn’t take you long to realize from looking at my Instagram to know how much I LOVE BURRATA. At 800° they don’t just have pizzas and panuozzos but they also have some flavorful burrata plates. I choose the cherry tomatoes + pesto + burrata and prosciutto + melon. Amazing combinations, right? Both plates came with grilled bread but I didn’t need it because the ingredients were so fresh and flavorful that I wanted to experience them all on their own. Also, because we had ordered 3 pizzas and I am not trying to kill myself with bread. Almost all their burrata plates are only $5 with the exception of the prosciutto which is $11 for obvious reasons. I highly recommend you order any kind of burrata dish when the opportunity presents itself.

Neapolitan style pizza is my favorite because I simply love a thin crust, even better when it’s slightly charred on the ends. Each pie is made in a wood-burning oven and cooks in about a minute. At 800° you pull up to the pizza bar, make your selections – get creative as you want – and your pizza will be baked and ready before you even leave the counter! This style of pizza is eaten with a knife and fork in Italy but since I was in Westwood I didn’t feel any pressure. There’s something about holding a slice of pizza like a little baby in your hands that feels rewarding. I wanted to try a variety of their pies so I went with a classic Margherita, a speciality in the form of the Tartufo and built my own. The Tartufo, made with truffle cheese, mushrooms, roasted garlic and arugula (no sauce) was aromatic and bold. The flavor of the truffle paired with the smokiness of the garlic was a gift to my mouth. This, you have to try. For my own creation I chose the Verde which is a green pie (pine nut basil pesto) with fresh mozzarella + Parmigiano Reggiano and topped it with pepperoni and Molinari sweet Italian salsiccia. This pizza was bomb to say the least. The spices packed in the pork where are on point and were partying with my taste buds. I always prefer having some kind of pizza with savory meat on my table to compliment a meatless pizza. I was very much tempted by their prosciutto, bacon and rosemary ham toppings, but figured I would save those for next time. Did I mention they are open until 2am?

800° Degrees, 10889 Lindbrook Dr, Los Angeles, CA 90024

800 Degrees Tartufo Pizza

800 Degrees Woodfire Oven

800 Degrees Panuozzo

800 Degrees Westwood

800 Degrees Pizza Dough

800 Degrees Build Your Own Pizza

800 Degrees Burrata

800 Degrees Margherita Pizza

800 Degrees Prosciutto Melon, L.A. Food Blog

800 Degrees Pesto Pizza, L.A. Food Blog

Tutti Frutti Organic Farm, Santa Ynez Valley

Last month I was invited by Von’s to take a tour of Tutti Frutti Organic Farm, nestled in the beautiful rolling hills of the Santa Ynez Valley. I have enjoyed many drives up the California Central Coast over my lifetime and have always appreciated the flourishing farms along the way. When the opportunity arose to visit a local farm and meet the people behind it, I jumped at the chance. I packed my hat, sunscreen and plenty of water and was on my way to discover a beautiful landscape of organic produce. Little did I know that Von’s and Pavillions had been stocking Tutti Frutti organic fruit and vegetables for almost a decade – some of same things you find at your local farmers market!

When I arrived at the farm I was so excited I immediately wanted to start rolling down a hill but I contained myself. Once I really began to take it in, I started to think about how when my grandmother was a young girl she worked in the fields picking fruit and now here I was, invited to blog all about a farm-to-table experience. I wish she was here to have seen this because she always encouraged me to write, especially since she always followed her dreams and graduated college at 50 years old. Amazing, right? The farm was bountiful, the sun was blazing and I found myself in the crops picking a bell pepper and biting right in. The crunch was like an apple and the sweetness was surprising, because I was on a organic farm I did not have to worry about pesticides or other poisons when eating my fruit – a healthier way to live no doubt.

Our group got a crash course on heirloom tomatoes where we had the chance to taste the many varieties grown on the farm. Being that tomatoes are one of my favorite things to eat, I was in heaven. Once our tour wrapped up, we hiked back to the top of the hill where a farm fresh meal had been prepared and awaited us. Lunch was packed with ingredients like butternut squash, peppers, tomatoes, and eggplant. This was one of the most colorful lunches I have eaten in awhile and it was delicious. A big thank you to Von’s for creating this unique experience that I will forever remember. Eat organic!

Tutti Frutti Organic Farm, L.A. Food Blog

Tutti Frutti Heirloom Tomatoes

Tutti Frutti chili peppers

Tutti Frutti caprese salad

Tutti Frutti Organic Farm