Weeks or months before visiting a new city, the vacation begins. Through blogs, websites, travelogues, and guidebooks, in my mind I’m already there. I’m visiting restaurants, relaxing in a cozy hotel or bed and breakfast… I’m gallivanting through shops, hiking untracked trails, and skipping rocks in previously unknown ponds.
Visiting Los Angeles last month was different than that. Since I lived there for 13 years, returning to my old stomping grounds was more like revisiting memories, taking walks down another dream. Rather than turn to the outside world for inspiration on where to go, I asked myself what I needed to see again, trek again, taste again. In the weeks before the trip, it became nightly dinner conversation for my husband and I to ponder what were the top sites on our itinerary. Unlike most visitors to L.A. we didn’t need to see Mann’s Chinese or the Griffith Park Observatory, no Walk of Fame, and no Disneyland. Okay, Disneyland. But not those other places.
Soon our 6 days were all lined up with the friends we’d see, places we’d go, and the meals we’d eat. If I had to write a list of my favorite places in Los Angeles, it would look like this:
Rahel Ethiopian Cuisine, our favorite restaurant in the world, not just Los Angeles. (I’ve written about my adoration of Rahel before.) The ladies who work at Rahel, including Rahel herself, greeted us with smiles, asking where we’d been. (I didn’t realize we went that often. Apparently, we did!) The people who work there are always so warm. We quickly found the Hudade combo and started salivating in anticipation. The melt-in-your-mouth wots scooped with spongy and somewhat sour injera make for a hearty and flavorful feast. I’ve made Ethiopian food at home, and it’s always good, but it just can’t match what they do at Rahel.
Flore in Silverlake is an entertaining place to people watch. Hipsters abound with their look that seems to say, “It took me an hour to look like I just rolled out of bed.” Even Flore itself has ironic rundown pictures on the walls, a disheveled look, an obtrusively loud juicer, and cramped seating that can be hard to maneuver on weekends. But there’s still something about the place with its casual vibe and organic, vegan fare that’s simple but delicious that keeps me coming back. After a close race with the Portobello Tacos, the Basmati Brown Rice Bowl with chewy baked tofu and sauerkraut on the side won out.
After lunch, we walked around Silverlake. It has lots of unique independent shops, tea stores, juice bars, and a store devoted to spices called Spice Station. Experts* say that walls packed with jars of spices from around the globe may be what heaven looks like. (No experts were interviewed, but one can assume…)
For the most part, the breaded and fried fare at Native Foods is hardly health food with its nachos, pizzas, burgers, fried seitan and ranch dip, but for that reason it makes going there a lot of fun. It’s not the kind of food I make at home, and that’s exactly why it’s such a treat to go and tuck into something so indulgent. My personal favorite is the Oklahoma Bacon Cheeseburger made with seitan, covered in tempeh bacon, fried pickle chips, and a melty plant-based cheese. I like to get it with a side of their kale and it almost legitimizes the meal.
My favorite location is their Costa Mesa location for its breezy atmosphere and fun little shops in the same site, called The Camp. It’s also only twenty minutes from Disneyland, and so it fits with the day to hit it for an early lunch or late dinner. (For my other meal to eat at the park I packed a raw kale salad. Seriously.) Actually, I think it would be great if Native Foods opened a location at Disneyland like Babycakes has done at Disneyworld. Native Foods has the kind of All-American food that I think would appeal to park guests and would be a wonderful option for vegans, vegetarians, and people who love delicious food. Until then, Native Foods is expanding their restaurant chain across the country, including three locations in Chicago.
When the revamped Tony’s Darts Away came on the scene, I didn’t think it would be a big hit with me. I didn’t have a bar in my life, and I didn’t think I was lacking for one. But Tony’s, with its casual atmosphere – no waiting outside for a table – easygoing staff, sliders, loads of vegan sausages with a separate grill for their vegan items, freshly made potato chips and frizzled onions, and an excellent beer menu won me over. They have lots of board games, a pool table, and darts, of course, and it’s an easy place to kick back with friends.
Just up the street from Tony’s is one place I knew I had to visit – my favorite dress shop, Audrey K. Audrey K is an adorable little boutique on Magnolia in Burbank. Audrey has vintage and vintage-inspired clothing with lots of unique styles. They also carry Skunkfunk, a Spanish clothing line, that makes organic clothes out of bamboo and cotton. (I wore one of my Skunkfunk/Audrey K purchases in my recent tofu video demonstrations.) Visiting Audrey Robles, the owner, is like shopping with a girlfriend. She has a great sense of what would look good on anyone’s particular body type, and she knows her clothes well. She orders only small amounts of each style, and so wearing it, you feel you’ve gotten something really unique. I’ve bought jeans from her a few times, and she was able to tell me how they would wash, if they would shrink, or if they would stretch. Best of all, she has such a sense of fun about clothes. Her clothes are playful, sexy, and incredibly wearable.
Finally, I had to swing by the two-level Whole Foods in Pasadena to buy items that are harder to find outside of a big city, enjoy a stroll around Old Town, and stop by Alternative Outfitters to check out their shoes, handbags, and more. I visited Real Food Daily and Sun Cafe, and went on a few hikes, including my favorite trail in Griffith Park overlooking the city. I love seeing downtown Los Angeles from a distance and looking all the way out to the ocean and Catalina Island on a clear day. Somehow it feels from that vantage point like there is order in the chaos. And then after many amazing meals, trails hiked, and joyful visits with friends, my LA visit came to a close.