As a real estate worker in Los Angeles, Al Cassell always felt a good lunch was so hard to find. In a city littered with places to eat, finding a reliable lunch option that featured quality ingredientsat reasonable prices for the everyday worker was surprisingly difficult. In 1948, Al took matters into his own hands and opened Cassell’s Patio on Wilshire Blvd in Koreatown. His restaurant featured lunchtime items he loved, like cured hams, house-made tuna salad, and broiled burgers.
Al was a stickler for fresh ingredients. He had his USDA-select beefflown in from Colorado, before a time when fresh meat delivery was hip. His tuna salad was crafted from slow-poached, wild-caught albacore loins in pickle juice that he mixed with his famous house-made mayo. Eventually moving to 6th Street, the innocent little burger shack with a salad bar blossomed into an LA classic, drawing lines that ate up an entire lunch break. Al Cassell had found his purpose in life serving people and for decades to come would deliver a product that lived up to the high standards to which he held himself.
Like Al, the restaurant began to show signs of attrition in the 1990s. Well into his 80s, Al decided to finally hang up his apron after over 40 years of public service. Eventually, he sold the name of the restaurant and the equipment. After decades of success, generations of customers, and thousands of hours working that griddle, Alvin Cassell died in 2010, at the remarkable age of 98. In 2012, the restaurant closed once and for all.
Enter Jingbo Lou, a Pasadena-based architect, who has preserved a multitude of LA establishments such as Wilshire’s Morgan Adams Building and Whittier College’s Guillford Hall. In Cassell’s, Lou found a perfect compliment to his latest project, the Hotel Normandie. At the base of the hotel, on the corner of 6th and Normandie, Lou planned to revitalize the legendary burger chain on the very street where it found so much success.
The next logical step was to find someone willing to uphold the tradition of quality Al Cassell strived to maintain in the kitchen. Lou found just that in Chef Christian Page, who rose to culinary fame running the kitchen at Short Order in the Original Fairfax Farmers Market. Like Lou, Page wanted the style of Al Cassell’s restaurant to remain the forefront of its revitalized successor. Although the new space feels hip, modern, and bright upon entering, it manages to infuse modern architectural design while upholding the essence of a traditional 1950s diner, accommodating the likes of all generations. The large glass windows invite customers to take a seat at the classic barstool-counter set up, surrounded by vintage signage and decals from the original joint. The open floor plan gives everyone the chance to watch the cooks craft the delicious burgers on Al Cassell’s famous original crossfire broiler, ground with the original grinder, and pattied with the original press.
Now… I have never written a love letter. I’ve composed a nice text—a thoughtful tweet maybe. People don’t sincerely dissect things they enjoy anymore, only things they hate (See: anything anyone has ever posted on Facebook).
Today is different. Today I am in love. And love makes you do crazy things like take up ballroom dancing, watch Grey’s Anatomy, or write a letter explaining why you feel the way you do about a restaurant.
I am in love with Cassell’s Hamburgers.
Let me just say, Cassell’s is not a Michelin star restaurant, it wasn’t on Netflix’s Chef’s Table, and Guy Fieri has not slobbered all over it on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives YET. It’s a burger/pie joint in Koreatown with 4 out of 5 stars on Yelp. Although renowned chef David Chang DOES say their patty melts “are the fucking best.” Just sayin’.
It’s so satisfying to say you have a favorite restaurant. Sure, it sounds a little pretentious to claim something is your favorite but it doesn’t matter because you now own that restaurant. Now, if a friend ever asks where they should grab a bite you have complete permission to blurt out, “We could go to Cassell’s, it has the BEST burgers, it’s my favorite restaurant.” People love that. It’s also a law in Los Angeles to have a favorite restaurant (can’t be a chain), and you should be able to list at least three to five of your favorite farm-to-table organic eateries to avoid being viewed as a culture-less troglodyte.
Cassell’s checks every box I yearn for in an enjoyable dining experience. Its menu offers many options, but not too many, as Al Cassell once said “the more things you do, the less chance there is at reaching perfection.” They offer breakfast, lunch, and dinner (although most items on the menu live in the burger/sandwich/side realm), as well as alcohol and pies. The location is hiding in plain sight in an unassuming part of Koreatown. Grabbing a table never demands a 20-minute wait, yet the place is never empty. But most importantly, the food is fantastic. My personal favorite order is a patty melt on rye bread with Swiss cheese (which is melted in a way only Jesus and Christian Page know), with a side of sweet potato waffle fries (the onion rings come in a close 2nd), and a slice of dulce de leche banana cream pie to top it off.
Sometimes, it’s the subtleties that push a meal from good to great to extraordinary. Cassell’s utilizes the subtleties in meals that most restaurants overlook and morphs them into a key player of the dish. Whether it is the multitude of house-made sauces that complement the sandwiches and sides, the grilled cheese chip that accompanies each patty melt or the perfectly crumbly graham cracker crust that lines the trays of the delicious custard pies. I cannot stress how consistent this meal is across the board. And I know what you’re thinking, “Cool, you’ve had the same thing four times.” Wrong! I have tried the tuna salad, the classic cheeseburger, the fried chicken sandwich, the potato salad, beer battered onion rings, the classic kennebec fries, as well as the blackberry vanilla, classic apple, and lemon meringue pies. They all pass with flying colors. My next target is their breakfast which by the looks of it captures the essence of a traditional New York diner. However, much like the decor and architecture of Cassell’s, the menu applies a few modern twists to a conventional breakfast category–a burger with hash browns instead of buns being one. Overall, the biggest surprise of the experience after my visit was the pies. I am admittedly an outspoken pie evangelist and will preach its rightful seat atop the throne of dessert until I die. AND DAMN THESE PIES ARE THE HOLY LORD’S BLESSING.
The pies are homemade by Page’s wife, chef Elia Aboumrad (you may know her from season two of Top Chef). Also, the charmingly retro rotating pie case that catches your eye as you walk by was found in a storage container by none other than Aboumrad herself.
To this day, Cassell’s is alive and well, resting below Hotel Normandie, coaxing passerby’s to drop in for a juicy broiled burger, fries, and a beer for just $15 (between 4-7pm)! The burgers are still ground daily using chuck and brisket from Colorado farms; potato salad is still a natural side for every burger; and Page himself is still whipping up batches of mayonnaise in the back, along with house-made soda, chips, and of course, those pies.
There’s something in the air at Cassell’s Hamburgers.
About a month ago, as I was laying in my bed, I stumbled upon a recommendedYoutube video of a comedian named Andy Kaufman captioned “Mighty Mouse – Andy Kaufman”.
I looked at my phone and the clock read 12:58am. It was a Wednesday.
What started as a curious click intended to alleviate the perturbation of an Ed Kemper fueled episode of Mindhunter snowballed into a deep dive of the complex happenings of the self -proclaimed “man of song and dance.”
I had always recognized the name Andy Kaufman, but nothing more than a vague recollection of an old comedian my parents had once mentioned.
Now, I want everyone to know who Andy Kaufman was—or … is. We’ll get to that later.
“There’s no way to describe what I do, it’s just me.”
Born in 1949 and raised in Long Island, New York, Andy was the oldest of three children. His knack for performance art became unmissable at a very young age. Much to the chagrin of his father, Andy preferred hosting fake TV shows in front of his bedroom wall over playing sports outside. His itch for the stage never faltered. Through his adolescence, Andy wrote poems and stories that would influence his future success in show business. His child-like wonder and boyish charm never faded and played a large part in how he defined himself as a person. Addicted to performing, Andy found himself at coffee shops and night clubs working on his act. His style was unconventional and off-putting. Exemplified in the video above, Andy loved to blur the line between what was real and fake. He relished in confusing audiences beyond the point of enjoyment. Characters like “Foreign Man” where he would adopt an ambiguously odd accent and do purposefully poor impressions of famous people by saying, “I am meester Carter, President of de United States, tank you veddy much.” He would push these audiences to the brink of mutiny before ending his act with an immaculate impression of Elvis Presley (followed by one last “tank you veddy much”). He didn’t develop these bizarre acts because he thought they were funny, he did what he did because it was entertaining.
“When I perform, it’s very personal. I’m sharing things I like, inviting the audience into my room.”
Andy’s act gained national attention when he performed his Mighty Mouse bit on the premiere episode of Saturday Night Live in 1975. Andy would go on to perform his eyebrow-raising acts several more times on SNL, as well as Dick Van Dyke’s variety show Van Dyke and Company, The Tonight Show, The Midnight Special, The David Letterman Show, and many more.
Few people could understand the magic that was Andy Kaufman, but those who did could see his potential for stardom in Hollywood. His convention-defying acts captivated a man named George Shapiro, who became Andy’s manager and long-time friend. Shapiro encouraged Andy to grow and develop his act, eventually leading to a recurring role on ABC’s Taxi as Latka Gravas, a character very similar to “Foreign Man.” Kaufman was unenthused to accept this gig—he found sitcoms derivative and lazy. However, Shapiro convinced Andy that a role on a show with the success of Taxi could skyrocket his image, providing him the money and fame to broaden his audience. In typical Andy Kaufman fashion, he demanded his alter ego, a drunken, cigarette smoking, insult comic/lounge singer who went by Tony Clifton, be given guest roles on Taxi as a separate person from Andy. Andy and Tony each had their own contracts.
Tony Clifton is peak Andy Kaufman. Adorned in full makeup, a fake mustache, a wig, gaudy sunglasses, and a fat suite, Tony would terrorize night clubs and TV sets with his loud mouth antics. Sometimes Tony would be played by Andy’s close friend and comedy confidant Bob Zmuda, further befuddling audiences when Andy would show up to a club as himself while Clifton was performing on stage. Tony Clifton’s run on Taxi was short-lived. Cast and crew members were fed up with his outlandish behavior and unprofessionalism. Tony was fired after showing up to the set of Taxi one day accompanied by two hookers. He threw a tantrum, resulting in a wrestling match between Tony and one of the shows major stars, Judd Hirsch. Much to Andy’s delight, the fight was reported in the local newspapers. A week later, Andy showed up to set as if nothing happened. Because that was Tony, not Andy.
“I just want real reactions. I want people to laugh from the gut, be sad from the gut—or get angry from the gut.”
Andy’s commitment to characters would have made him legendary in the meme-heavy whirlpool we live in today. He loved to do what no one thought he could. His childlike irreverence was fueled by controversy. Every time he reached a certain level of success he would ask himself, “How can I push this further? Make people uncomfortable? Make them question if what they are viewing is indeed reality?” His answer? Wrestling. He loved the flamboyance and showmanship of the sport. It was entertainment at its purest. Were the results of the fights pre-determined? If you were entertained, does it matter?
“There’s no drama like wrestling.”
In the second chapter of his young career, Andy assumed the self-proclaimed title of “Inter-Gender Wrestling Champion of the World” by traveling the world and wrestling any woman who challenged him. He became a true showman in the ring, taunting and demeaning women in the crowd before each match. This “character” Andy adopted was extremely unpopular culturally, drawing severe condemnation from the female community. Andy didn’t care. It was entertainment.
After months of defending his title as inter-gender wrestling champion, Andy’s next step was to wrestle a man. Not just any man, but Jerry Lawler, a professional WWE wrestler from Memphis, Tennessee. The relationship between Lawler and Kaufman quickly devolved into public character assassinations and physical altercations.
On the day of the actual match, Lawler delivered his famous pile-driver on Kaufman, who was subsequently rushed to the hospital with an apparent neck injury. Months later, the two met on Late Night with David Letterman to settle their differences, where Andy, adorned in a neck brace, questioned and mocked Lawler’s character. What happened next … well, just see for yourself.
It wasn’t until nearly a decade later that people learned Andy had befriended Lawler long before these “episodes” began and concocted this entire narrative.
“What’s real? What’s not? That’s what I do in my act, test how other people deal with reality.”
In 1983, Andy’s female-wrestling persona reached a boiling point with the audience, so he decided to record a pre-taped segment on SNL asking the audience to vote whether or not he should continue to perform on the show. This act of honesty and vulnerability garnered praise from SNL cast members Eddie Murphy, Gary Kroeger, and Mary Gross, who petitioned for him to stay. Unfortunately, the audience voted to “Dump Andy” from SNL and he never returned to the show.
His antics never stopped. In 1978, he appeared on The Dating Game, an old game show, in character as Foreign Man, and broke into tears after the bachelorette chose someone else, insisting that he had answered all of the questions correctly. On the variety show Fridays, Andy refused to say his lines during a sketch where he played a man excusing himself from a couples dinner date to smoke marijuana in the bathroom. Cast member Michael Richards walked off stage and returned with Andy’s cue cards, slamming them on the table in front of him. Andy responded by splashing water into Richards face, which escalated to an on-air brawl with Kaufman, Richards, and a producer before the network could cut to commercial. A week later, Kaufman returned to the show to apologize to the audience, admitting last weeks meltdown was a hoax. However, Andy made sure most of the cast and crew were unaware of this hoax during the actual production. My personal favorite of Andy’s performances was a time when he recited the entire text of “The Great Gatsby” in front of an audience while sporting a British accent. A few pages into the reading, the audience grew irate of his defiance to perform his greatest hits like Foreign Man or Mighty Mouse. Recognizing their disapproval, he asked if they would like to hear him play a record. Receiving a resounding yes, he began to play the record. What started to play was none other than Andy’s voice in a British accent reading “The Great Gatsby” at the exact spot where he left off. Just to reiterate, he finished reading the ENTIRE book, leaving (according to the film Man on the Moon) one or two sleeping college students in the crowd when he finished.
Andy valued authenticity over everything else. He informed only those who were absolutely necessary of his ideas to ensure his performances success and genuineness. Family members and close friends were often kept out of the loop on Andy’s endeavors. He was a quiet, gentle, spiritual person who appreciated loyalty and trust. He kept to himself, and practiced transcendental meditation throughout most of his life. He traveled to Spain to train as a teacher of transcendental meditation when he was just 22 years old.
“My mother sent me to psychiatrists since the age of four because she didn’t think little boys should be sad. When my brother was born, I stared out the window for days. Can you imagine that?”
Andy’s reluctancy to show his “true self” in the public spotlight made it inherently difficult to judge who he actually was as a person. Predominantly through interviews with people close to Andy are we granted a sliver of insight to his true character. In the recently released Netflix documentary Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond, we are invited to see a voyeuristicglimpse into the brain of Andy Kaufman through the eyes of Jim Carrey. The filmfeatures a personal interview with Jim Carrey intercut with never-before-seen documentary footage of Carrey’s complete mental and physical transformation into Andy Kaufman in the 1999 biopic Man on the Moon. (The footage had been stashed in a vault by the studio for nearly 20 years for reasons that remain murky to this day.)
In the documentary, Carrey discusses his admiration of Andy, gushing about the influence he had on his career as a young comedian. He explains how, in order to truly understand Andy, he would have to commit some form of ultimate performance like Andy would have done. From day one of shooting Man on the Moon, Jim Carrey was no longer alive, it was only Andy … and sometimes Tony Clifton. Jim would arrive to set each day already in hair, makeup, and wardrobe. He would only respond to Andy, or if he were Tony, to Tony, and would often stall production with his Kaufman-esque provocation and chicanery. Carrey’s dedication and accuracy in becoming Andy is impressive, however his behavior on set in the footage revealed in the documentary seemed to only portray Andy’s outlandishness, and rarely his sincerity. Perhaps Carrey saw this as an opportunity to make a stunt of his own, choosing to portray a specific side of Andy, a choice Andy himself would have presumably appreciated. The behind-the-scenes footage features a slew of real altercations with Jim (as Andy) and Jerry Lawler, who portrayed himself in Man on the Moon, as well as withthe director of the film Milos Forman. Jim (as Andy) provoked heated dressing room screaming matches between him and Gerry Becker (the actor playing Andy’s father) about their relationship struggles. Becker had no choice but to engage in Jim’s (Andy’s) relentless arguments as if he were Andy’s father.
In my opinion, Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond is worth watching as a prequel to Man on the Moon, almost like studying before taking a test, as it provides a second layer of depth to the character you see and try to understand in Man on the Moon. Jim’s portrayal of Andy in Man on the Moon allows us to follow Andy into the rooms without cameras and learn why Andy did what he did. By watching Carrey in Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond truly immerse himself inside of a character (so deep he nearly couldn’t find his way out) like Andy had done his entire career, we get to see how Andy did what he did.
“Pure entertainment is not an egotistical lady singing boring songs onstage for two hours and people in tuxes clapping whether they like it or not. It’s the real performers on the street who can hold people’s attention and keep them from walking away.”
In November, 1983, at just 34 years old, Andy was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer known as large-cell carcinoma. As portrayed in both Man on the Moon and Jim & Andy:The Great Beyond, people close to him were skeptical of this sudden diagnosis, and understandably so considering his extensive history of pranks . Kaufman found meaning tricking people into thinking whatever he wanted them to—and a wrestling match with death seemed like a believable next step in his career.
Andy broke the news to audiences after a collection of performances in January exposing his emaciated appearance could no longer be ignored. In the coming months, amid rumors of calculated fabrication, Andy sought aid through natural medicine. He limited his diet to fruits and vegetables, received palliative radiotherapy, and even flew to Baguio, Philippines to receive treatments of a pseudoscientific procedure called psychic surgery (a telling scene in Man on the Moon where Andy finally confronts his mortality).
Less than five months after his original diagnosis, Andy passed away in Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles on May 16, 1984, at the age of 35 years old.
Andy’s longtime friend and comedic confidant Bob Zmuda wrote a book in 2014 titled Andy Kaufman: The Truth, Finally where he makes the argument around Andy faking his own death, saying they used to talk about it all the time. According to the book, Zmuda maps out how and why Andy would do such a thing, leaning on reasons most people with a basic comprehension of Andy’s style could surmise on their own. Zmuda also conceded towards the end of the book his thoughts that Andy was hiding his homosexuality—stating he came out to him once—and that he died of an undisclosed case of AIDS. Although Zmuda confronts this idea as the culprit to Andy’s death, he remains staunch on his belief that he is still alive, begging him in the book to come back.
We may never know the truth about Andy’s life or death—just as I presume Andy wanted. Faking his own death would be the last piece of the puzzle, a perfect plan to escape the life he created.
I like to imagine he successfully orchestrated a fake death, meticulously blueprinted a return chock-full of Tony Clifton outbursts and polished eyebrow raising characters, but found happiness wherever he was hiding. Somewhere he could be himself—and lost the need to come back.
I want Andy to be recognized by my generation. I truly, genuinely believe he was a genius before his time—and there is so much more that I did not write about in this article. His zest for performing on his terms, only how he imagined, would generate cult like followings today. In a time when appreciation for artistic ingenuity is at its peak, Andy would have blazed the trail like the comedic and cultural renegade he was.
So please, take some time out of your day, and appreciate Andy Kaufman.
Thoughts: Jon & Vinny’s is the place you take someone on date three to show that A. you are in “the know” of trendy LA restaurants and B. to show that you’re not afraid to spend a little money on some quality Italian cuisine. Here’s my take: Jon & Vinny’s is a little too expensive, a little too small, and a little too cool. Try it out for breakfast (like we did) or lunch to save yourself from having to reserve a table a month in advance, and check it out for yourself. The food alone was fantastic. Jared, Mike and I were satisfied with our meals, and the interior design and layout of the restaurant was very trendy (I felt like I was eating in a very expensive sauna). It seemed to hit on everything, but lacked a certain spice that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. Perhaps the hype around Jon & Vinny’s influenced my opinion before I stepped foot in the door, and maybe that just means I shouldn’t meet my heroes.
Craig & Jared’s Score: 8/10
Berlin’s (Roommate Mike’s Pick)
“Berlins is the kind of restaurant we struggling artists need“
Location: 8474 W 3rd St, Los Angeles, CA 90048
Craig’s Order: Doner Sandwich – Beef, lamb, onions, lettuce, tomato, cucumber, marinated red cabbage, jalapeños wrapped in freshly baked bread. With homemade yogurt tzatziki sauce.
Jared’s Order: Doner Wrap – Beef, lamb, onions, lettuce, tomato, cucumber, marinated red cabbage, jalapeños wrapped in lavash bread. With orignial spicy sauce and feta cheese.
Thoughts: Berlins is a whole different kind of 8 out of 10. Where Jon & Vinny’s was a 9 that wilted into an 8, Berlins is a 6 that blossomed into an 8. Located in a small strip mall on west 3rd street, Berlins will not catch your eye. If it weren’t for our roommate Mike’s misstep of picking a restaurant that was way out of our price range, we would have never stumbled into Berlins. Serving up very affordable German Döner, Berlins offers a menu varied enough to accommodate most dietary restrictions and choices. Not unlike Chipotle, you order at the counter and list the amenities you want to accompany your sandwich, wrap, rice bowl, salad, etc. however they deliver your food to you after you pay and take a seat. For what it looks like you are getting, the food was delightfully flavorful and filling. Great for a quick weekend lunch or an easy pick up on your way home from work, Berlins is the kind of restaurant we struggling artists need.
Craig & Jared’s Score: 8/10
Din Tai Fung (Jared’s Pick)
“Stick to the soup dumplings“
Location:10250 Santa Monica Blvd unit 2400, Los Angeles, CA 90067
Craig & Jared shared order: 2 orders of beef stew, 1 order of pork xiaolongbao, 1 1order of pork and crab xiaolongbao (soup dumplings).
Thoughts: Testing out their third and newest location in Century City, Din Tai Fung was destined to be our new soup dumplings go-to spot. This Taiwanese legend known for its xiaolongbao sits prominently in the corner of the Westfield Mall, flexing it’s open floorplan and classy interior. I went with a group of 6 in the middle of the week, and the place was at full capacity. After a 15 minute wait, we were seated, and the journey begun. Unfortunately, like Jon & Vinny’s, this experience did not live up to the expectation. The main issue was the service, as we were not acknowledged for 15 minutes after being seated, and our waters came another 10 minutes after that. We all ordered individually, with a few shared items mixed in, and our food was served sporadically. One friends entree came out 20 minutes before someone else’s. It took about 45 minutes for everyone to finally have their full meal, and by then half the table had finished their food. The food itself was above average. The stew, fried rice, and short rib I tried were all on par, however the xiaolongbao (soup dumplings) made this restaurant worth giving another shot. My recommendation, don’t get cute and order a little of everything, stick to the soup dumplings, and your experience should turn out a little better than ours.
Craig & Jared’s Score: 7.25/10
Maple Block Meat Co. (Craig’s Pick)
“They should call this place Mable Block Biscuit Co. because of those flaky jewels.“
Location:3973 Sepulveda Blvd, Culver City, CA 90230
Craig’s Order: Brisket and Ribs Plate – quarter pound sliced brisket, half pound pork spare ribs, with ranch beans and braised greens. One biscuit
Jared’s Order: Brisket and Ribs Plate – quarter pound sliced brisket, half pound pork spare ribs, with mac and cheese and potato salad. One biscuit
Thoughts: Hiding in plain site on Sepulveda Blvd, Maple Block Meat Co. is and should be your neighborhood barbecue go to if you live in or near Culver City. The first thumbs up of many for Maple Block is its parking situation. Parking availabilities literally sway dinner location arguments in Los Angeles, and Maple Block offers a small 10-15 car lot that saves lives. The restaurant offers inside and outdoor patio seating options, as well as bar seating. The layout and decor is inviting, casual, and friendly, similar to a microbrewery. Out of all the things Maple Block does correctly, the actual barbecue itself was the missing ingredient. On our podcast, Chew-001: A Food Podyssey, Jared and I discussed the possibility that our timing may have been at the root of this problem. We arrived about 30 minutes before they were switching between their lunch and dinner menu so there is a possibility that we ate the last of the meat that was prepared in the morning and missed out on the fresh-out-the-smoker BBQ that was coming for dinner. The meat didn’t have any glaring holes, it was fine. But that’s just it, a popular barbecue spot in LA shouldn’t have barbecue that’s “fine”. The meat was slightly cold and a little too chewy. The brisket was better than the ribs, and the spicy BBQ sauce better than the regular. The sides held the meal together—the brisket ranch beans, braised greens, and mac and cheese were all fantastic. Each meal also comes with white bread and a chimichurri sauce. The absolute cherry on top was the biscuits. They should call this place Mable Block Biscuit Co. because of those flaky jewels. Come for dinner, order a bunch of meat and a bunch of biscuits.
Once the episode of Westworld you’re half watching while scrolling through your phone ends, Google “BBC America Killing Eve”. Click the first result.
If you are like me, you do not have cable. If you are even more like me, your parents do. Sign in to your parents’ cable network, they won’t mind. Don’t pretend like you’re paying for your Netflix account.
Scroll down to episode one titled “Nice Face”, and click. Now sit up in bed, re-adjust, crack your neck, check for texts, and lean back.
You will thank me.
If you have not stopped reading and followed my instructions, I get it. TV show recommendations now-a-days are intimidating, and the avalanche of shows produced each year strip these recommendations of clout. Trust me, I am as stubborn as the next guy when it comes to honoring a recommendation. With how busy we all are these days (Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, editing photos for Instagram), I practically need a court order to start watching something new. It needs to be worth it.
This is a court order. Killing Eve, the 8-episode British crime thriller has quickly and rightfully earned its spot atop the throne of entertainment. As a self-proclaimed televisseur (my word not yours), my recommendation carries significance. I’ve watched every episode of Ballers for Christ sake.
Killing Eve, starring Sandra Oh and Jodie “give her the Emmy now” Comer, follows the life of Eve (Oh), an ambitious MI5 security officer, as she chases Villanelle (Comer), a capricious assassin driven by the fruits of her own chaos. Based on the Villanelle novels by Luke Jennings and developed for television by Fleabag’s Pheobe Waller-Bridge, Killing Eve satisfies both the film nerd and starving artist in me as we careen down a volatile path of cat and mouse. Both female leads shine in their respective roles, however the transfixing talent of Jodie Comer as Villanelle is undeniable, and will most certainly generate world-wide acclaim. The writing, supplemented by superb performances from the entire cast across the board, is delightfully sharp and spontaneous. Technically, the show is crisp and bold. The pace is deliberately suited for the modern media age, efficiently tearing through scenes and leaving no time for “filler”—sometimes even cutting away from scenes mid-sentence. The cinematography is calculated, seamlessly adopting and complementing the personality of each character on screen. The wickedly unsettling music, led by standout track, “Killer Shangri-Lah” is the cherry on top.
The plot itself is no revelation—a self proclaimed spy tries to catch a killer (at least it seems that way at first). Its storytelling and character development however, are quite revelatory and keep the audience tuning in week after week. The impressive depth of character conveyed between Eve and Villanelle in each episode blur the line between sane and psychotic, manufacturing connections and extracting empathy almost immediately. This show simply operates on a higher level than most, hitting the bulls-eye in every category.
At least watch the opening scene, which impeccably sets the tone for the rest of the series. You have a minute to spare.
I love Killing Eve. It feels different. I have never seen a show quite like it. Season 1, which ended on Sunday, May 27, has grown in viewership with each of its eight episodes, an impressive feat for a show battling Sunday night heavy-weights like Westworld, the millennial wet dream Silicon Valley,and first year standout Barry.
It may already be too late, but hop on board while you can.
Thoughts: Sawtelle is quickly rising up the ranks in our books for ramen. Each location we go to delivers a solid meal. Daikokuya Ramen is no different. After a 20 minute wait thanks to large crowds of young people, we chose to sit at the bar. Upon entrance, one immediately notices the attention to detail in the decor of this tiny ramen institute. The exposed brick, hanging lights, and street corner overhangs infuse the restaurant with a contagious energy, not unlike a late night spot in New York. The food came fast, and was consumed even faster. Using a tonkotsu (pork) broth and a soy base, this broth delivered complex flavors. Two things stood out to me about this meal. The delicious spicy broth which had the perfect level of heat, and the size. This was a hefty bowl of ramen, well worth the money. The thicker noodle is never my favorite and the serving of meat was a tad undersized but it certainly does nothing to dampen my opinions on this dish nor this restaurant. Well worth a visit if you are willing to make the drive. I suggest a night during the week.
Craig & Jared’s Score: 8.5/10
Myung in Dumplings (Craig’s Pick)
Location: 3109 W Olympic Blvd B, Los Angeles, CA 90006
Craig’s Order: Half an order of King Steam Dumpling with pork and vegetables. Half an order of King Steam Dumpling with pork and Kimchi. Half an order of Beef Dumpling Soup.
Jared’s Order: Half an order of King Steam Dumpling with pork and Kimchi. Half an order of King Steam Dumpling with pork and vegetables. Half an order of Beef Dumpling Soup
Thoughts: Thanks to Chef David Chang and Anthony Bourdain, Myung in Dumplings was on my radar. Located in an obscure strip mall in Koreatown, this restaurant can go easily missed and easily mistaken for a run of the mill chain Korean food spot. It is not. Myung in Dumplings is not fancy, the layout and decor is plain, and ambiance is non-existent. It doesn’t matter, and in my opinion, contributes to what makes this place so special. The food is the only thing that matters to the proprietors of this restaurant. Be careful when you order the King Steam Dumplings, they are not the size of your traditional soup dumpling. One order is enough for two people and we made the mistake of ordering two orders and a bowl of sampling soup. But bringing home leftovers is never a mistake and the affordable price warrants buying even more. The menu offers almost only dumplings with a few other dishes squeezed in (soup, fried rice, noodles), but you should live and die with the dumplings. I can’t wait to head back and try more.
Craig & Jared’s Score: 8.25/10
Leo’s Taco Truck (Craig’s Pick After a Mike Pick Malfunction)
Location: 1515 S La Brea Ave Los Angeles CA 90019
Craig’s Order: 3 Al Pastor Tacos, 1 Chicken Taco
Total: $4.84 ($1.21/taco)
Jared’s Order: 3 Al Pastor Tacos, 1 Chorizo Taco, 1 Pollo Asada Taco
Thoughts: Parked on a lot next to a gas station on the corner of La Brea and Venice Blvd, Leo’s Taco Truck draws a large enough crowd to create traffic. The flashing neon signs from atop the truck illuminate the swarms of people enjoying some of the finest al pastor you will find in Los Angeles. Leo’s creates a restaurant without walls, and turns everyone into a friend as they share the communal fold up tables that surround the truck. The small street tacos, priced at a shockingly reasonable $1.21, are simply constructed. Known for their al pastor off the spit, you have complete permission to order that and only that. The al pastor is sliced off the spit in front of your eyes and toped with a sliver of fresh pineapple. The chicken tacos are served without toppings on two corn tortillas. Leo’s also offers burritos, quesadillas, tostadas, arambes, and more, as well as a salsa cart complete with onions, cilantro, and salsa’s of varying levels of spiciness. Although parking in the area is difficult, this spot creates an environment rich in diversity and personality, offering delicious affordable food.
Craig & Jared’s Score: 8.75/10
El Chato Taco Truck (Mike’s Pick)
Location: 5300 W Olympic Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90036
Craig’s Order: 1 Carne Asada Taco, 1 Al Pastor Taco, 1 Al Pastor Quesadilla. Plus a free side of grilled onions and peppers. Salsa on the side. $1.25/taco $6/quesadilla
Jared’s Order: 1 Carne Asada Taco, 1 Al Pastor Taco, 1 Al Pastor Burrito. Plus a free side of grilled onions and peppers. Salsa on the side. $1.25/taco $6/burrito
Thoughts: Unlike Leo’s, this taco joint felt like a hidden gem. By that I mean the corner of Olympic and La Brea where it sets up was relatively empty. That is not necessarily a bad thing, depending on the food. In this case, the lack of crowds was a plus because the food was great. Apparently locals in the mid city area choose El Chato over Leo’s when craving a late night bite. Whether or not the surge in popularity of Leo’s amongst “non-locals” is the cause of this we will never know (but probably). Resting innocently in a dimly lit vacated street corner, El Chato offers all the food you came for—street tacos, burritos, quesadillas, etc. The pricing was similar to Leo’s as was the quality of food. When it comes to tacos, I give the edge to Leo’s, especially the al pastor tacos. What stood out at El Chato was not the tacos, but rather the quesadilla. For $6, you get two stuffed wedges of quesadilla with your choice of meat, a heavenly cheese blend, and grilled onions. El Chato may not offer the same experience of Leo’s, but if you want to get it in and get out with some top notch Mexican food, look no further.
Pro-tip: ask for extra grilled onions, they are free and come in a huge bag with roasted peppers. They open at 9pm each night.
Craig & Jared’s Score: 8.5/10
Kai Ramen & Magnolia Bakery (Jared’s Pick)
Location: Kai Ramen – 349 N La Cienega Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90048 | Magnolia Bakery – 8389 W 3rd St, Los Angeles, CA 90048
Appetizer: 10 Gyoza Potstickers
Craig’s Order: Kai’s Black Ramen – Salt base, skinny noodle, Mayu (black garlic oil), pork belly, flavored egg, scallion, kikurage (stripped black mushroom), crispy onion, dry seaweed, flavored sprouts
Total: $11.50 for the ramen + $4.75 for the gyoza = $16.25
Jared’s Order: Kai’s White Ramen – Salt base, skinny noodle, garlic butter, pork belly, flavored egg, scallion, kikurage (stripped black mushroom), crispy onion, dry seaweed, flavored sprouts
Total: $11.50 for the ramen + $4.75 for the gyoza = $16.25
Dessert: Jared and I split a mini pistachio cheesecake, and I got some of their famous banana pudding to go (shh).
Dessert Total: Medium Banana Pudding – $6. Mini Cheesecake – $7.95
Thoughts: Kai Ramen joins the long list of ramen spots visited by Jared and I since starting this journey. Kai was a success. The restaurant is clean and open, with the kitchen in full view no matter where you are sitting.Aside from finding parking on La Cienega (they offer some parking in the back), there are no downsides to this location, as it sits right in the heart of West Hollywood only a few blocks from the Beverly Center.
Now, the food. Through hard “work” I have gained somewhat of an insight on analyzing ramen and recognizing the differences. In most cases, the broth is what really separates good ramen from the rest. Again, I’m no expert, but this broth stood out to me. Kai features shio (salt) broth, which differs from most ramen places we have been to which use tonkotsu (pork) broth like Daikokuya Ramen. Upon first sip, you immediately taste the fat and, well, saltiness of the broth. It tasted like sipping liquid bacon. Depending on your culinary preferences, that can either sound extremely appealing or downright abhorrent. I am apart of the former because I enjoyed it. The broth took over as the leader of the dish by sheer force, incorporating the thin noodles, crispy onion strings and soft boiled egg to make salty magic. My only wish for this bowl of ramen was for some spice. I would have liked a touch of heat to counteract the overly salty/savory broth. But hey, what the hell do I know. Kai’s creator, Chef Nishimura, has been cooking ramen since he was 19-years-old and trained in Japan for several years and it shows.
Magnolia Bakery: After dinner and with 40 minutes left on the meter, we decided to take a stroll down 3rd street in search of something sweet. Yelp informed us that Magnolia Bakery, a New York staple that we loved when we lived on the East coast, had opened a spot in LA and only a few blocks away. Naturally I ordered their famous banana pudding to-go because I’m not a psycho. Then, Jared and I split a mini pistachio cheesecake that was delectable. Perfect for two, equal parts fluffy and moist, with a crumbly graham cracker crust lining the bottom. This bakery’s old time “grandma’s apple pie on the window sill” vibe makes it nearly impossible to not enjoy your treat in house. The surprisingly open and un-intimidating layout whisks you away to the West Village bakery where it all began. And then you look outside and there’s bumper to bumper traffic at 4pm on a Wednesday but hey nothings perfect. Go here.