California March 2019 trip: What we ate

It seems like these days, when I travel – and all I can recall is going to Seattle, Toronto and Halifax for the past while – our food adventures haven’t been anything to report back about.

Until this time!

A mixture of who we met up with in California, increased enthusiasm for what’s on offer, better weather (cf Halifax in December), increase ability to manage our time while traveling with kiddo.

I felt like I heard our California-loving friends (herein abbreviated as CLFs) mention Gjelina many times and I didn’t know if it was a coffee shop or what kind of establishment. It turns out that they had only managed to once before but plan each time they go to California – at least once a year – to go. I was disheartened to hear that local small-plates restaurant Nightingale’s concept is based on Gjelina because that is thus a spendy lunch. CLFs expect to see celebrities at Gjelina but did not that day.

After a projected 30-minute wait (actual 45-minutes) on a Thursday at a late lunch hour (we got in after 2 p.m.), we were seated on the patio – yay! – which turned out to be a chilly spot because it was a cold winter in LA and seemed like the patio was a wind-tunnel. But with gray blankets, donning our jackets and requesting the heat lamps were turned on, we found it nice and casual, unlike my one time at Nightingale for a fancier dinner.

CLFs ordered two pizzas while NPY and I ordered a pasta and pizza. Just got to go with the items the kid is going to eat. These days, I’m trying to annotate my food pictures or any other photo with meaning. In this day and age of an overload of photos and under-curating, I don’t want my photos to lose meaning. We’ll see how long that lasts! So, I don’t need to name the dishes we ordered!

While we were waiting for our table at Gjelina, we met up with CLFs at new matcha shop Cha Cha Matcha. It was matcha green and pink is a kitchy combination. Kiddo saw the green soft serve ice cream being pumped out and yearned for one so I had to convince him it was tea and thus bitter.

After lunch, I vigorously strolled along Abbot Kinney to get kiddo to fall asleep – success! – and then ordered a much-needed latte at Intelligentsia which CLFs love. After more strolling on Abbot Kinney, my appetite was back for ice cream from Salt & Straw and – quick! before the kiddo wakes! – we queued to order a double scoop: Roasted Strawberry & Toasted White Chocolate (a classic flavour at the LA location) and Smoked Sea Salt Chocolate & Chocolate Crack (from the Flavor Vault, created in 2012). Omgosh the latter flavour was so good – smoky and crackly.

Our LA hosts we stayed with for four nights (high school friend of NPY’s) highly recommended that we check out Century City, a new mall close to their house in Culver City. After we learned that Shake Shack and Tender Greens are both present – and across from each other, no less – we knew where to go for dinner. I heard about Tender Greens from CLFs and wanted to try out their concept. NPY ordered a Shackburger, fries and chocolate milkshake and brought it to Tender Greens where I ordered/built a plate. CLFs ordered the Wagyu and IG’ed it but there was no wiggle-room on the sides so I built a plate and ordered falafel with butter lettuce with tarragon dressing and roasted vegetables as a sides. The falafel was deemed too spicy for kiddo so he ate pitta bread, roasted vegetables and was super eager to drink my pineapple agua fresca which – by virtual of dining in – was kindly refilled twice!

After picking up a hostess gift at Whole Foods near the house, we found Balconi Coffee Company on our way to lunch where I enjoyed an oat milk latte (tastes the same to me). We walked around the plaza and I wanted to return to one of the restaurants.

We were back at Century City the next day to spend time with our hosts and their active twins. So for lunch it was Shake Shack again (so I could enjoy a Shackburger all on my own), a tomato & beef udon from Ajisen Ramen (is it from California?) and NPY got a poke bowl from a shop I don’t recall the name of.  I enjoyed the Shackburger and don’t need fries – a touch of milkshake would have been nice, though! Kiddo slurped up udon noodles and it was augmented with vegetables from the poke bowl. The I expected a more clear broth with intact tomatoes but it seemed like it was pureed to make a thicker broth.

Century City is a brilliant space. We weren’t there for the shopping and instead appreciated that some restaurants had their own dining area and there was indoor and outdoor general seating. It wasn’t warm yet in LA but we ate outdoors like it was and the kids enjoyed that casual atmosphere.

CLFs had planned to dine at Osteria Mozza but arriving around 8 p.m. with the size of our group (six) on a Saturday night, we weren’t getting a table until 10:30 p.m. Fortunately, you can still get a taste of the place at Mozza2Go next door where I felt we waited far too long for our two pizzas. CLFs got a meat-lovers one with bacon, salami, fennel sausage and pancetta while I ordered a Margherita one. I’m always surreptitiously (or so I hope) trying to save money, justifying the lowest cost options while also pulling together a tasty selection – Margherita is a popular if basic flavour because it’s delicious!

Mozza2Go had not a drop of seating so we met up with CLFs who went to the In-N-Out on Sunset Blvd where they snagged “patio” seating and ordered for us animal-style burger and animal-style fries. It was chilly enough that the sauce on the fries was a bit congealed so a lot of the appeal was lost on me. Further, that was too much animal-style for us!

My birthday – ugh – was spent at California Science Center. So our lunch was at the food stalls and included a chicken tenders meal with yam fries for kiddo and NPY got a plate included a couple of tacos.

But we made up for it in terms of dinner. We were back in Sawtelle after checking out the plaza the day before and dined at Seoul Tofu. I know, we were in Japantown and getting Korean?! But it’s what we wanted. The cool thing is how there was a combo offer and we could get bibimbap and tofu soup albeit it was a smaller tofu soup. And still have spending room (insofar as my mind) for a third item which was japchae. Everything was decent and the tofu was just divine and fresh. Also, there was an oyster tofu soup option and that’s different and tasty – the oysters were so umami, like dried oyster in intensity of flavour.

The next day, we left Culver City early to get to Legoland not too long after they open at 10 a.m. (we got there at 11:30). We ate something in the park, maybe, but also picked up a tasty bagel from Bruegger’s Bagels when we stopped in Irvine for (Costco) gas and my Starbucks birthday drink.

After Legoland, we were on our way to San Diego. Kiddo fell asleep in the car so NPY went into Viewpoint Brewing in Del Mar for a flight and wings.

After checking in and getting wi-fi, I found Tajima Ramen Bar on Yelp and nearby. Decision made. NPY deemed the place authentic and I was relieved we all enjoyed our late dinner. There I go again ordering the vegan/vegetarian option since kiddo doesn’t enjoy chashu and NPY would order the regular menu and try to ply him with a piece anyhow. Kiddo was given all the cherry tomatoes but wouldn’t touch my spinach noodles so he got NPY’s regular noodles instead.

I tried to be as prepared with snacks and almost-food for kiddo on full-days out to an amusement park of the zoo but we ended up at Hua Mei Cafe in the area near the pandas in the San Diego Zoo. NPY ordered an orange chicken which was surprisingly okay (i.e., not nasty).

After Legoland, we declined joining CLFs to go to Phil’s BBQ because it wasn’t on our say to San Diego and we wanted the kid to nap. When we were looking for a Hammond’s location so I definitely would get to try it, we ended up in a plaza with a Phil’s BBQ so that made our decision easy!

I didn’t know that Phil’s would be casual with counter service and kiddo and I snagged a booth while NPY queued to order. He got half a rack of ribs with fries and potato salad as the two small sides. I ordered a quarter chicken with corn on the cob as a large side. And onion rings turn my head so we ordered a small order of Colossal wings. The only ting colossal about them was their size, not so much their taste. The server in charge of our area was super and NPY said he’s the kind of dedicated employee you’d bring onto Undercover Boss, lol. The BBQ sauce on the ribs and chicken (mesquite?) kept making my cough because I was coming down with something. I liked the seasoning added to the potato salad.

We stepped into The Living Room in La Jolla and kiddo had such a bad feeling he begged us to leave immediately. So we sought out another shop and came across AT Coffee House further down the road. We sat in their mini seating area and enjoyed  a coffee (latte?) and double-baked almond croissant.

I had mentioned that in San Diego, I wanted to have tacos but it means kiddo doesn’t have anything to eat. While walking along Prospect Street in La Jolla, we came across the Duke’s where NPY spotted the loco moco on the posted menu. Why not? We’ve been to Hula Grill in Waikiki and Duke’s in Maui – why not check them all out? Further, a colleague of NPY’s recommended it. I tend to share a kid’s meal with kiddo and then add on something small. Mind you, kid’s meals feed up to 12-year-olds so a three-year-old can’t make much of a dent. I ordered a Maui onion soup, because onion soup. Not entirely unexpectedly, we weren’t that satisfied with the meal. NPY said the loco moco did not have wow-factor and I thought it looked heavy-handed with tons of dark gravy and why does the egg loo like it was cut down? The fish was pretty good but the fries were really hard, like they were overcooked. It was pleasant to have fresh-cut pineapples though. I ordered PPOG (pineapple-orange-guava, not sure what the extra P is for) and it was okay and my onion soup was tasty but salty.

And then we were on our way to Anaheim and Brodard Restaurant – famous for their spring rolls –  was on our way into Anaheim. I learned about Brodard from Extra Petite, picking and choosing amongst her recommendations for dining in SoCal.

Besides the Brodard’s Special, a vermicelli dish including grilled chicken, grilled shrimp, BBQ pork, grilled shrimp paste (really?) and nem nướng (crispy spring rolls), we ordered an udon with pork (never seen that on the menu) and NPY ordered Fried Rice with Salted Red Snapper Fish. And an iced Vietnamese coffee. It was quite good and we were impressed by the sheer size of the restaurant – it looks like they took over like an old family-style steak spot or something. There was also a large bakery section and the selection of macaron on display was delectable!

Since Disney allows you to bring food (meals if you wish) into the park, I tried to pack a ton of goodies. Still, we needed a place to eat and NPY ordered from Hungry Bear and we sat in their shaded seating. He ordered a crispy fish sandwich which was really tasty, with shoestring fries. It was the cold brew with whipped topping that stood out. It was more like dessert with the flavours from hazelnut, caramel, marshmallow and coffee!

I can’t remember exactly what we had for dinner except that NPY ended up getting Nong Shim chicken instant noodles from Walgreens and saying it was full-circle from when he and his family did a road trip to California nearly 30 years ago.

Lunch at California Adventure will be seared in my memory because kiddo totally convinced us he was no longer well at that point. He had the start of a cold, probably saw too much sun, and coughed/gagged on a large bit of ultra-creamy (and not in the tastiest way) mac ‘n’ cheese and it all came back up while we were seated at Flo’s V8 Cafe. NPY ordered a club sandwich and chocolate milkshake that we shared and a mac ‘n’ cheese kids meal (with milk, fruit, baby carrots) for kiddo.

NPY and CLF had beer flights which are a regular offering at California Adventure (no alcohol on the Disneyland side).

While kiddo slept unfitfully, we patronized the food stall at the California Adventure Food & Wine Festival that caught my eye: I Love Artichoke. I thought I might want artichoke toast (with olive tapenade) but we opted for fried artichokes. No wonder you get a Sip & Savor pass – it was $7 regular for few artichoke hearts!

Disheartened by the day, for my part, we left the park before World of Color, early enough for kiddo and I to get back to the hotel with some food and NPY could return to catch the water fountain and light show. We picked up Subway where there was a big line-up and you know it takes longer because of customization. I got a kid’s turkey breast sandwich for kiddo who only wanted bread and a predictably messy meatball sub for myself.

After the park closed, NPY and CLF went for beers at Ballast Point Brewing and sandwiches at Earl of Sandwich, both in Downtown Disney.

I got a chance to plan our second day in Disneyland side and identified two spots selling soup in a bread bowl. The first one we came across was Harbor Galley where we ordered a Lobster Pot Pie soup. I think I left all the lobster pieces for NPY or they were shredded. I realized later that they fashion the bread and two pieces of bread removed from it like a Mickey Mouse silhouette but my photo shows one of the ears already eaten! It was tasty anyhow and my conclusion is that Disneyland food is not a terrible value and we enjoyed the convenience of mobile ordering tremendously. Kiddo really was much more interested in the ice cream/popsicle cart across from the bench where we ate lunch and we got him a strawberry fruit popsicle.

I think it was from Galactic Grill in Tomorrowland where NPY ordered a fried chicken sandwich with steak fries and a sweetened iced tea for us to drink. Good sandwich, terrible iced tea (I should learn not to order that in the States). And that concludes our three Disney days and meals within!

The sound of Anaheim Packing District (House) is so cool and we got to visit on our transit day between Anaheim and LA. I saw Loco Moco on The Kroft’s menu and wanted one of my own. Looking more closely at the menu, it is a poutine but I still went for it. It was very loco, my tired joke, and I gather it was tastier than the one at Duke’s. Meanwhile, NPY ordered a basic ramen from Orange Tei which kiddo enjoyed most of the noodles for.

After Anaheim, we went back to LA, checked into a hotel and returned our car to not have to incur another day’s rental or pay hotel parking rates. The LAX area is not fabulous so we ordered on Uber Eats and had a picnic (or “picmic” as kiddo currently calls it). NPY remembered my comment about getting Mexican food while in California and while I was also tired of “American food” after Disney, I didn’t think cold, delivered Mexican food would hit the spot either. But we gave La Paz a try and ordered a 2-enchilada (chicken) combo, a kid’s cheese quesadilla, titos (rice and chicken for kids) and a couple of carnitas tacos. I just didn’t find any of it really tasty and the meal was dry despite sauce.


Now, all on its own section, were the sweet indulgences we enjoyed in plentiful amounts.

On our first visit to Century City, we couldn’t help but notice 85 Degrees Bakery, located near a set of escalators we took, different from the retail shops we weren’t overly interested in. Then our hosts mentioned they liked it and it’s a Korean bakery so we tried it out the next day when were back with our hosts.

Sensitive to fridge space and such at our hosts, I limited myself to what we could eat in a couple of days. The egg tart had a great buttery pastry but the egg was minimal and deflated but not dense. The cheese dog was okay, something for kiddo – except the wiener was way too salty. The strawberry jelly donut was for NPY given his predilection (for jelly donuts) and we found it was actually a delicious strawberry cream with shreds of I’m going to say it was coconut-flavoured jelly for the jelly component. My favourite was the coffee butter bun because of the mild coffee flavour in the bread, chocolate paste within and chocolate chips!

It turns out 85 Degrees is a Taiwanese bakery which endeared it all the more to NPY. (Grrr.)

Our hosts like to visit Redstraw Tea Bar in Century City (as they are regular patrons) and characterized it as a chi-chi place. We’re on vacation so we’ll give it a try!

I was drawn to the layered teas, particularly the French Daisy (blue and yellow) but went with the Thai tea (layered) over the Redstraw Milk Tea (blended) that I would normally get to try them out. Our host ordered his three drinks with honey boba and I followed suit and it was all-round delicious to me. Seems to me like regular boba’s (called “Agar Boba” – appealing when you come from a biochem background) days are numbered!

Our host also remarked on how glad they are a Honeymee shop was coming to Century City. We saw one in Sawtelle and I had lined it up to try after our Korean food dinner. The concept is familiar to us since we have Soft Peaks in Vancouver of a soft serve destination with simple but delicious toppings and creations.

We were getting treats to share with our hosts so it was a takeaway order. Matcha Affogato (honey & matcha) and Honey Affogato (honey & coffee) sounded splendid but I wanted to get something with more oomph and could be shared with kiddo so I ordered a Cutee which is a drink (Sea Salt Chocolate milkshake) topped with a Darling (mini soft served) with a topping of your choice which I opted for honey.

NPY doesn’t always partake in the free breakfast and uses the time to get ready, much to my relief. Thus he hasn’t had anything to eat or coffee so after real food at La Quinta, he found that Nomad Donuts was in the vicinity of the motel and zoo is grunge. Not overly early on a Tuesday morning and it felt like the area wasn’t quite away yet – NPY thought it was a bit sketchy has he found most of what we saw in San Diego – and I characterize the shop was edgy, not quite the hipster joints we seek out at home. To cover chocolatey and fruit bases, I selected a Mexican Chocolate (cruller, yummy!) with a delayed kick that was funny to see hit kiddo, and blueberry lavender. Both yeast donuts which I prefer.

Another Extra Petite recommendation was Hammond’s Gourmet Ice Cream and I made it pretty clear that some other suggestions I had go could go by the wayside (e.g., tacos), but I really wanted that ice cream. I had psyched kiddo out about the mini cones and how even he could pop a whole scoop in his mouth. They have adorable and highly Instagramable ice cream flights in classic squared off cones or pointy waffle cones. While 32 mini cones is super Instagrammable we had to go with 6 cones which I felt is quite a premium still at $11. It was the right amount for us after filling BBQ dinner at 2 cones a piece and for the number of flavours I wanted to try.

My selections really are Asian and that’s because some other other flavours fall flat in my imagination so from left to right, then top to bottom, I ordered: matcha, cookies & cream, Thai tea, “Purple Rain” which is a mix of ube and white chocolate, “Yin Yang” with black sesame and (NPY’s favourite) mint chocolate.

When we left San Diego (La Jolla) for Anaheim, I found the 85 Degrees Bakery which was still in La Jolla in a new mall, Westfield UTC. I was shopping alone again and extended the selection this time by one. At both 85 Degrees we visited, I felt like service was painfully slow, not befitting a Chinese bakery, so I made my wait “worth it” by ordering a mango slush and that hit the spot after Duke’s lunch.

My selections and comments from left to right, top to bottom:

  • Mangotale: fragrant mango – we ate this last and it was still good
  • Matcha choco bun: not nearly as satisfying as the strawberry jelly bun where the chocolate didn’t have much flavour
  • Coffee butter bun: like it so much we got it again, and would get it again
  • Milk tea bun: I think the only tasty bun in this family was the strawberry jelly one
  • Ham & cheese: this is for the kiddo

You don’t have to go to Hawaii to get Dole Whip because you can get it at the Tiki Juice Bar in Disneyland. Okay, that’s pretty inacessible too. We took advantage of kiddo napping to beat a path to tiki land and ordered a float (why not) via mobile order. I would never get a root beer float or anything with soda but entertained a juice one and thought it was weird at first. Then I realized how the creaminess of the melted Dole Whip enhanced the juice. I also realized that my mother was preparing us ice cream floats when younger, too – in her case, it was with milk, haha.

CLFs IG’ed later they found a stand with an additional Dole Whip flavour: raspberry orange which is a deep pink flavour and very pretty when swirled with original pineapple flavour. Oh well!

I first saw bubble tea served in a lightbulb shaped vessel at Presotea and kind of wanted one ever since. But Presotea now abounds in Vancouver so I thought it was a cute and hopefully practical souvenir from our travels to get the Snow Monster (named Mini Monster in the Anaheim Packing House). As we don’t drink the coffee provided at the motel breakfasts, I was pretty adamant for bubble tea at lunch even if I don’t think there is much caffeine. NPY thought Snow Monster’s Thai tea was tastier than the one we got from Redstraw.

On this day..