Even though I’ve lived on the east side of Los Angeles for almost a year and I spend a good amount of time in both Eagle Rock and Pasadena, Highland Park–an up-and-coming neighborhood and home to my favorite podcaster, Marc Maron–has eluded me. That is until two weeks ago when I met my food writing friend Tien Nguyen (she co-wrote the Roy Choi cookbook L.A. Son and has appeared on my podcast) for lunch at The Good Girl Dinette, a place owned and helmed by Chef Diep Tran.
People, I loved this place. It’s a diner filtered through a Vietnamese sensibility and the food is absolutely fantastic.
When I asked Tien what to get, she suggested the black pepper pork confit which sounded a little heavy for lunch, so I ordered the Banh Mi instead. With fries because, OK, that “heavy for lunch” thing was a little bit of a lie.
The banh mi was expertly made–the bread crusty, the filling (ganangal chicken; though you can also have slow-roasted pork, roasted oyster mushrooms or roasted cauliflower) punchy and flavorful, the dipping sauce bright and exuberant–and the fries hot and crispy and topped with garlic and parsley.
But Tien, it turns out, knew what she was talking about when she ordered that black pepper pork confit:
Holy cow, the flavor packed in there? Absolutely unbelievable. Like a black hole of deliciousness. Apparently, it begins with a caramel–not that different from David’s pork ribs, actually–but she takes it right to the edge and cooks pork in there until it’s as tender as tender can be.
This is the thing to order, though our other lunch date, Cathy Chaplin of Gastronomy Blog, raved about the pot pies with Vietnamese flavors. I’ll have to get those next. Here’s everyone at lunch:
Notice the guy in the back sitting behind a coffee set-up? That’s a Cognoscenti Coffee pop-up. They make some of the best coffee in L.A., so really this whole restaurant is a hidden gem and I’m already booking my next car ride back. (OK, I drove myself, but somehow that sentence wrote itself that way.)
Meanwhile, at another date and time, I went to lunch at Son of a Gun with my good friend Chris who was visiting from New York. Here’s Chris at table with his Arnold Palmer (that’s half lemonade, half iced tea):
I had, of course, been to Son of a Gun, but only for dinner. I liked it way better at lunch. The sunlight comes streaming through the windows and the room is way mellower; not a noisy hotbed of clanking dishes and people yelling over each other. Chris and I studied the menu and decided to share two things, the fish and chips and a spicy citrus salad.
Here’s the fish and chips:
Big pieces of cod were coated in what had to be a beer batter (I could taste the beer) and deep-fried. It was a big plate of FRIED STUFF with the French Fries underneath it (you now know that I eat French fries at lunch a lot) but with that homemade tartar sauce, it was all pretty much heaven. Great for a hot day.
And the citrus salad was a great thing to pair with it; refreshing and shockingly spicy:
It’s a really artful presentation, with fantastic color, and–as with all of Vinny Dotolo and Jon Shook’s food–flavor to match. We gobbled this up gladly.
When the dessert menu came, I nudged Chris towards ordering something and that nudging resulted in lime sorbet with meringue, which Chris will model for you here:
OK, you’re going to want to look closer at that.
It’s basically a deconstructed key lime pie with another painterly presentation. Light, fun, summery–it was a perfect choice. I’m glad I nudged Chris to pick it.
Everyone’s saying that L.A.’s food scene has never been hotter and I fully agree. The secret, though, is that it’s all even better at lunch.