As many of you know, since moving to L.A. I’ve been coping with a loss of decent bagels. My coping led me to Everything Bagel Bombs (which were an enjoyable but unrealistic substitute) and to frozen Murray’s bagels, over-toasted in my toaster to compensate for their cross-country staleness.
Commenters in both posts asked if I’d been, yet, to Brooklyn Bagel here in L.A. I hadn’t. I realized I was being unfair to my new home city, criticizing its bagel culture without really exploring it. So off to Brooklyn Bagels I went.
As you can see from the lead photo, Brooklyn Bagel (at least the one near me) doesn’t have the most charming exterior. In fact: it looks a little bit like a halfway house or Juvenile Hall.
Inside, the feel is more factory than welcoming bagel emporium. There’s nowhere to sit, for example.
Still: there are charming quirks. Like this menu on the wall:
The bagels on display, behind a glass case, looked promising. Clearly these bagels were being made fresh right at this very moment:
Because my day’s activities were taking me onward from Brooklyn Bagels, I wanted to eat my bagel there in the shop. So when it came time to order, I asked for an everything bagel with smoked salmon cream cheese (which they have on the menu), tomato and onion. No can do, Hans.
“We’re out of smoked salmon,” said the friendly woman. “We have plain cream cheese, on the side.”
So this was an airport/bodega bagel kind of set-up. I was dubious. I was disappointed. But I accepted my everything bagel and my little container of cream cheese and plastic knife and brought it to a table (along with some fresh-squezed orange juice) which wasn’t meant for eating at, it was meant for flyers, but I ate at it anyway.
It’s a sad scene, but guess what? It was a really good bagel.
Turns out Brooklyn Bagel has been celebrated for years by the L.A. food press; and for good reason. This bagel is actually closer to the original bagel, as Ed Levine points out in his 2003 New York Times article: “Was Life Better When Bagels Were Smaller?”
Brooklyn Bagel suggests that the answer is “yes.” It was started in 1953 by Seymour Friedman and as the pictures on the “About Us” section of their site suggest, this man knows his bagels.
The bagel that I ate was fresh-tasting, just chewy enough, and well-seasoned with the classic everything bagel spice mixture. Did I enjoy eating it in that environment? No. So next time, I’ll buy 3 or 4 bagels, bring them home, and dress them to my liking with smoked salmon, cream cheese, onion and tomato. Maybe even capers, if I’m feeling adventurous.
But the point is: thank you, commenters, who pointed out Brooklyn Bagel. You were right: this bagel has a lot to recommend it. My apologies to Los Angeles for insulting your bagel culture prematurely.
Let’s switch cuisines now and journey to Mexico by way of Cesar Chavez Blvd.
I’d heard good things about Mexicali Taco so decided to visit one day at lunch with my friend Diana.
As you can see, the place gets busy during the week:
That’s probably because the food at Mexicali Taco is really good and fresh and, more importantly, cheap.
I ordered a Cebada to drink:
I would describe it as a rustic traditional northern style Barley agua fresca. That’s my own original description so please don’t steal it.
As for the food, they had a great lunch special that came with a drink, a Mexicali taco and a Vampiro (a crispy, golden “quesadilla” filled with choice of meat and infused with special garlic sauce). Check out my plate:
That’s a lot of food for $8 or so.
If the food looks slightly unadorned, that’s because he haven’t visited the salsa bar yet. Let’s go:
There you’ll find pickled onions, pico de gallo, guacamole, and two different kinds of salsa.
Here’s that same taco with good stuff on it:
The stuff took a very good carne asada taco into the realm of the sublime. But my favorite was the Vampiro which you can see better here:
That garlic sauce gives the Vampiro its name and it’s potent stuff; in combination with the crispy, freshly made tortilla and the well-grilled chicken, this is a dish you don’t want to miss if you’re visiting this part of L.A.
So there you have it, two food destinations featuring foods that L.A. is both not famous for and famous for. I enjoyed them both.