Assorted pastries. From back left to front right: guava strudel, almond danish, croissant, coconut glazed, coconut strudel, apple empanada
Though Porto's is a Los Angeles legend, it's possible to not know about it, especially if you live on the Westside. In an attempt to avoid the crowds, we visited late on a Saturday afternoon, but despite primarily being a bakery, the place was a madhouse. As we waited in line, we crained our necks around the throngs ordering at the counter trying to pick out which goodies we wanted. Few items are labeled, so unless you're a regular, you'll just have to point. Printed and posted menus curiously don't list all the items.
Assorted savory pastries. From back left to front right: pastel de carne (meat pie), chorizo pie, chicken empanada, ham croquettes, potato balls
Porto's serves both sweet and savory pastries with a Cuban influence. With so many delicious options, you can feel the pounds piling on before you even start eating. While there are really no bad dishes, in the savory category, you won't want to miss the pastel de carne (puff pastry filled with seasoned ground beef), chicken empanada (filled with moist, shredded chicken and peppers), or potato balls (mashed potato wrapped around seasoned ground beef, breaded and deep fried). In the sweet category, be sure to try the mango empanadas, cheese danish, and coconut strudel.
In addition to its pastries, Porto's offers a selection of sandwiches. The medianoche (midnight) sandwich, a concoction of ham, roasted pork, swiss cheese, pickles, mustard, and mayonnaise on a toasted sweet roll, is tastier than its simple appearance implies. The grilled chicken sandwich is basic but juicy and tender.
Grilled chicken sandwich
Porto's prices are stunningly low--and they create and delivery large orders for parties. Imagine how many people you could feed on the cheap when a dense, filling empanada costs just 95 cents? Most savory pastries are under $1.00 to start with and are even cheaper when you buy them 50 pieces at a time. The sweet pastries are equally inexpensive. If you're looking for something more sophisticated, Porto's also has a large selection of French-style cakes and mousses and they also do elaborate wedding cakes.
315 N. Brand Blvd.
Glendale, CA 91203
Porto's website (very informative)
Absolutely Phobulous is a relatively new Vietnamese restaurant in Encino on Ventura Boulevard (where else?). As you might guess by the absence of lucky numbers in the name and their trademarked slogan, "Vietnamese with a modern sensibility," it's fairly different from the other Vietnamese joints in town. The menu is as much shorter as the clientele is whiter.
Crunchy-chewy strips of green papaya garnished with crushed peanuts and fresh mint leaves drizzled with a light, fish-sauce based house dressing tasted exactly like this salad should taste with no surprises good or bad. This dish normally comes with shrimp.
The generous chicken stick appetizer (lead photo) is almost enough food for a whole meal. The moist meat is cooked in a coconut- and peanut-based sauce and a dusted with a slightly crispy coating. The chicken comes with a bowl of finger-licking good peanut dipping sauce. This is the most flavorful of the dishes we tried.
The Vietnamese crepes are moist, gooey, translucent rice cakes filled with spiced ground pork, black mushrooms, and supposedly, onions. Buried beneath slices of dry, Spam-like Vietnamese ham and crispy, deep-fried onions and served with a heaping side of fresh bean sprouts and mint, the crepes almost seem like an afterthought. Their dough is fairly flavorless and the filling is scant. This dish should probably be moved off of the "house specials" section of the menu.
Pho beef combo
The pho, while adequate, does not live up to the restaurant's name. The broth is not as richly flavored or as lovingly spiced as a top-notch bowl of this Vietnamese classic should be. At least the noodles aren't soggy or clumped together. Unlike most Vietnamese restaurants, there is only one pho option here: pho with a combination of rare beef, beef meatballs, and beef brisket. The brisket is the most flavorful of the meats, and the meatballs have that common, slightly tough chewiness.
The smooth tapioca and savory coconut cream in this dish are perfect, but the bananas are strangely dessicated. While the crushed peanuts complement the other flavors in the dish nicely, after the peanuts on the chicken and the salad, they were excessive.
Three seasons is a dessert consisting of sweet and salty red beans, yellow bean paste, triangles of green gelatin, rich coconut cream, and shaved ice. The red beans are hard and dry, but as the bottom layer, they are easily avoided. The yellow bean paste is earthy, smooth, and sweet and the gelatin has that distinct bite common to Asian gelatins but crunchier than American Jello.
As good as the food is, the service is atrocious. Our appetizers and entrees all arrived at the same time, crowding the table and making it difficult to eat the dishes at their proper temperatures. Also, all the food arrived in an alarmingly short amount of time after ordering (surprisingly, it still tasted fresh). Once we finished eating, it was nearly impossible to flag down a server to bring us dessert, containers for leftovers, or the bill. Absolutely Phobulous is not the only restaurant in LA to commit this sin, of course--it's dreadfully common--but that doesn't make it excusable and it really soured an otherwise tasty meal. I plan to return, given the limited Vietnamese options in a ten-mile radius, but I will definitely get takeout so I can enjoy my food without the incompetent and borderline hostile waitstaff.
15928 Ventura Blvd. #101
Encino, CA 91346
Absolutely Phobulous website/menu
Also located in West Hollywood