Restaurant Review #130: Cafe Brasil, Culver City

Outdoor/Indoor dining area

Cafe Brasil is casual and low-key, with wooden benches and tables that remind me of a barbeque restaurant (but nicer) and do-it-yourself counter ordering and pickup. Vegans and vegetarians alike enjoy Cafe Brasil because they can eat the veggie platter; others may enjoy the many meat dishes, and everyone is sure to delight in the fried plantains and the best rice I've ever had (and this is coming from someone who doesn't even like rice! I think they spike the rice with butter). There are cushions to make your bench seats more comfy if you can manage to snag one, and the prices are very reasonable. Yet my favorite thing about Cafe Brasil is how its atmosphere transports me out of Los Angeles altogether and into a more laid-back city.

Vegetarian plate (it's vegan, too!)

The vegetarian plate consists of zucchini, tomatoes, and broccoli. I'm an avid broccoli hater, but the sauce it's cooked in here disguises the flavor so well that I'll actually eat it. All the platters come with rice, plantains, black bean soup, and a small salad with a unique tangy dressing.


I wasn't impressed with the steak--it was too chewy and I had to trim around some fatty areas. The fresh mango juice was excellent, however, and there's no doubt that it's fresh--you can see the mangos and the juicer right behind the counter.

You can choose between valet for $6.75 and fighting for street parking with nearby residents and other diners. Parking myself on a Friday night was difficult, and on a Sunday night visit, it was no easier. Being able to bring your own wine or beer with no corkage fee will make up for any parking stress, however. Almost all of the seats are on the heated outdoor patio, where the lighting is low and there are candles and fresh, fragrant flowers on every table. Two tables of last resort are located inside near the kitchen and ordering area.

TV's detract somewhat from the otherwise strangely romantic ambience--I hear that Cafe Brasil is a great place to watch a soccer game (and maybe not the best place to be if you aren't into the sport--you know how intense soccer fans are!).

Entrees are about $10-15.

If you've been to Cafe Brasil, how was your experience? Leave a comment!

Cafe Brasil

10831 Venice Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90034-7109
(310) 837-8957
Open daily, 11am-10pm
Takeout available
Cafe Brasil Menu

Second location:
11736 West Washington Blvd.
Culver City, CA


Restaurant Review #129: Ramenya, Sawtelle, West LA

Pork shu mai

Everyone has their own favorite ramen shop, and judging from how often the subject comes up on sites like Chowhound LA and LA Foodblogging, it seems to be a hotly contested topic.

Back in November 2005, restaurant ramen (as opposed to grocery store ramen) was totally new to me. My visit to Ramenya marked my fourth restaurant ramen experience. I was pretty sure that nothing could top Asahi, but in the name of research and leaving no Sawtelle stone unturned, I had to try Ramenya.

My first two visits failed because I kept wanting to go on Wednesdays, when they're closed. The good news is that they don't close between lunchtime and dinnertime, so a late Sunday lunch was a piece of cake. Even at 2:00 pm, the restaurant was full, leaving us to sit at the counter--not the nicest seats in the house, but it was just lunch.

Spicy eggdrop ramen with ground pork

Ramenya has around twenty ramen options. While there are a lot of choices, most of them didn't sound that appetizing, maybe because many were described as having soy sauce broth (how is that different from watery soy sauce, I wondered?). Only a few choices are spicy, and I wanted spicy, so I picked the spicy eggdrop ramen. I'd never had egg drop soup before, so that was a bit of a gamble. The broth was good, as long as I avoided the egg part, which tended to form a gooey skin across the top of the soup. The noodles were firmer than Chabuya's, but not as firm as Asahi's. I didn't eat much of the pork, and I wasn't that satisfied with my selection overall.

Ajo (garlic, in Spanish) ramen.

Based on my friend's bowl of ajo ramen, I'm not sure another choice would have been any better. He thought that the noodles were good, but that the broth was only passable, though adding chili oil greatly enhanced it. The garlic was okay--but who wants to eat hunks of garlic? If you don't like onions, and a lot of people don't, the large onions that disguise themselves amongst the noodles can be problematic. The soup was light on the meat, but that was okay as it was pretty bland meat. The best part about both soups was that the spoons have notches in them so you can rest them on the edge of the soup bowl without them falling in. Smart.

There are also several side dishes on the menu. I ordered the pork shu mai in case I didn't like my ramen. I liked the nose-burning hot mustard they came with--I mixed it with some soy sauce and rice vinegar (on the table, along with chili oil--the staple condiments of any ramen shop) and made a nice dipping sauce. The meat wasn't as tender as I expected, though, so I wasn't impressed or excited. The pork shu mai at Chabuya, by contrast, are quite tasty.

View from behind the counter

Ramenya is a very stark restaurant--the walls are white and there isn't really any decor to speak of. The ceilings are high and the restaurant gets lots of sunlight through its glass storefront during the day, but that isn't enough to give it atmosphere. Like most Sawtelle restaurants, it's very small--just one room and 10-15 tables for two or four guests. One nice touch is that Ramenya serves iced tea for free. The flavor reminded me of unsweetened Thai iced tea without the milk--if you've ever made it at home and brewed the tea yourself, you'll know what I mean. If you haven't, the flavor isn't dramatically different from regular iced tea--it's a bit stronger, with a hint of smokiness. Some of us can't handle caffeine though, so I only had a few sips. I wasn't missing much, but I still appreciated the gesture.

I don't plan to go back to Ramenya--I guess I'll have to wait in line at Asahi from now on.

If you've been to Ramenya, how was your experience? Leave a comment!

11555 West Olympic Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90064
Closed Wednesdays


Restaurant Review #128: Hide Sushi, Sawtelle, West LA

Halibut and albacore

Hide Sushi (pronounced hee-DAY, or something like that) has built a reputation on being remarkably inexpensive given the high quality of its fish. But just how cheap, and how good, could it really be? In my experience, cheap sushi is almost always chewy sushi. Yuck.

In spite of the reputation, I wasn’t expecting much. I’d poked my head in on several other occasions--just long enough to see that the wait for a table was too long and that the interior didn’t look particularly nice. I knew the fish was supposed to be good, but I like to eat at places that have at least some semblance of atmosphere, and I know plenty of places where I can have both. Also, they close at 9:00 and won't seat you after 8:00, and they only accept cash, so it's not always the easiest place to eat.

Cherry blossom photos cover up overhead lights

On a weekday at 1:45, the wait was finally manageable--just one other group in front of us. When I finally got all the way inside, I found that the restaurant is actually quite nice looking. It's not dateworthy, but nor is it the junky hole-in-the-wall I had anticipated. Even the ceiling is decorated! The nondescript, somewhat scuffed, off-white tile floor must have been what gave me the initial bad impression. Indeed, the floor probably is the least nice aspect of the interior, but the tables are a solid, shiny golden brown, and, well, I'll let my photos tell the rest of the story.

The walls are actually covered in inexpensive cream-colored carpet. It seems strange, but it looks nice, and may be part of the reason that the restaurant isn't too noisy. Since it's busy, it's still noisy, but you'll have no problem carrying on a conversation. Some of the tables are uncomfortably close together, though--if there are only two of you, you might find yourself so close to your neighbors that you are practically sharing a table.

The restaurant felt a bit chaotic and hostile when I first walked in--there is no apparent hostess, waitresses are darting to and fro, and space is limited. There's always a line, so how do you get on the wait list?

When you walk in, walk past the chairs on the wall to your right (which will probably be full of people) and write your name on the dry erase board, as well as how many people are in your party and whether you want a seat at the bar (s), table (t), or first available (s/t). A handwritten poster next to the dry erase board explains all this, as well as the restaurant's cash only policy (they have their own ATM just inside the door in case you're short). The system is efficient, but it can seem cold to a newcomer. I was kind of nervous about what kind of dining experience I was in for. Was this the kind of place that scolds you if you don't eat your food properly? Because I don't eat my nigiri in one bite like I should (if they want me to do that, they should make it the right size for my mouth!).

I didn't need to worry, though. Hide Sushi is an extremely well-run restaurant, and any place that serves spicy scallop rolls has no license for scolding. As soon as we were seated, our waitress took our drink order. Our food came quickly, and our check came quickly. The restaurant has plenty of staff, and they really stay busy. When we first walked in, we could barely get through the door because of the hustle and bustle of waitresses running plates to and from tables, but that paid off later when our waitress came by to check on us more than once and our water was refilled quickly.

So, how's the food? Hide Sushi does, in fact, serve top-notch California sushi at midwestern prices. I ordered only a few pieces, both because I wasn’t that hungry and because when trying a new sushi restaurant, I've found that it’s always a good idea to test the waters before ordering $50 worth of sushi. The menu is pretty short and pretty basic, but that was fine with me since I usually don't stray far from my short list of favorites: yellowtail, albacore, red snapper, and scallop.

Yellowtail scallion roll and yellowtail sushi

Our food came quickly, but I was a little skeptical of my less-than-clean looking plate. I'm well aware that the two minute cycle in the industrial dishwasher doesn't always make plates look clean, even though they've been safely sterilized by burning hot water, but I still want to eat off of a clean plate. Also, Hide Sushi's picked ginger is hot pink, which grosses me out since ginger is supposed to be pale yellow (except for young ginger, but that isn't what they were serving).

These minor shortcomings aside, the fish was excellent. The yellowtail was perfectly smooth, soft, and fresh. I wasn't as big a fan of the roll, but I think that had more to do with my changing tastes than with its preparation. Some of the rolls come with only four pieces, so the lower prices can be somewhat deceptive. I'm okay with this though--if I want to eat a variety of things, I don't really need six bites of the same roll. I actually wish more restaurants followed this practice (while adjusting their prices accordingly, of course).

The halibut was unexciting--it truly tasted like nothing, and brought to mind something I heard on KCRW's Good Food about fish being like condiments for the rice. I'm not a fan of that view, but with such a mild fish, I could suspend my disbelief for a moment. The albacore was another piece of excellent quality fish, and came with a bottle of ponzu. Dipping the fish in ponzu didn't work very well--I couldn't get enough sauce on my fish. Next time I'll dribble it over the top. It is nice that Hide Sushi lets you decide for yourself whether you want ponzu on your albacore, unlike most other restaurants. They also list any toppings and extra roll ingredients on the menu, so there are no surprises whatsoever.

Surprisingly, I was full in spite of sharing my small meal with my friend. You might want to try the teriyaki and tempura lunch special though, which is $10 for plenty of tempura and a small piece of meat. There are also several salads, with and without fish.

If you've been to Hide Sushi, how was your experience? Leave a comment!

Hide Sushi
2040 Sawtelle Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90025


Restaurant Review #127: Wat Thai Festival, North Hollywood

Last weekend, I went to the Songkran festival at Wat Thai temple in North Hollywood. The temple is on Coldwater Canyon, close to the end of the earth. The temple faces diagonally, so the view of it from the street isn't great, but it's so huge and different from everything that surrounds it that there's no way you'll miss it. Parking was difficult, but we found free parking on a residential street several blocks away (and walking a few blocks isn't such a bad thing when you're about to chow down).

What is the Songkran festival about? Wat Thai's website explains it better than I could:

Songkran Tradition is held as Thai New Year Tradition which is a very important and beautiful national culture of the Thai people for a long time. The foreigners are also very interested in this tradition. Songkran Day is the day of concern that people will perform a bathing rite for Buddha images and the monks, sprinkle scented water over the elders and ask for their benedictions, and splash water over every person in sight. To show of the delight by blessing one another to be happy and good luck is a beauty of Songkran Tradition, thus the adherent of this tradition can help keeping good mind, good manner, kindness and gratitude.

I hear from Chowhound that they have vendors selling food from booths every weekend, so I suppose the festival was, in some respects, a more intense version of that. Overall, what I saw wasn't very exciting as far as festivals go. The live performances were pretty painful to watch, and the event seemed to be more about consumerism than anything else. The area around the temple was packed with vendors, some selling food, some selling the usual things you can buy on the street: 2 for $5 earrings, mirrored handbags, fake Coach bags, CD's and DVD's, clothes, incense, and more.

Then there was the fat burning supplement stand, complete with disgusting stomach photos, the Western Union stand, teeming with workers in bright yellow shirts, and the "Stop! I know you want to help save the elephants!" girl. At least entrance was free, unlike many festivals I've been to in other cities.

Fish cakes

As the only white girl at the event, I felt a little out of place and very tall. I was hoping for some good photo opportunities, but everything was so chaotic and close together that it was hard to know how to take an interesting photo without being obtrusive. As an outsider, I also had my inhibitions about being one of those obnoxious people who likes to photograph people who look different from them and then pretend that the photos have some interesting National Geographic-esque quality to them just because the subjects aren't white. That's not me.
I wish I had gone into the temple, but I'm not Buddhist and I thought it might be rude. I think sometimes I try too hard to be sensitive to other cultures and miss out on cool opportunities. That's just part of my introverted nature, I suppose.

I had a hard time finding the food--from where I entered, the food stands were all the way in the back. Though it was late in the afternoon and vendors were starting to run out of things, I did manage to get some fried banana and fried taro, fish cakes, and mango sticky rice. What I didn't get were these delicious smelling pancake things with an unidentifiable bright green paste in the middle, and I was pretty peeved since I had waited in line for 15 minutes and no one bothered to tell me that they were running out.

We also had some boba from Modern Teaism, the company that used to be Upper House and isn't as good anymore. The drink lost its flavor toward the end, which is common with frozen blended drinks (in my experience, the more cream a drink has, the more likely it is to hold its flavor until the end, but of course, the cream makes it terribly unhealthy).

To add to the general chaos of trying to move through the crowds, some booths only accepted plastic tokens that you had to purchase at a separate booth. Maybe if I read Thai I would have known this before getting to the front of the line, but I don't. I wasn't sure what the rules were, since I purchased earrings and boba with cash, but I couldn't purchase any of the other food that way. (Is boba tea not considered food?) For those of you familiar with Wat Thai--do the food booths only use tokens every weekend?

I wanted to try some new things, but when you've been eating foreign cuisines for long enough, the novelty starts to wear off. I already knew that palm sugar pretty much tastes like regular sugar, so I didn't feel the need to try the palm sugar sweets, and I already knew that egg yolk candy grosses me out (I like omelets, but that's the only form of egg I've ever liked), so I ended up sticking to tried and true things: fish cakes, deep fried banana and taro, and mango sticky rice.

You can't go wrong with mango sticky rice. The name is a bit deceiving: since the mango isn't mixed into the rice in any way, the dish would be best called sticky rice with mango (and probably sometimes is). The rice is mixed with a thin sauce whose mostly sweet but slightly salty flavor is completely addictive, and fresh chunks of mango are served alongside it.

I probably would have gotten some pad Thai or some of the soup that I saw lots of people with, but the lines for the hot food were painfully long, and it's not like I've never had pad Thai before. I should also point out that since I am somewhat allergic to shellfish and the Thais love shrimp, eating unfamiliar Thai food is not always the best idea for me.

The fish cakes were cheap, at 6 for $3, but they were small and barely warm, so I didn't eat them until that evening when I could nuke them. I was turned away at the first booth I tried to order them from, but the seemingly identical booth next to it sold me their last batch. The fried banana and taro were incredibly greasy. The taro was dry and hard to eat without sips of water in between each bite. The banana was better, and I liked that it was tangy, like a slightly underripe banana, but still soft. There were lots of jam-packed picnic-style benches for eating your food, but I don't like crowds, so I got my food on my way out and ate in the car.

I'm sure this sand pile is significant somehow

Overall, if you're just looking for good, authentic Thai food, you might have a better time eating at a restaurant in North Hollywood or Thai Town. If you want to sample smaller portions of lots of food at low prices and you don't mind crowds and lines, Wat Thai is a great bet. The festival itself didn't impress me (maybe more interesting things were happening earlier, or on Sunday), but I was glad that I actually got out and did one of the interesting things that this city has to offer. I love that in Los Angeles, I can get a taste of another country, but unlike actually traveling to that country, I can go back to my own comfortable life when I get tired. Those of you who have traveled abroad know how exhausting culture shock can be.

If you missed it, don't worry--the next festival, the Loy Kratong festival, is in November.

Wat Thai of Los Angeles
8225 Coldwater Canyon Ave
North Hollywood, CA 91605


Restaurant Review #126: Ketchy's II, Sawtelle, West LA

Cheeseburger with all the trimmings

Ketchy'’s II is part of the Sawtelle strip, but have you ever seen it? Did you even know that there is another restaurant behind Mizu 212?

I didn'’t, until I went exploring on foot one day. But every time I walked by Ketchy'’s II, it was closed. I was starting to wonder if it was actually in business. As far as I can tell, the hours aren't posted in the window anywhere.

I was in the right place, but at the wrong time. Ketchy's II has been open for five months, but it's only open until 6:00 pm, which explains my confusion. The owner mentioned the possibility of keeping it open longer in the summer, which would be nice. A big red sign on the sidewalk informs pedestrians of the restaurant'’s existence, and the accompanying phone number points out the restaurant'’s aspirations to do a steady takeout business.

Though it is relatively new, Ketchy's II has quite a history. It replaces a beloved neighborhood hamburger and taco stand named Ketchy'’s that operated for 40 years but was completely destroyed when a pickup truck drove through it over 20 years ago, according to the newspaper article taped to the wall. The owner informed me that the original stand had actually been hit by a vehicle not once, but twice!

A true hole-in-the-wall, Ketchy'’s II has no indoor dining--there simply isn'’t space. There'’s barely space for two people to come in at the same time to order. What'’s interesting about this lack of space is that it nearly forces you to interact with the owner and the cook, both of whom were very friendly. There are a few metal tables where you can eat outside, if you don'’t want your food to go.

Ketchy's II serves hamburgers, hotdogs, chili burgers, chili dogs, tamales, fries, onion rings, and a few other things. Multiple flavors of soda in cans are easily grabbable if you'’re thirsty.

My quarter pound cheeseburger was made-to-order in plain view and came with plenty of toppings--lettuce, pickles, mayonnaise, ketchup, and mustard. If you'’re looking for a less messy burger, I'’d skip the lettuce--it's cut into square inch-sized pieces, a small detail which most people won'’t realize makes the burger easier to eat and prevents you from eating chunks of lettuce vein (yuck). The pieces get condiment-covered and are prone to falling out, but a paper wrapper inside the burger'’s foil wrapper will help you eat more neatly. The meat was cooked thoroughly (okay with me, but you may want to specify if you like your burger pink) and wasn't greasy at all. A quarter pound isn'’t much bigger than an In-n-Out patty, and there was only about half as much cheese as I would have liked, but with all the condiments and the bun, the burger had plenty of flavor and filled me up. A cheeseburger is $3.70, and a tip jar awaits your change. I don't think anything on the menu is over $5.00.

Ketchy's II may not have the excitement factor of some of the other restaurants on Sawtelle, but it is a most welcome addition to the neighborhood. Where else in the area would I go to get a hamburger or a quick lunch for so little?

If you've been to Ketchy's II, how was your experience? Leave a comment!

Ketchy's II
La Grange (at Sawtelle, behind Mizu 212)
Los Angeles, CA 90025


Restaurant Review #125: India's Sweets and Spices, Culver City

India's Sweets and Spices doesn't look like much--in fact, it looks like a place you'd want to avoid. If you just get out of your car and step inside though, the lines, the clientele, and the pungent, savory aroma of Indian curries will convince you that you're in exactly the right place.

Though there is a large menu on the wall behind the counter, it seems to make more sense to order what's visible in the steam trays. At lunchtime, order the lunch special and you can choose three curries from about six options, and for the ridiculously low price of $5.50, rice, naan, raita, and gulab jamun are included. One caveat: while I was more than full after eating all of this, if you have a rather large appetite, you may find yourself wishing you were at a $6.95 all-you-can-eat buffet (on weekends though, some restaurants that charge $6.95 or $7.95 for their buffets during the week increase the price to $9.95). On the other hand, if you have trouble controlling yourself at a buffet, here's your chance to have the variety of a buffet without overdoing it.

India's Sweets and Spices is not just a restaurant--it's also a small grocery store and sweet shop--one where the owners have crammed as much stuff into as little space as possible. As such, the experience of eating your food on-site is about as minimalist as it gets. The entrees come on a styrofoam tray that struggles to support the food. You serve yourself free water in tiny styrofoam cups. The silverware, of course, is plastic, and you bus your own brightly colored Formica-on-particle-board table booth (think Subway). Choose between not quite indoor dining under the plastic tent, or tables on the sidewalk. Either way, parking meters and the hectic whooshing and honking sounds of six lanes of Venice Boulevard traffic don't do much to create ambiance.

The food makes up for it, though. I am constantly let down by Indian food that isn't spicy enough, is served at room temperature, or has some other fatal flaw. The yogurt curry, aloo gobi, and mattar paneer I scarfed at India's Sweets and Spices fulfilled a major craving for deliciously real Indian food. I'd never had yogurt curry before, and I have decided that I much prefer its tang over the sometimes sickening sweetness of coconut milk curries. I didn't like the paneer in my mattar paneer, but that's always true for me. I like cheese and I like tofu, but a cheese that combines texture and flavor elements of each does not please me. (I should point out, for those who don't know, that there is no bean curd in paneer, and that it isn't meant to be reminiscent of cheese+tofu, that's just what it reminds me of.)

The aloo gobi really made me happy because both the potatoes and the cauliflower had been cooked until they were tender and had fallen apart into small, easy to eat pieces. So many restaurants serve up impossibly huge chunks of undercooked chunks of vegetables, which are not only unappetizing and difficult to eat, but also prevent the dish from reaching its potential. As I learned in 10th grade biology, when you break something down into smaller parts, you increase its surface area. More surface area=more places for spices to go, and that means tastier food.

I love Indian sweets. I don't know much about them, except that many of them involve sweetened condensed milk, and I've never seen a place label them, so I just asked the man behind the counter to give me a pound's worth. Both here and at Shan Halal in Artesia, someone has been more than happy to help me out. There were many more things that I could try in one visit--it would probably take about 3 pounds to try one of each thing. Many Indian sweets are very dense and weigh a lot, and a pound will run you $9 here, but I think it's worth it.

The squiggly orange thing tasted like cotton candy tastes if you mush it all up into a compact ball, but seemed to be something deep fried filled with a sugary liquid (though I don't think that's scientifically possible). My favorite, which you can't see in the photo, is a simple, soft white rectangle about three quarters of an inch thick sprinkled lightly with pistachios. Just point to whatever looks good to you, and try a little of everything. You can't try these sweets at most Indian restaurants--dessert menus usually consist of kheer, gulab jamun, maybe some carrot halwa (which you might find in a sweet shop), and maybe some kulfi. So take advantage and order a bunch of sweets here.

I didn't peruse the grocery selection at all because if I'm being honest with myself, I will never actually cook anything that I might buy. I like the idea of cooking, the idea of owning every spice known to woman, but after 10 hours away from home and at work, dumping a bag of something from Trader Joe's into a skillet is about all the cooking I feel like doing.

India's Sweets and Spices is a small chain with locations throughout the state. I haven't been to the other locations, but even if you don't live near Culver City, you might still have access to their great, cheap Indian food. Check out their website (link below) for details.

India's Sweets and Spices
9409 Venice Blvd.
Los Angeles (Culver City), CA 90034
(310) 837-5286


Restaurant Review #124: Hurry Curry, Mar Vista

At Hurry Curry, you can get a lunch special with one vegetable and one meat entree plus rice for $2.99, according to the sign. Yet for some reason, my lunch was $3.99. Even stranger, I didn't question this. I have bigger things to worry about than $1.00, of course, but the principle of the situation normally would have made me mad.

My food would have made me mad under ordinary circumstances too (I bought two cheap lunches from two different restaurants, in case one was bad). The yellow curry with cauliflower and green peppers tasted like cigarettes. I thought I was crazy, so I took about five more bites just to make sure. Yup. Cigarettes. It was inedible.

The peas and mushrooms were better, only because they were edible. The curry itself had very little flavor though, and the mushrooms, which were so plentiful as to convince me that they had multiplied on the drive home, were the slimy canned variety that cause most folks to steer clear of mushrooms altogether. The best thing I could probably say about my food is that the peas were bright green and the rice was okay, though it was on the moist side.

After an excellent $5.50 experience at India's Sweets and Spices the week before, I actually thought good Indian food for $4.00 was within reach, especially because so many people had mentioned Hurry Curry to me. In retrospect though, I don't think anyone was raving about the food so much as the ridiculously low price.

There are plenty of tables for sitting down. The slightly run-down minimalist look of the place and bright midday sunshine reminded me of Mexico. I also had the good fortune of finding street parking right out front--free, unmetered street parking. What a steal! The restaurant was pretty empty, but it was almost 3:00. I was just glad they were open. Taking the food home in my car was a bit of a challenge, since my generously filled styrofoam container had only a thin layer of paper bag between its high leak potential and the floor of my car.

If you're starving and nothing else is open, go ahead and chance it--just don't order what I did. If it's Indian food you crave, go somewhere else. Anywhere else. Hurry!

Hurry Curry
12825 Venice Blvd (NE corner of Venice and Beethoven)
Los Angeles, CA 90066


Restaurant Review #123: Famima!!, Santa Monica

According to Famima's napkins and bags, "Easy is good. Easy with all the amenities is rare. At Famima, every day becomes a better, richer experience. Simplicity in design, superior products and personalized customer care is what life should be all about."

Should I get into all of the things I take issue with in their mission statement? Why not?

Simplicity in design: First of all, while the store looks lovely, simplicity should include functionality. The store's design is inefficient when it comes to moving about the store and paying for your food.

Superior products: I liked my curry chicken bun quite a bit (more on the food to follow), but the chicken in the steamed chicken and mushroom bun bordered on gross. I also considered getting the sushi, but declined for three reasons: rolls with lettuce in them, carrots cut into unnatural round matchsticks, and an unidentifiable brown ingredient in one of the veggie rolls (some kind of pickle, perhaps?).

Personalized customer care: What? Where? Do I need personalized care for grab-and-go food? And while there was nothing wrong with my cashier, there was nothing special about him, either.

Finally, I hope my life is about more than superior products and simplicity in design. But hey, this is America.

Okay. So here's the deal. Walk into Famima. Be confused because you thought it was a lunch to-go restaurant of some sort, but all you see are school supplies, gum, and refrigerated stuff. Walk by the counter. Ponder the absence of menus behind the counter. Wonder if they have any real food to order. Note the plethora of cigarette boxes. Are they advocating the consumption of nicotine sticks in lieu of lunch?

There are actually just a couple of hot food items, and they come from display cases by the registers. The chicken curry buns are only $1.75 and they are yummy. Where else can I get hot food so cheaply on the Promenade? (Wetzel's, okay, maybe, but that's just bread.) Since the buns are small (about the size of your hand, fingers and all), you can either eat one as a somewhat nutritious snack, or eat 3-5 for a meal. I guess at the 3-5 mark you aren't really saving money anymore, but it's a nice break from the corporate coffee shop's refrigerated sandwiches. The buns have flaky breadcrumbs on the outside, like curry chicken.

Other hot selections include soup (one soup each day, depending on the day of the week, listed on a chart behind the registers), more breadcrumb-coated things, and assorted steamed buns ($1.50), including char-shu (barbecued pork) and the chicken and mushroom bun that I ordered. I wasn't very happy with it, since the filling kind of like school cafeteria food and the chicken was watery and fatty (the curry bun didn't suffer from the same problem). For those of you not familiar with steamed buns, they are completely white since they haven't been baked, making them look raw, especially when they're still in the display case. Rest assured that they are cooked, and the bun part has a consistency similar to Wonder Bread (or pan Bimbo), except that it sticks to your teeth more.

Famima also sells a variety of sushi rolls and their kin, an assortment of French-influenced Japanese desserts, and treats like Pocky and bottled drinks usually only seen at Japanese grocery stores or 99 Ranch. For bringing all of these items closer to the mainstream, I'll allow Famima!! to keep their exclamation points.

And they're right about the easy part--I picked out my food and paid in 5-10 minutes. I went on a rainy day, so it's hard to tell what real lunchtime traffic will look like, but there was barely any line, though the place seemed popular.

Since I was in a hurry, I wasn't able to really examine or absorb everything that the store sells. After visiting the website, I discovered that my idea of what Famima!! was supposed to be was off. Rather than a lunch-to-go spot, it's really more of an upscale convenience store. Though not necessarily all it hypes itself up to be, Famima is not a bad stop for a cheap to-go lunch.

1348 3rd Street Promenade
Santa Monica, CA 90401
Open daily 6am-2am