Fill’er Up in Los Angeles

How pretty is this lemon cake from Sycamore Kitchen?

How pretty is this lemon cake from Sycamore Kitchen?

Sycamore Kitchen

Sure, they serve lunch, but I was there for the baked goods. But of course.

Husband and wife owners Quinn and Karen Hatfield cooked for a spell in San Francisco, before departing for Los Angeles to open Hatfield’s. In 2012, they also opened the Sycamore Kitchen, an urban cafe and bakery with a large outdoor patio.

Karen is a long-time pastry chef, so it’s no surprise that the pastries excel here.

How good are they?

Let’s start with the buttercup ($3.50), the renamed version of a kougin-amann. It’s buttery alright. It’s also the closest kouign-amann I’ve found to that of Belinda Leong’s of B. Patisserie in San Francisco and John Shelsta’s of Howie’s Artisan Pizzeria in Redwood City (he trained with Leong). It’s golden and crisp, with airy layers that are just a smidge heavier in texture than Leong’s and Shelsta’s versions. It’s a dream to nibble on.

The buttercup (kouign-amann).

The buttercup (kouign-amann).

Yes, this is a babka.

Yup, this is a babka.

Then there are the cookies. At first glance, they look incredibly flat and thin — almost as if they were a mistake. But take a bite of the rice crispy cookie ($2.50) and the oatmeal toffee cookie ($2.25) and you know they were baked with purpose. The thinness means they are somehow crisp and chewy through and through. Brilliant.

Oatmeal toffee and chocolate chip rice crisp cookies.

Oatmeal toffee and chocolate chip rice crisp cookies.

The lemon custard cake ($3.50) is a beauty with its puddle of lemon curd in the center. It’s also gluten-free, most likely made with almond meal from the taste of it. Thyme adds a delightful, delicate herbal note, too.

The salted caramel babka ($4) looks like a sticky bun. And it is quite sticky. But the texture is more like that of a babka in that it’s a little fluffier and cake-like in texture.

What to choose?

What to choose?

Guerrilla Tacos

Not every taco truck chef has trained under Alain Ducasse in Paris. But Chef Wes Avila of Guerrilla Tacos has, which makes his truck imminently worth chasing down.

Everything is made in-house. The seafood is sustainable. The ingredients are local.

The truck making its stop.

The truck making its stop.

Just get there early, as he often sells out of things fast. Which is what we found out when we got there at the tail-end of lunch time.

Still, it was worth it if only to try the hamachi tostada — which has got to be one of the prettiest dishes to ever come out of a food truck.

Thin slices of sushi-grade yellowtail are fanned out over a crisp tortilla, and garnished with plenty of lime, a touch of tomatillo chile, furikake and a trove of bulls blood beet micro leaves.

A tostada worth waiting in line for.

A tostada worth waiting in line for.

You might balk at the $8 price tag at first, but not after you enjoy the bright, clean, perfect flavors.

Locol

Locol is chefs Roy Choi (of Los Angeles Kogi Truck fame) and Daniel Patterson (of the fine-dining Coi in San Francisco) answer to McDonald’s, a fast-food concept that aims to turn out affordable, good-for-you, and good tasting burgers, bowls, chicken nuggets and more in neighborhoods that need it the most.

It succeeds quite admirably.

The first one opened in Watts this January. Two more are already slated — one in Oakland, the other in San Francisco’s Tenderloin.

Wall art at Locol.

Wall art at Locol.

The counter.

The counter.

Locol has definite street attitude with its graffiti-like characters gracing the entrance and menu board.

Wraps are “foldies” here. Fried nuggets are “crunchies.” And the burgers are just “burgs.”

What you’ll notice from the get-go is that this food not only boasts vibrant flavor, but also noticeable texture, unlike at McDonald’s, where the food has been processed to oblivion.

Locol cheeseburger.

Locol cheeseburger.

Chicken Nugs.

Chicken Nugs.

The Locol Cheeseburger ($4) is made with quality meat stretched a bit with the addition of grains to keep it so affordable. My husband, aka Meat Boy, liked the crisp edges of the patty, but found the interior slightly gummy. The burger is dressed with grilled scallion relish and a spicy tomato-garlic-gochujang concoction known as “Awesome Sauce.” The bun is a marvel — custom-made by San Francisco’s Tartine Bakery. It’s griddled until deeply golden. It has a softness like a potato bun, but is plenty sturdy on the exterior to handle the weight of the burger. It’s a modest-sized burger, and plenty filling.

The Chicken Nugs ($3) are fried chicken nuggets that have actual toothsomeness to them. They are served in a spicy pool of creamy green sauce and “Awesome Sauce.”

Chego

Kogi Truck proprietor Roy Choi opened Chego, his first brick and mortar place in 2010.

Housed in a plaza in Chinatown, the menu is all about noodle and rice bowls with sometimes unlikely ingredient pairings such as Korean kochujang pork belly with the Mexican cheese cotija.

The colorful exterior of this tiny outpost.

The colorful exterior of this tiny outpost.

The flavors are big and bold, and yes, addicting.

The chicken adobo ($8) is a mega bowl of tender chicken pieces bathed in a sea of sweet-tangy brothy sauce that the rice at the bottom practically drinks up. A fried egg crowns it all, along with fried shallots.

A soupy chicken adobo.

A soupy chicken adobo.

Prime rib rice plate.

Prime rib rice plate.

“Tiny’s Prime Rib Rice Plate” ($10) brings succulent beef, spinach, Chinese broccoli, roasted garlic puree and creamed horseradish over a mound of fluffy rice. Take a taste, and you’ll find yourself taking notes because now you know what to do with leftover prime rib the day after Christmas.

Valerie Confections

As a kid, I was fortunate enough to grow up on the iconic Blum’s coffee crunch cake.

My parents would often buy one for our birthdays or when company was coming over.

A tall sponge cake enveloped in shards of crunchy toffee, it was such a thing of beauty that when Blum’s closed, it became almost mythic, living on in dreamy memories until other bakeries would try to recreate their own versions.

What a treat to discover the one at Valerie Confections at the Grand Central Market.

Follow the sign.

Follow the sign.

A whole 9-inch cake will set you back $45.

A whole 9-inch cake will set you back $45.

Eat it there, and your slice will arrive on a plate in all its glory.

Eat it there, and your slice will arrive on a plate in all its glory.

Yes, you can order it by the slice ($6), though if you get it to-go, it does get a bit smushed in the take-out container.

Still, there’s no quibbling with how stupendous it is. The airy cake is thickly slathered in coffee whipped cream frosting. The big shards of toffee are more honeycomb-candy-like in texture than the original Blum’s version, but that’s not a bad thing. I actually prefer it because the toffee is still sticky-crunchy but more buoyant.

I think I inhaled half the slice even before I made it back to the car. It’s that irresistible.

Bread Lounge

The name, Bread Lounge, can’t help but make me think of as a place where hip breads go to relax.

If so, who wouldn’t want to go there, too, right?

Bread Lounge's production kitchen.

Bread Lounge’s production kitchen.

The counter.

The counter.

The artisan bakery does indeed specialize in breads. You can even peek in the window that looks into the production area to see loaves being hand-formed.

The potato rosemary loaf ($4.50) is pillowy and fragrant. The sunflower poppy seed loaf ($4.50) is hearty and pretty with its big striped swaths of seeds coating the exterior. The focaccia ($6.95) is almost like a pizza, shaped into a circle and topped with different ingredients. I had a delicious one with cherry tomatoes and feta. The focaccia itself was crisper and airier than many I’ve had elsewhere, and had a nice fermented bread flavor.

Bread Lounge's production kitchen.

Focaccia with tomatoes and feta.

Kougn-amann -- a big one at that.

Kougn-amann — a big one at that.

The kouign-amann ($3.50) is huge — larger than my palm. It’s deeply burnished in color. It’s a denser, heavier version than the one at San Francisco’s B. Patisserie.

Sidecar Doughnuts

Sidecar Doughnuts turn out fanciful doughnuts fried in small batches so they’re always fresh.

With locations in Santa Monica and Costa Mesa, these doughnuts are definitely worth the braving traffic for.

The magnificent Coconut Cream Pie doughnut.

The magnificent Coconut Cream Pie doughnut.

The Chocolate & Rye ($3.25) doesn’t taste at all like your average, usually pretty humdrum chocolate cake doughnut. Instead, it’s like a slice of the very best chocolate cake — in doughnut form. It’s deeply chocolatey tasting thanks to a Callebaut chocolate glaze. There’s also added complexity from rye flour. It’s super moist, too, yet hefty enough to pick up with your fingers.

The Coconut Cream Pie ($3.75) dougnut is a signature, and for good reason. It’s a brioche doughnut hiding a center of coconut milk custard, and topped with coconut jam, coconut custard, toasted coconut shards, and crumbled pie crust. It’s not cloying, and a bit messy to eat, but sure worth every calorie.

The display case at Sidecar Doughnuts.

The display case at Sidecar Doughnuts.

It's hard to pick just one.

It’s hard to pick just one.

I can’t wait to go back to try more flavors — traffic or no traffic.

Beverlywood Bakery

Have you made the acquaintance of the chocolate chip danish?

Apparently, it’s a pastry that can be found only in Jewish bakeries in Los Angeles.

I have food lover and blogger, Happy Go Marni, to thank for turning me on to this treat.

Marni lived in Los Angeles for many years, before recently moving back to the Bay Area. It was during her time in S. California that she discovered this singular sensation. Why it’s only made in Jewish bakeries in Los Angeles is a mystery.

The one and only chocolate chip danish.

The one and only chocolate chip danish.

Because she recommended the one at the Beverlywood Bakery, that’s the one I tried.

Established in 1846, it’s the oldest bakery in Los Angeles. It feels old-school when you step inside with its non-nonsense, no-frills shelves and cases of baked goods.

The chocolate chip danish ($2.25) looks almost like a croissant-sized rugelach. It’s studded with tiny chocolate chips throughout its soft, almost bready layers. It’s much less teeth-rattling sweet than most other danishes.

It’s a perfect bite with coffee when you don’t want to be necessarily bouncing off the walls in the morning.

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10 comments

  • Back in the days when I used to travel a lot, I always hated going to LA. There was good food there, but always a pain to get to — it wasn’t everywhere, and the traffic was (and is) horrendous. These days it sounds like there’s good food everywhere! And such a variety. Good post — thanks.

  • Oh just admit it! You did a baked goods run in LA. LOL, I don’t blame you though, everything you had looks good! I’m actually surprised, though, that all these bakeries are doing so well in the land of fit bodies and juice cleanse. 😉

  • Ben: LOL Well, I do cop to having a ginormous sweet tooth.

  • Everything looked so yummy! I love Valerie Confections’ toffee so I’ll have to try their cake.

  • What a great list! Did you see City of Gold? Also, you do know that the Blum cake is available by the slice or whole cake in Japantown at Yasukochi Sweet Stop at Super Mira, right? It’s the real deal.

  • Amy: Yes, I did see “City of Gold” in the actual City of Gold. Now, I can’t wait to try more of places highlighted in that Jonathan Gold flick. And yup, I have had the coffee crunch cake from the Japantown shop. In fact, my Dad bought it a few times, knowing how much we all missed the Blum’s cake we grew up on.

  • I definitely ate with my eyes in this post Carolyn! I also want a tshirt that says, “I’m just here for the baked goods” 😛

  • Um you basically went on my dream food trip to LA. I usually always hit up Huckleberry for brunch when I visit, but there are so many more places to try now!

  • SO much deliciousness! That chocolate chip danish looks particularly enticing 🙂

  • Alan Finkelstein

    Aha, the choc chip danish…I never knew it was indigenous to here in L.A. It was at every deli and bakery…who knew?…Now, wait until you’re at Brent’s or Uncle Bernie’s deli and look over at the next table and they’re spreading butter on top of it…oy! Even I don’t do that…It’s good stuff that danish…

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