Best of L.A.

Best Of 2009

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Best Of :: Shopping & Services

BEST ETHNIC DELI COUNTER
Super King Market

To shop is to remember. All of us walk into corner groceries or supermarkets with a child's memory of food. For me it's the wonder of skinned rabbits and eels displayed by vendors under the cast-iron arches of an English marketplace, whose aromas were just as sharp as those of the cheeses and ground coffee that filled Long Island A&Ps in the 1950s. None of these memories come to mind, however, whenever I enter Super King Market. If anything, this somewhat chaotic supermarket reminds me of Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport before the fall of communism. Few supermarkets' doorways, after all, come with imposing lettering that gigantically announces "Entrance" and "Exit" at either end of the buildings. Super King's Entrance portal is located on the right-hand end, and so once inside, you enter a great, counterclockwise tide of shoppers that becomes almost impossible to swim against later, should you forget something and try to go back for it. But there's an Old World marketplace feel to Super King, nevertheless, from the shelves of hookahs to its mixed-nut bar (no, not the Frolic Room) and wall of tea biscuits, along with stocks of Middle Eastern and Russian foods, evidence of the store's Armenian ownership and the huge local émigré population the market serves. It's crowded in a way that we're not used to in California — it makes another Armenian-owned institution, Jons Market, seem like the staid Pacific Palisades Gelson's on a Sunday morning. One of Super King's many strengths (besides fresh produce and meat selection) is a wonderful deli counter that seems as long as an aircraft carrier. It's ridiculously well-provisioned: It doesn't just have regular prosciutto, but prosciutto Parma and prosciutto Daniele. It doesn't only offer feta cheese, but blocks of Helena feta, Greek feta, Bulgarian feta, French feta, Danish feta and, of course, Armenian feta. Tip: Get your deli ticket number as soon as you enter the store — otherwise, you may be in for a long wait against a counter of meat and smoked fish that will only make you hungrier than you are. 2716 N. San Fernando Road, Glassell Park. (323) 225-0044.

—Steven Mikulan
2716 N. San Fernando Rd., Los Angeles, 90065
MAP
323-225-0044
BEST $10 WARDROBE
Jet Rag

Nothing gets a bargain shopper's adrenaline going more then the flying elbows and flying fabrics that is the experience of the legendary Jet Rag parking-lot dollar sale. Every Sunday, hung-over hipsters, aging drag queens, and clothing dealers get on their knees among piles of colorful clothing to fight over polyester disco dresses and vintage bowling shirts. Some of my finds over the years have included antique saris, a brand new pair of Joe's jeans, and handmade silk scarves. Get there early and hang around; they open up bags and bales of clothes hourly. Oh, and they only take cash. Bring 10 bucks and find a whole new wardrobe. 825 N. La Brea Ave., W. Hlywd., (323) 939-0528. Sun., 9 a.m.-6 p.m.

—Elizabeth Bernheim
825 N. La Brea Ave., Los Angeles, 90038
MAP
323-939-0528
BEST $20 CLOTHING RACK
Native

The cozy Native boutique is in Franklin Village right next to the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre and Birds, and directly across from the Church of Scientology Celebrity Center. You'll like this funky store if you shop the fashions at Melrose Avenue's Jigsaw or Planet Funk. For shoppers on a tight budget, though, there are some great finds on its outdoor rack — many really cute items for $20. Every week there's a new sidewalk selection, often including flowery, Gypsy-style tops, summer halter dresses and formal, shiny, evening gowns. We saw one shopper pick up a sweet fuschia-colored gown for just $20. The location is handy to the Hollywood Freeway (Gower exit), although it can take a bit of patience to find parking. They're open late so if you're in a crisis, facing a last-minute date or party and need something great but quick, one of the friendly staffers can set you up. Our preferred tactic is to shop, then gorge nearby at one of the the French, Japanese or Italian restaurants. 5915 Franklin Ave., Hlywd. (323) 962-7710. Open daily.

—Christine Pelisek
5915 Franklin Ave., Los Angeles, 90028
MAP
323-962-7710
BEST AFRICAN-AMERICAN BARBER SHOP
King of Cuts

A two-block span along Crenshaw Boulevard is almost exclusively home to barbershops, and if you're a young or an old man, or a woman who wears her hair cropped close, there's at least one establishment on Barber's Row that will scrape and/or shape the stuff growing on your cranium. The best and most unique of these is known alternately as King of Cuts and Magic Shears. Located in the same spot since 1982, it's bright and well-lit, has parquet floors and comfy chairs. It's a contrast to many of its competitors that provide a whiff of edgy danger, when what you really want is good, basic grooming. King's barbers are both male and female — some are even siblings — who toss each other playful back-and-forths with a warmth that's catchy. "This is a Christian establishment," explains owner Chris, whose bald head, gold teeth and tattoos belie his mild-mannered mien. "There's no cursing allowed in here, especially taking the Lord's name in vain, and no open containers allowed." You can get the trash talk elsewhere on Crenshaw with your haircut, but for a reasonably priced, competent cut or shave with a smile, this is the spot. 4283 Crenshaw Blvd., L.A. (323) 299-8459. Open daily.

—Juliette Akinyi Ochieng
4283 Crenshaw Blvd., Los Angeles, 90008
MAP
323-299-8459
BEST ANTIQUE TOOLS AND GARDEN IRONWORK
Log Cabin Mercantile Company

There's an afternoon drive around long-dry Chatsworth Reservoir that gives you a hint of what L.A. was like when Indian trails were in use, stage coaches ran through and ranchers had not yet carved up the Valley. The route north from the Ventura Freeway along Valley Circle Drive (don't take the unattractive route south from the 118 freeway) takes you along the vast, fenced meadows and hillocks that once encircled the abandoned reservoir. The undulating drive turns east, where a bright-red house touts firewood for sale, and the miniature white-brick Lake Manor Chapel advertises "God will wipe away every tear." Soon you'll reach Log Cabin Mercantile Company, a log cabin jammed with a strange jumble: well-priced vintage jewelry, cleverly potted cacti, and, unexpectedly, a small rack of designer European clothes priced like a Loehmann's backroom sales event. Seen on recent visits: a powder blue leather motorcycle jacket for $120, and taupe linen shorts for $25. But the place is best known for its ironwork and sculptures outside: garden benches, outdoor etagères and lovely stands with just the right amount of rust; at $40 to $200 the items are priced at half of what you'd pay in Santa Monica. Adorable garden "animals" made from potato-sized river rocks have nutty, iron-wire legs, whiskers and wings, many going for less than $40. The grounds are a junk museum strewn with an antique foot-powered grinder, a human-drawn iron fire-hose wheel, and a carved, iron-strapped bridge said to have been used by elephants. 23300 Valley Circle Blvd., Chatsworth Lake. (818) 812-8034. Open weekends only.

—Jill Stewart
23300 Valley Circle Blvd., Chatsworth, 91311
MAP
818-812-8034
BEST ARTISAN DINNERWARE
Heath Ceramics

When Sausalito-based Heath Ceramics recently opened an L.A. store, the hearts of midcentury American design-lovers rejoiced, but their pocketbooks groaned. They knew they'd have to make that eternal choice: cheap but disposable, or costly but well-made. Heath is known for its clean-lined, warmly minimalist clay bowls, plates, cups, casseroles and pottery. Yes, $42 for a plate and $27 for a mug is exponentially more expensive than 50 cents for the mass-produced cheapo stuff at Ikea. But Heath's steeper prices reflect the cost of producing substantial, beautiful products in a socially and environmentally conscious way. The company is run by artisans in a globally outsourced world run by megacorporations. Heath's classic, simple — and above all supremely functional — tableware is designed to resist trends and last a lifetime. 7525 Beverly Blvd., L.A. (323) 965-0800, heathceramics.com.

—Gendy Alimurung
7525 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, 90036
MAP
323-965-0800
BEST BARGAIN WINE STORE
K&L Wine Merchants

Finding inexpensive wine is easy. The trick is scoring those bargain sips that you want to buy again — and serve to your dinner guests. K&L Wine Merchants is the kind of place you can walk into with $100 in your pocket and leave with 10, maybe even 12 interesting bottles. They do it by cutting out the middleman and going straight to wineries to stock their shelves. Regular staff tastings help, too. But habitual drinkers, consider yourself forewarned. Once the staff gets a hankering for another wine, or the supply well from a small winery quickly runs dry, your true love may be replaced by the next favorite sip, say a 2007 Jean-François Merieau Gamay for $8 (it is $18 elsewhere) or a 2008 Redtree California Pinot Noir. For most of us, that's half the fun of hunting here, but if you've eaten meatloaf every Tuesday night for the past 20 years, this wine shop probably isn't for you. 1400 Vine St., Hlywd. (323) 464-9463, klwines.com.

—Jenn Garbee
1400 Vine St., Los Angeles, 90028
MAP
323-464-9463
BEST BAUBLES, BANGLES AND BAKELITE
Collectible Glitz Miss La De Da's

What's better than a half-price sale at Forever 21? More than 22,000 pieces of reasonably priced vintage and costume jewelry all under one roof. That's what former librarian Eleanor Goodchild thought, too, when she pulled her nose out of the books and opened in 1996 Collectible Glitz Miss La De Da's, on Canoga Park's Antique Row. Her little shop is a treasure chest on steroids, with blazing color, sparkle and glitter exploding from every corner. Thankfully, Goodchild organizes her stock according to color and style, so you'll find stations for Bakelite, Victorian, Edwardian, Deco, American Indian, pearls, emeralds, copper, amber, sterling, Mexican silver, American flags, Christmas trees, religious icons, and every animal in nature (including sea horses). The sales are ongoing, but this isn't a place for garage-sale garbage. Goodchild enlists professional buyers and works with probate attorneys and private clients to offer only the best stash from the 1860s on. Set aside at least an hour so you can see everything. Cookies are placed throughout the store for sustenance. 21435 Sherman Way, Canoga Park. (818) 347-9343, collectibleglitz.com.

—Heidi Dvorak
21435 Sherman Way, Canoga Park, 91303
MAP
818-347-9343
BEST BEATS ON YOUR TEETS

We can't say with certainty who came up with the idea first, but there are at least two L.A. entities that have helped reinvent the classic band T-shirt over the past few months. In terms of chronological release, local indie start-up Friends of Friends Music debuted the technology with its inaugural project, Friends of Friends Vol. 1, an EP of music by Daedelus and Jogger (plus remixes by folks like Nosaj Thing) that came on neither plastic nor vinyl, but on a compostable tag (a download card made of plantable seed paper) attached to an organic cotton tee. The shirt sports the album art, naturally, which in this case was custom-made by beloved local husband-and-wife design team Kozyndan. But a scant few months later, celeb-touted Ladera Heights fashion imprint LnA announced The Music Tee, which is basically the same thing but with bigger names – Mos Def's The Ecstatic was the first album to get the wearable treatment. Some of LnA's subsequent releases have left a bit to be desired musically speaking (here's looking at you, She Wants Revenge), but it's the thought that counts. Perez Hilton is among The Music Tee's admirers, so expect more from this new musical medium. themusictee.com.

—Chris Martins
BEST BEAUTY SUPPLY FOR BLACK HAIR CARE
Basket Beauty Supply

Beauty supply stores provoke our inner Spock. No, not the guy who pronounces everything human to be "illogical," but the one who finds the idiosyncrasies of humans "fascinating." The sheer volume and variety of products marketed and devoted to giving the species a pleasing look and smell would be overwhelming if we didn't find it to be so much fun just to browse through. Naturally, beauty supply stores cater to the predominate race of the customers in the area. Basket Beauty Supply in Inglewood carries a large and eclectic section for black hair care: brands like Crème of Nature coloring, all manner of relaxers, hair scalp and skin oil, many products labeled with the word "African," plus old-school products like Pinks, Sporting Waves, Duke, Sulphur 8 and Murray's pomade, which may or may not remind us of our grandpas. Then there are the "food" items: Castor Oil hair treatment, Olive Oil shine moisturizer, Hairaerobics, Spearmint Spritz, Sea Kelp Shampoo and Conditioner and "hair mayonnaise." And there are the basics like Noxzema and baby oil and Vaseline. Either way, your fellow man or woman will have great hair and soft skin. Full disclosure: We bought an eyebrow pencil. 132 S. Market St., Inglewood. (310) 677-9419.

—Juliette Akinyi Ochieng
132 S. Market St., Inglewood, 90301
MAP
310-677-9419
BEST BOUTIQUE CHIC WITHOUT ATTITUDE
Opening Ceremony

Don't be intimidated by the uber-chicness of avant-garde fashionista favorite Opening Ceremony. The sales associates, while impossibly hip, are friendly and will mostly leave you alone to browse if that's what you desire. The store — actually several stores within a store — is a surprisingly inviting place, sprawling but not scarily minimalist, with unusual jewelry in tiny glass vitrines and clothes, shoes and bags displayed in cozy warrens designed for wandering. It's as if some It Couple's very stylish, very cutting-edge wardrobe got out of control and took over their entire apartment building. That wardrobe consists of dresses by Tsumori Chisato, tiny little Acne jeans, Alexander Wang cardigans, Comme des Garçons leather wallets, Boy by Band of Outsiders blazers, drapey Hussein Chalayan contraptions, and hand-knit Rodarte skirts. Opening Ceremony caters to all levels of fashion forwardness — novice, intermediate, and supersnob — and is a requisite stop on your way to true label whoredom. 451 N. La Cienega Blvd., L.A. (310) 652-1120, openingceremony.us.

—Gendy Alimurung
451 N. La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles, 90048
MAP
310-652-1120
BEST BUILD-IT-YOURSELF WORKSHOP
Machine Project

Echo Park nonprofit Machine Project is a do-it-yourselfer's dream. The humble storefront, on Alvarado just north of Sunset, offers affordable instruction in everything from quilting to computer programming, not to mention plenty of classes for the acoustically inclined. A recent two-parter involved: (a) building an underwater microphone out of cheap hardware store parts, and (b) taking a trip to Echo Lake to test out the goods. And if you'd taken the early-May workshop on "DIY Digital Sampler Design," you'd be halfway to an atmospheric audio experiment of your own holistic design. Machine Project director Mark Allen hosts a recurring class that teaches basic soldering through the act of building a working synthesizer, and he sees projects like these — conceived to be accessible to all comers, regardless of experience — as belonging to a bigger trend. "We're at a point where people are interested in having some agency over the culture that they produce and consume," says Allen, "and that ranges from how to make food to thinking about music as something produced by and for a community itself. There's a big difference in the feeling you get building a synthesizer versus buying one." Occasionally that feeling is one of mild electric shock, but we think it's worth the burn. 1200-D N. Alvarado St., Echo Park. (213) 483-8761, machineproject.com.

—Chris Martins
1200-D N. Alvarado St., Los Angeles, 90026
MAP
213-483-8761
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BEST ETHNIC DELI COUNTER: Super King Market

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