Best Of :: Food & Drink
Some might find Cholada Thai Beach Cuisine in Malibu too terminally atmospheric, with its sea-corroded beach-hut ambience, thick oak tables and sagging wooden windows, situated next door to a working bait shop straight out of Gilligan's Island. But this isn't a façade for tourists, it's real. You sit a few feet from Pacific Coast Highway, watching surfers as they strip, don their wet suits and vanish over a small bluff toward the waves at Topanga Beach. Inside this tiny cafe, despite the racket from the kitchen, you hear three college guys recount their beer-swilling the night before — while at another table the diners earnestly discuss the nexus between compassion and redemption. Any minute, the ghost of Bukowski might saunter in. Why are you there? For the appetizers! Shrimp-in-a-blanket — deep-fried in spring-roll skins that the chefs twirl tight to look like tiny mummies; and fish cakes — ugly brownish lumps that resemble seriously overdone hunks of omelette. Both deliver the same wow: Bite down, seafood melts in mouth, swallow. 18763 Pacific Coast Hwy., Malibu. (310) 317-0025, choladathaicuisine.com.
Augustus Gloop would never make it out alive. What makes Pasadena's Langham Huntington Hotel the best choice for afternoon tea can be summed up in one word: chocolate. On Sundays from noon to 5 p.m., the hotel's regular tea service, smashing in itself, is replaced by an all-chocolate afternoon tea. The selection of savory tea sandwiches, scones with Devonshire cream, fruit tarts, mousse torts and crème brûlées all contain different chocolate essences. A chocolate fountain is the focal point of the afternoon ritual, with surrounding chocolate sculptural art. Beverage choices include three selections of pure liquid chocolate, Champagne and a variety of the finest teas. Among the offerings are a foie gras mousse profiterole sprinkled with chocolate dust and a white chocolate–and-avocado mousse with vanilla-marinated shrimp sandwich. An epic 16 choices are offered in the "pastry presentation," including a cocoa-nib macaroon with Earl Grey butter cream; milk-chocolate orange gateau; and a white-chocolate green tea panna cotta. Dipping choices for the chocolate fountain include peppermint and lemon marshmallows, nougats, fruits and cakes. It feels a bit incongruous to gorge on so much chocolatey goodness in such a refined, elegant setting as the Langham. Just remember to daintily dab the corners of your mouth with your fine linen napkin lest you emerge with an unsightly chocolate ring around your lips. That would be gauche. 1401 S. Oak Knoll Ave., Pasadena. (626) 585-6218, pasadena.langhamhotels.com.
If you like life on the dark side, you'll love pizza from Lucifers, a tiny storefront that could be easily overlooked if it weren't for the orange flames painted on the façade. There, you can customize the heat/spice intensity of your pizza by specifying zero, medium, fiery or blazing. But watch out: Blazing necessitates keeping a pitcher of ice water at the ready should you require emergency cool-down procedures — which you will. The idea for this "damned good pizza," as their slogan goes, comes from New Zealanders, cousins Adam and Milan Borch. "It's dark in our country, and we like the dark side of things," says Milan. "The idea of hell goes hand in hand with our concept." Even without what he calls their "secret sauce," all the pizzas are devilishly unique, such as Roast Pumpkin & Prosciutto; the Zucha, with pumpkin, olives, feta and spinach; and gluten-free and vegan cheese options. To die for: The R.I.P. club entitles you to one free pizza after your 10th. 1958 Hillhurst Ave., Los Feliz. (323) 906-8603, luciferspizza.com.
Without the kick to qualify as hot sauce, the tomato-based, sugary-yet-smoky topping that is the staple flavor of this decades-old gringo taco joint is simply "taco sauce," given in generous handfuls of packets with every order and even sold separately for the condiment's numerous cult followers. Taco Lita, the retro stand, is a slice of Americana: bright colors, cheerful servers, a no-frills menu with greasy combo burritos, and rumors of a ghost that haunts the men's restroom. This spot isn't for al Past whores, so don't try ordering it — refried beans and shredded cheddar can be found in virtually all menu items, which can and should be doused with their signature sauce, so addictive you will find yourself hoarding the packets in a jar at home, and returning for more on your next calorie binge. 120 E. Duarte Road, Arcadia. (626) 445-2889.
Fresh and Easy markets have popped up all over Southern California. Promising fresh, wholesome food and a quicker shopping experience than a typical supermarket, they offer a wide selection of groceries and prepared meals. Their most notable offering is the "Today's Specials" section, which stocks items about to hit their sell-by date at prices up to 50 percent off. Stop in on your way home, check out the items about to, well, check out, and voila, instant dinner inspiration. With ever-changing options, you have no excuse for making the same old mac 'n' cheese from a box ... again. freshandeasy.com.
A great pizza is a work of art. And a great pizza for under $20? A masterpiece. The Pizza a la Andro at Caruso's is a masterpiece. Named after one of the owner's sons (son Lucas also has his own), the Pizza a la Andro comes only in "giant" size: 16 inches across, producing 12 decent-size slices. Its chewy, medium-thick crust bears generous amounts of pepperoni, sausage, fresh tomatoes, garlic and basil, in addition to deliciously gooey cheese (romano and mozzarella). The best part? It costs just $18.95. Caruso's has a full menu of delicious Italian food, including pastas, calzones and meat dishes; it also offers a full bar, a lunch buffet and even live music. But when you can get a terrific pizza, why order anything else? 13737 Foothill Blvd., Sylmar. (818) 367-7766.