Not all strip malls are created equal. Some, squat and lifeless with little more than a coin-op laundromat as their anchor, are destined to be invisible from the ordinary eater's eye. Others, like the looming two-story monster on the corner of Fountain and Vine in Hollywood, are the subject of hearty discussion. Sure, you've been to M Bar on the corner, and maybe even gone with a vegetarian friend to Doomie's once or twice, but what do you really know about the food at this lumbering blue-tiled strip mall? Didn't there used to be a French restaurant there once? Isn't that pita place decent? What's better at El Floridita, the Cuban chicken or the salsa dancing? We thought we'd find out.
Beginning at the western-most edge, you'll find Sabina's European Restaurant, a no-nonsense corner eatery with lots of windows and few tables. There's a deli case, but that's mostly for cans of soda, and almost no one orders at the counter anyway. Instead, pull up one of those heavy church basement chairs around a glass-topped table and wait (and wait and wait) for your amenable waitress to eventually amble over. Despite the continental name, the food at Sabina's is pure Romanian, which means lots of stews, some breaded schnitzels, plenty of cabbage and a history of dumpling abuse.
Instead of the light, flourish dumpling wraps you may be thinking of, stuffed with some sort of minced meat or peppery potatoes, the dumplings here are about the size of a dime, dough through and through. They're no less tasty for their simplicity though, and the chewy bites fill you up while keeping costs down. Speaking of which: Sabina's European Restaurant is cash only, and they've got the "don't even ask!" sign to prove it. That's OK though, because you can't find an entree over $5.75, no matter how hard you look. For stewed and spiced chicken with a plate full of tiny dumplings, that's certainly a deal. And, if you can't find an ATM nearby, you could probably pull six bucks worth of change out of your car. Sabina's is open Tuesday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., and is cash only. 1253 N. Vine St. #12, Hollywood; 323-469-9522.
Surprisingly spacious inside, with lots of table space and pleasing wooden accents, Doomie's Home Cookin' is the sort of vegetable-heavy restaurant you don't expect from a strip mall. They even serve a small selection of beer from the cold case, and the open kitchen behind the front counter gives off a relaxed, friendly atmosphere. Despite its strip mall stature, this is a place to bring friends.
The food at Doomie's is either vegan or vegetarian, but still skews strongly in the direction of their Home Cookin' moniker. Crusty "fried chicken" is a popular choice, thick and warm but without the briny flow of salty chicken juice. Burgers do well, of course, particularly the off-menu Doomie's Big Mac, which tosses together two fake meat patties into a triple bun, vegan cheese tower of hefty vegetarian eating. It's sort of the perfect meal to describe Doomie's; big and appealing, familiar but with a vegetarian twist. Doomie's is open daily from noon to 10 p.m., and gladly accepts credit cards. 1253 N. Vine St., Hollywood; 323-469-4897.
There's a feel-good story to Redemption Foods. Open since December of last year, the California fusion eatery is a home for rehabilitated felons to turn their lives around. As part of the broader outreach of the New Horizon Community Reentry Center, Redemption Foods employs ex-cons in their kitchen and on their waitstaff, which means you can always get a story with your sandwich, if you're interested.
That same staff, by the way, is unfailingly kind and attentive. They push out curry chicken sandwiches on soft ciabatta rolls or cajun shrimp BLTs to diners inside the spare, sleek dining room. There are more substantial main courses, from a thin hanger steak to a pile of rosemary chicken. The burger, of course, is a highlighted menu option as well. But the best thing you'll get at Redemption Foods is satisfaction, the type that comes from helping out those who maybe haven't had it as easy as you, but are trying with every plate to make things a little bit right. Redemption Foods is open Monday through Saturday from 11 a.m., and closes at 8 p.m. Monday through Wednesday, 10 p.m. Thursday through Saturday. They also gladly accept credit cards. 1253 N. Vine St., Hollywood; 323-463-4166.
Small pita shops abound in Hollywood, stuffing rotisserie'd chicken and crispy falafel into wraps and pockets for the lunchtime set. In a way, Pita on Vine is no different, with the signature Lebanese influences and rotating vertical spits. Yet, there seems to be something more to the tiny strip mall space, and it may have a lot to do with garlic.
That's because Pita on Vine uses garlic with reckless abandon, tossing it into their creamy yogurt lebnah with such force that it almost swallows up your mouth whole. The spicy garlic fries are another fine example of seasoning done to the max, which makes for great post-drinking food, but won't help you win over your date. If you're looking for something to take home with you, full rotisserie chickens are available for ten bucks and include a couple of pitas and a small bowl of pickles. Otherwise, hungry folks can opt for the full plates of chicken shawarma or the traditional lamb and beef mixed gyro. You'll leave Pita on Vine full with any of the entrees, but if it's excess you're after, chase the smell of garlic. Pita on Vine is open Monday through Saturday from 11 a.m. until at least 10:30 p.m., Sundays from noon to 10 p.m., and they accept credit cards. You can also order online for fast delivery. 1253 N. Vine St., Hollywood; 323-468-9000.
As one of two Crispy Crust locations (the other is in Glendale), this Hollywood strip mall location is more storefront than actual eatery. The delivery drivers certainly stay busy, though, pushing their hatchbacks through the long parking lot at breakneck speeds before grabbing another pie and dashing off again. Their fast pace means lots of deliveries, which means folks on the other end of the phone lines might just be on to something.
Those pies here come wide and saucy, brimming at the edges with baked-on mozzarella. They would seem to be straightforward delivery and take out pizzas, thick and cheesy on top of lots of sweet sauce, with dense edges and doughy interiors. And while that's true, the surprising buffalo chicken pizza, breakfast pizza (with yolky eggs) and chili con carne pizza are all a few steps away from ordinary. You'll also find lots of deals for your next small house party, the sort that include saucy wings, overloaded salads and liters of soda. Crispy Crust Pizza is open from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. for take out and delivery, and accepts credit cards. 1253 N. Vine St., Hollywood; 323-467-2000.
There's puffer fish at King's Thai Food, but it's not on the menu. It's actually right by the doorway to the kitchen, in a small aquarium with another toothy-grinned fish, swimming the days away. Often times, they're the only two in the restaurant, minus the owner (no word on whether the fish prefer the pad thai or the Panang curry). When you do decide to grab a seat inside King's Thai Food, the spartan tables and chairs are actually pretty cozy. Sure, you'll be elbowed up against a wide row of nondescript Thailand travel brochures and under the gazing watch of a few old gilded paintings, but it all still feels pretty cozy.
The food that emerges from the back feels much the same. This isn't expansive Thai cooking, just classic dishes done serviceably by someone who's been cooking noodles for a long time. The obvious pad thai is a muted example, lacking any real punch but served thick and substantial just the same. For lunch, a small accompanying salad, a little plop of rice and a crispy egg roll round out the discount meal. Other, less regional options like the Kung Pao Chicken or Mongolian Beef, can be had off the all day special board, which -- at $6.50 a plate -- is a bargain worth making. King's Thai Food is open Monday through Saturday, from 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m., and Sundays from 5 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. They also accept all major credit cards, and might barter with you for a new fish. 1253 N. Vine St. #7, Hollywood; 323-469-8271.
We've seen strip mall ramen before, so Atch-Kotch's noodle-heavy menu is of no great surprise at first. What is worth a glance, however, is their expansive array of options. Whereas most ramen spots opt for one type of the popular Japanese dish (tonkotsu, miso, tsukemen, shoyu, etc.), Atch-Kotch offers nearly every one. The clear-broth shio ramen is a nice early entrant, served with chashu pork and a touch of green onion. For a more substantial, much saltier bowl, opt for the house Parko Ramen, with a soy sauce base and lots of fried floating bits of pork or chicken, depending on your preference.
Being more than just a ramen house, Atch-Kotch also offers an array of hearty bento boxes. From spicy tuna sashimi to unagi, the boxes come loaded with a thin miso soup, salad and pile of sticky rice. And at around $12, it's an appealing quick lunch option for anyone in the neighborhood. Other rice bowl options include the boiled beef Sukiyaki-Don or the fried chicken Katsu-Don for those looking for a touch more oomph. You could certainly think about enjoying that lunch inside the surprisingly airy space, with high jutting tabletops that look like a Benihana from a 1980s Cyndi Lauper video. Or sit along the edges in a more traditional booth if you feel like being a wallflower. Atch-Kotch Japanese Restaurant is open Monday through Saturday from 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., but is closed on Sunday. They also take credit cards. 1253 N. Vine St. #5, Hollywood; 323-467-5537.
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The long white sign for El Floridita declares it a restaurant, but the name almost doesn't seem to fit. Sure, there are signs of true Cuban food everywhere, but walking into the space feels like you've embarked on an accident. Most of the tables are pressed to the edges of a large parquet floor that remains empty even during the day. It's the signature part of what is really a dance hall that happens to send out a few token Cuban eats for hungry salsa dancers.
If you are looking to eat, there are fried croquetas filled with shredded chicken, baked empanadas with ground beef. Larger meals include the Ropa Viejo, a shredded beef stew done with tomatoes or the pollo asado, a garlicky and crispy-skinned half chicken that's topped with softened white onions. The thick, sweet fried plantains are a nice addition to any Cuban plate, and their perfect execution might even fool you into thinking this is a good place for an easygoing meal. Let the red tablecloths and extensive mirrors dissuade you of that notion, or peruse their website for a glossy look at all of the sexy celebrities that have taken to the dance floor. El Floridita might make for a suitable night on the town, but for easy eating, the dark room and bumping music aren't very suitable. El Floridita opens daily at 11:30 a.m. until 10 p.m., except for the Friday and Saturday nights where they keep the doors unlocked until 1 a.m. They accept credit cards. 1253 N. Vine St., Hollywood; 323-871-8612.
Much like El Floridita, no one's heading to M Bar for the food. That's not to disparage their menu, which leans towards the Italian side of the world with an array of $12 pasta plates and fried eggplant parmesan, with the occasional chicken marsala and New York cheesecake thrown in. The straightforward cocktails work well enough for their intended purpose, mostly thanks to a decent pour of Grey Goose vodka. M Bar doesn't open until 6:30 p.m. anyway, so drinks are always an option as you catch another stand up comedian or storytelling show or small band from their tall stage along the back wall. M Bar is open daily from 6:30 p.m. to 2 a.m. and takes credit cards. 1253 N. Vine St. #1, Hollywood; 323-856-0036.
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