In comparison to the intricate net of freeways gridding the Los Angeles basin--cutting through the mountains and running through the valleys, peppered with intricate overpasses, interchanges and clover-shaped off ramps--the LA subway/rail metro map is a simple one. With its nexus in downtown, three of the four lines converge there at the 7th Street Metro Center station, with the Green Line cutting across South LA and servicing parts of the South Bay, almost reaching LAX, but not quite. Criticism of this metro system is thick and varied. But instead of heaping on more, we're taking the high road, so to speak, and looking at what the LA Metro can give us in terms of good eats.
Starting in downtown LA, we've outlined a gluttonous ride to Long Beach on the Blue Line, including 10 recommendations that run the gamut from Texas barbecue, soul food, burgers and malt liquor, a multitude of masa-based eats, and more. Taking this ride through neighborhoods that many people associate more with '90s Gangsta rap and riots than much else, eating the Blue Line is a great way to explore a large stretch of the city and fill up on some great eats--and a few drinks--along the way.
1) Seven Grand (0.2 miles from 7th St/Metro Center)
No matter if you prefer your barrel-aged corn or rye-based liquor made in America or abroad, the highly knowledgeable bartenders at Seven Grand are sure to have something to fit your tastes. With an impressive wall of over 250 different kinds of whiskey to choose from, complete with a sliding ladder for top shelf access, Seven Grand easily holds its own in Downtown's burgeoning cocktail scene. Drink around the neighborhood and see how their Whiskey Sour or Sazerac matches up--the train is the ultimate designated driver.
Seven Grand: 515 W 7th St., LA; (213) 614-0737.
2) Cole's (0.6 miles from 7th St/Metro Center)
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Squid Ink isn't going to weigh in on the Cole's / Phillipe's 100-year-plus battle over the French Dip sandwich right here. Even if you prefer to have someone behind the counter do the au jus dunk (or double-dunk) for you, Cole's makes a damn good sandwich. And regardless of your choice of meat, what kind of cheese--if any at all--is melted over the top, be sure to shell out an additional 91 cents for extra Atomic green pickles. These housemade briny 'cukes have none of the mushy texture that blight some store-bought brands and even with their intense heat, the fresh flavor of dill balances things out for a near-perfect pickle experience. Cole's: 118 E 6th St, LA; (213) 622-4090.
3) El Parian (0.6 miles from Pico Station)
Long known as place to order goat and nothing but goat, this Pico Union hole in the wall has become famous for its gigantic carne asada tacos, in addition to the birria, in recent years. And while the asada tacos are a cut above the rest, the authentic flavors of Jalisco that run through the roasted goat and the chile-inflected broth show off the kind of authentic regional Mexican cooking that we're lucky enough to have access to in LA. We prefer to take advantage of it. Or you can always compromise and order both. El Parian: 1528 W. Pico Blvd., L.A., (213) 386-7361.
4) Alameda Swap Meet (0.3 Miles from Vernon Station)
With countless food vendors--many of them coming on weekends only--eating at the Alameda Swap Meet is an extensive primer on the versatility of masa. The corn-based dough is wrought into a myriad of forms, ranging from the more familiar tortillas and tamales to huaraches, pupusas and beyond, all stuffed or filled or folded around a selection of grilled meats and other fillings. Parking is notoriously bad in the surrounding area when the meet is in full-swing, so take advantage of the Vernon Station, located just across from the main entrance. Alameda Swap Meet: 4501 S Alameda St, Vernon; (323) 233-2764.
5) Cemitas y Clayudas Pal Cabron (1.2 miles from Slauson Station)
Although it is part of the Guelaguetza empire, the food served at Cemitas y Clayudas Pal Cabron is much different than the long-simmered, subtle amalgam of flavors you'll find in the moles and other dishes of the Koreatown Oaxacan institution. This is much more brazen, masculine food, the bold flavors and large portions appropriately matched to the cartoonish, buxom women painted on the restaurant's yellow walls. The cemita sandwiches are stacked with absurd quantities of fillings--raw onion, avocado, chipotle sauce, Oxacan quesillo cheese along with your choice of meat--a housemade bun as its foundations. Clayudas are smeared with lard and topped with quesillo and your choice of fillings, then griddled until the flour tortilla base is charred and prone to shattering, the fillings liquefied, their flavors married together. Plan on visiting twice if you want to try both of the restaurant's namesake dishes--you'd be very hard pressed to finish one of each. Cemitas y Clayudas Pal Cabron: 2560 E Gage Ave, Huntington Park; (323) 277-9899.
6) Watts Coffee House (0.2 miles from the 103rd St. station)
Just around the corner from the Watts Towers, the Watts Coffee House give Roscoe's some stiff competition with their fried chicken and waffles. And unlike the narrow focus of Roscoe's, the Watts Coffee House has an extensive menu that reaches far beyond fried chicken and waffles, hitting the highlights of soul food--from red beans and rice to collard greens to mac n' cheese and beyond. Their massive all-you-can-eat Sunday brunch features it all, making it a good introduction to this Watts eatery. em>Watts Coffee House; 1827 E 103rd St, LA; (323) 249-4343.
7) Hawkins House of Burgers (1.1 miles from the Rosa Parks Station)
Hawkins is a perennial Squid Ink favorite and was recently dubbed Best Bargin-Basement Burger in LA Weekly's Best of LA issue. The headliner here is The Special, an absurdist everything-but-the-kitchen-sink "burger" that could likely double as a doorstop or bludgeon with its massive heft. But keeping things simple could be best for your taste buds and cardiac health alike--go for one of the more basic burgers (the double cheese is excellent) and the requisite gigantic can of Olde English to wash it down. Hawkins House of Burgers: 1603 Slater St., Watts; (323) 563-1129.
8) Bludso's BBQ (1.4 miles from Compton Station)
Bludso's BBQ may be located further away from a Blue Line station than anywhere else on this list, but once you're within a few-block radius of this sliver of a restaurant--nothing more than an window and a waiting area, everything boxed up for take-out--and hit the compelling smell of sweet, meaty smoke coming from a variety of pig parts and brisket cooking away low-and-slow, those 1.4 miles will seem like nothing. Bludso's is a Texas-style joint, so the brisket is a must, as are the ribs, rib tips, hot links, chicken . . . The Texas Sampler, costing a mere $25.50, is easily enough to feed four and features a bit of everything on the menu. Bludso's BBQ: 811 S Long Beach Blvd, Compton; (310) 637-1342.
9) England Fish & Chips (0.4 miles from Willow Station)
Serving a fair selection of fried seafood, England Fish & Chips is home to a commendable traditional fried cod--our go to menu item here. With a crunchy and not grease-soaked coating on the outside, the soft, large-flaking chunks of fish are just a shattering bite away. The chips are hit-or-miss, but if you splash enough malt vinegar (tartar sauce is available, but why bother?) on them--as well as a shot or two on the cod--you'll find that the vinegar tang and potato crunch will play well enough against the fish. England Fish and Chips: 2614 Pacific Ave., Long Beach; (562) 426-7400.
10) El Taco Loco #3 (0.8 miles from Pacific Coast Highway Station)
Pressing out fresh tortillas twenty-four hours a day, El Taco Loco #3 is the go-to spot in Long Beach cheap, authentic Mexican food. Their birria may be made with beef instead of goat, but a nose-to-tail selection of pork bits all available for stuffing into tacos, burritos or tortas makes up for the lack of a traditional birria. El Taco Loco #3: 1465 Magnolia Ave., Long Beach; (562) 437-6228.