Los Angeles' endless strip malls are a wonderland of great, often hidden culinary gems. There are tucked away ethnic eats to be had for cheap, Michelin-starred sushi spots that share parking with chain coffee spots and even a few mash-ups that occur right on your lunch plate. Indian food and New York pizza slices, anyone?
While the Weekly has sought to chronicle more than a few great strip mall finds, the full scope of this city's infatuation with packed-in urban eateries may never truly be realized; there are just too many great spots to discover. Instead, we offer a few of our favorite oddball mash-ups, a collection of some of the quirkiest, funniest and (surprisingly) tastiest cross-cultural connections we could find, all from the heart of one of L.A.'s most notorious food scenes: the strip mall.
Pizza by the Slice, Indian Food by the Plateful:
Found along Pico Boulevard just east of the well-known kosher corridor, New York Pizza & Golden Indian Grill isn't quite the mash-up you might be expecting. Don't look for a menu full of naan pizzas or hybrid pepperoni curries (thank God). Instead, New York Pizza and Golden Indian Grill remain as two largely separate entities, brought together by operating space alone, meaning it's possible to get plates of goat and a rubbery slice on two separate plates. Separate, but equal.
Bonus points for the digitally enhanced mural that shows four unlikely friends chowing down, with their bodies superimposed over a photo of a pizza.
Japanese Ramen from a Bangladeshi Transplant:
The real story surrounding Isa Ramen, the strip mall Japanese space on Western Avenue in Koreatown, is their bowls of steaming noodle soup. Despite the signage that invokes the availability of sushi and curry, Isa is all about regionally-specific ramens, from fatty Hakata options or Tokyo bowls with pork and bonito to thinner miso versions that hail from Sapporo.
But what makes Isa Ramen such a mashup is the owner, Isa Moinuddin, a Bangladeshi who was transported to Japan at a young age and promptly fell in love with the food. If regional specificity is found on the menu, it's anything but behind the scenes – Moinuddin is a longtime journeyman, trying to pour his story into each bowl. It helps that the ramen tastes great, in any language.
Romanian, Thai, Japanese, Cuban and More:
For a little bit of everything, get to the massive two-level strip mall at the corner of Fountain and Vine. Working from one end to the other in a single sitting is nearly impossible, with roughly ten different quick-stop eateries to enjoy. At the eastern edge is M Bar, a reasonably popular drink spot and show venue, followed by El Floridita, with its huge parquet dance floor and fried plantains. Pita on Vine is a great, simple falafel shop, and Atch-Kotch offering a sprawling room and wide bowls of ramen.
Doomie's served veggie-fied American comfort classics, like their off-menu faux Big Mac, while next door used to house Redemption Foods, an ex-con-run extension of the New Horizon Community Reentry Center. But for absolutely down-home eats, there's Sabina on the far western edge, a Romanian hideaway that is heavy on tradition. Stews, braises, schnitzels and small, pillowy dumplings taste like they came straight from the kitchen of someone's Eastern European grandmother – which isn't far from the truth.
Chili Dogs and Churros:
South L.A. is a Venn diagram of overlapping flavors, particularly where smoked meats and Mexican food coexist. Barbecue is a longtime staple of the area, and the influx Mexican nationals over the years has led to mashup options that are as bold as they are beautiful.
Hungry Harold's on Slauson doesn't push out plates of brisket or racks of ribs, but they do offer the usual array of simple burgers, snappy-casing hot dogs and, of course, tacos. There are breakfast burritos, pastrami add-on options and lots of shredded orange cheese to be put on everything. The best landing spot is likely the simple chili dog, dotted with a fresh chop of white onions and served inside an airy bun. And when you're done with all that sodium overload, switch to the sugary side with a warm, inviting churro – because why the hell not.