By Matthew Fleischer
You did it. You may not have wanted to, but curiosity overcame you. You drove all the way out to Glendale to check out the Americana mall. Now, depending on your personal philosophical outlook/response to trauma, you're either packed to the gills with crap from Forever 21 or questioning your faith in God.
What do you do now?
You could go to Katsuya for some overpriced, but admittedly delicious, sushi. But I have a better idea. Life did exist in Glendale before the Americana came to town. There is exactly one day's worth of stuff to do in the area — most of it accessible either by foot or by the local bus routes. It's time to see the sights.
But first some lunch.
Grabbing a quick Cuban sandwich at Porto's is always a popular choice, but I would argue the massive deli sandwiches (big enough to share) at Mario's Italian Deli on Broadway are the way to go. Though Mario's has a perfectly serviceable eating area, if you can control your appetite for a bit, take your sandwiches with you and head north for two miles on Glendale Boulevard toward an excellent picnic spot. Two miles sounds like a lot, but the Glendale Beeline bus will take you there for 25 cents, and it's perfectly walkable if you so choose.
About halfway through your journey, stop at Coffee Express for a cool glass of fresh-blended watermelon juice. You can take it to go, but it might be worth hanging around to finish your drink. Coffee Express is like a time-warp — a strange Armenian version of the '50s where anachronistic Muzak versions of popular '70s rock hits leak softly through the speakers.
Another mile up, bear left at Glendale Community College and you're there — Verdugo Park. Whip out those sandwiches and have yourself a picnic. Around you are mature oak trees, grass, picnic benches crowded with families of all races and nationalities — even the occasional Glendale Community College hottie catching some sun. So simple yet so beautiful. (It's an absolute crime Los Angeles can't seem to replicate spaces like this.)
When you have your fill of nature, go north on the Beeline or by foot for another three miles to Honolulu Avenue in Montrose — in many ways the anti-Americana. An actual Main Street — an abundance of public benches, trees, shade, mom-and-pops. None of the stores are especially bold or novel, but it's still fun to walk around and people watch. Yes, there are people walking around. Marvel at the novelty of competent urban planning. (If you're reading this and happen to be an L.A. developer, please go to Montrose and take notes.) Duck into Andersen's Pet Shop for the pleasure of being greeted by a 70-year-old cockatoo. On Sundays, all of Mayberry comes out for the Montrose Harvest Market. Pony rides, smiling children … produce. And Montrose Bowl is a delightfully old-school eight-lane alley that serves strong German beer and lets you keep your own score. You have to rent the whole place out if you want to actually play — private parties only — but definitely worth a scouting run.
If you crave sustenance, Java Brew has tasty coffee-based beverages, warm snacks and a beautiful sunken courtyard to enjoy them in.
Honolulu has plenty of options for dinner. Zeke's is the original barbecue spot opened by chef Leonard Schwartz (there's a second in West Hollywood), while La Cabanita, just off Honolulu on Verdugo, has a Mexico City–style menu and ice-cold Mexican beer — when available, try the poblano chiles stuffed with shrimp and almonds.
If you took the Beeline to get up here, however, the bus stops running at 6:30 p.m. on weekdays, 5 on Saturdays. As charming as Montrose is, you don't want to get stuck here.
Instead, head south for some reasonably priced dinner options. On the inexpensive end, Taco Azteca has reliable Mexican cooking. I tend to judge a taco shop by the number of digestive organs they serve in taco form. Taco Azteca has a bunch — and they're delicious. Kim's Kitchen offers home-style Korean cooking — most notably an interesting variety of soups and stews. On the more expensive end, and kind of out of the way unless you decided to drive, Polka has absolutely marvelous Polish cuisine and a completely unexpected variety of international herbal teas. If you're really hungry, try the all-you-can-eat Hunter's stew, pierogi and stuffed-cabbage combo.
After dinner, stop at Mignon Chocolate for a dessert that couldn't get any more sinful if they set up an illegal massage parlor in back. I'd work a truck stop if I had to for the homemade drinking chocolate. And, this being Glendale, the Armenian coffee is a nice, strong complement. Though you probably won't be able to sleep for a few days.
After dessert, continue the Armenian theme by smoking the nergileh. Normally an establishment by the name of Hookah Lounge would conjure up some unpleasant thoughts — but this place breaks all stereotypes. No Bob Marley on a loop or stink-hippies at this joint. We're talking bumping Central Asian techno music and Armani Exchange as far as the eye can see. For most people, this is the closest you'll ever get to Yerevan.
Across the street from Hookah Lounge, The Scene makes me want to punch someone in the face. I really don't know why. The place must magically fuse some long-abandoned synaptic connections in my amygdala that fuel my primeval rage. And I'm not the only one. It's not uncommon for BMW-driving Armenian youth to drive by and pelt hip, innocent bystanders with lemons and figs. I've seen it happen twice. But for a cover of usually no more than five bucks you get to see some pretty great live music and drink cheap beer late into the night.
Not too bad if you think about it.