Sep 10 2006

Buenos Aires Café: Am I Dreaming, Or Am I Asleep?

Our affable waitdude threw an extra ham-and-cheese croissant into my carry-out box in a failed effort to get me to put a sock in the ceaseless flow of gushing stream-of-consciousness love-gibberish I loosed on him when I went to pay the bill.

My fellow peckish Austinians—and anyone else who finds herself lurching through life in search of a lunch that won’t make you puke—I have three words for you: Buenos Aires Café. And now seven more: On the corner of South 1st and Oltorf. And finally, three more: Go there now.

Two hours prior to this writing Stingray and I made our lunching debut at the aforementioned feed trough, and it is with unqualified jubilation that I award this joint a perfect 87 Tacos on the Twisty Lunch-O-Meter. In fact, this lunch was so flawless that I have begun to wonder whether it really happened, and to reason that, if it did, there’s no way it could have been anything but a fluke. I’m almost afraid to go back. I mean, can you go back?

Among the comestibles that ranked as the best of their ilk that I have experienced in Austin were, in order of presentation:


Exquisite coffee. Served in a gracefully proportioned cup, it arrived at optimum slurping temperature and betrayed not a trace of the bitterness, over-roasting, or incidental hazelnuttiness to which this essential beverage is regrettably prone in coffee houses city-wide. After a single sip Stingray turned to me with the gooey, wild-eyed expression she only gets when in the throes of a restaurant epiphany and announced urgently, “This is my new favorite place!” The saucer even had a doily. Speak to me not of doilies being too femmy for your butch, coffee-swillin’ ass. The be-doilied saucer is what separates H. sapiens from the invertebrates, and you can tell PZ Myers I said so.


Hummus wrap. “But Twisty,” you protest. “Why go to an Argentinean restaurant and order something so unethnic and pedestrian as that?” In asking this question you reveal a soundness of mind for which I applaud you. Not because there is anything particularly holy about ‘ethnic’ food (it’s all just one big foodariffic continuum to me), but because hummus wraps, which generally appear on menus only to satisfy a chef’s diabolical urge to torture self-righteous vegetarians, are universally mediocre. Indeed, I held out but a slender hope that this one would be any different. But let’s face it; the Twisty innards aren’t what they were, and I reasoned that what is essentially a salad rolled up in a wheat tortilla would stand at least a fighting chance of not provoking any swollen, roiling regrets an hour later.

To my immense and continuing surprise, the Buenos Aires hummus wrap, amply crammed with squash, bell pepper, field greens, a charming vinaigrette, and some other stuff I can’t remember, was the ne plus ultra of its species. The homemade hummus (everything they serve, for crying out loud, is homemade) was ducky, the crisp vegetables impeccably fresh, the plating appealing, and a worthier side of fries I have never dunked in a ramekin of ketchup.


Spicy beef empanada. Buenos Aires Café is an Argentinean joint after all, and Stingray could not be dissuaded from reliving the good old days when she reveled her way through South America photographing uprisings and stuffing into her mouth anything that didn’t move, so she ordered the specialité de la maison. I sampled only one bite, but you can take it from me that if I’d had my own spicy beef empanada, you couldn’t take it from me. Stingray waxed enthusiastic for an hour afterward on the filling’s miraculous balance of picante to dolce (“Chopped raisins!”), and on the perfection of the pastry crust. She soon became possessed of an idée fixe; I have not heard her say anything since lunch that deviated from the theme “Yay.”


Key lime pie. A triumph. In fact, this pastry represented nothing less than the next level in the evolution of pie. Superb mousse-like meringue floating on superb ethereal filling, the whole superb love-pile anchored in this universe by a superb graham-cracker crust that managed to be moist and crisp at the same time. Moist and crisp, I tell you, at the same time. I do not exaggerate when I say that I had to actually brush back a tear, so profound was my contentment as I crammed as much of the stuff as I could into the Twisty craw. You know, before Stingray could get any.

I love pie.


Skip to comment form

  1. Oh Twisty, you’re so right about the usual quality of the hummus wrap. Though a non-self-righteous vegetarian must keep to herself such thoughts, and be humbly contented that the eating establishment has acknowledged her existence by the very inclusion of ANY non-meat item on the menu, I get so goddamn tired of hummus wraps and portabello sandwiches. I mean really. Especially when they’re indifferently prepared, as they almost always are.
    But. When hummus is good, it can be heavenly. Especially the hummus that my Israeli friend brings me from the Israeli delis in Brookline. Mmmmmmmm. That stuff differs from the grocery store and usual restaurant hummus so profoundly it’s like comparing a taco made in a Boston kitchen using Old El Paso seasoning to the perfectly prepared variety that is to be found at, for example, The Original in Galveston, TX.

  2. I definitely now think there is no such place as Texas. Just Austin. The best bloggers, the best food. I wonder if I can catch a direct flight from here to there and not have to stop at shitty places I’d rather not know exist. Los Angeles Calgary etc.

  3. Dammit, Twisty — where were your Austin culinary reviews back when I was there for a conference three years ago, and could not escape the vortex known as sixth street?

  4. I miss empanadas. I’m just going to sit here, stare at that photo, and sigh like a lovesick teenager.

  5. But, how was the Can?

  6. Last summer I visited Austin and ate lunch at a wonderful Brazilian restaurant, near the Presbyterian Seminary. I can’t remember what I had, just that it was divine, and they made a Brazilian drink that was heavenly.

    Know the name of it, Twisty, and have you been there? I highly recommend it.

  7. pandagon.net

    Sao Paulos was the place, lectric lady. And that drink was their mojito. It is indeed pretty good.

    Damn you South Austin folks! That place sounds good but I don’t like driving more than 2 miles if I can help it.

  8. blog.myspace.com/28371978

    Heck with not wanting to drive more than two miles; that review has me ready to fly in from Milwaukee.

  9. A doily…I appreciate those.

    And that pie. Crisp yet moist. I know exactly what you mean.

    Oh how I miss good restaurants now that I am in the land of fast food establishments.

  10. lilysea.blogs.com/peterscrossstation

    I never had much desire to move back to Texas, but all your French has me panting, baby.

    Oh, and the pie picture.


  11. saraarts.com

    Yay! More reasons not to slip off into oblivion!

    “swollen, roiling regrets” — Classic!

    Hopefully, at some point the Twisty innards will regather enough of their former strength to allow you to rediversify your diet. In the meantime, I am very happy for you to have had this lovely experience. A doily-clad cup of perfect coffee is almost as good as a perfect summer tomato.

    Pie trivia: I heard awhile back that one is supposed to eat a slice of pie from the outer crust toward the point, which feels counterintuitive as those little points just beg to be bitten or stabbed off by a gleaming fork at once. I heard, however, that one is actually supposed to control oneself (sigh! again!), eat from the crust forward, and then make a wish right before consuming the point.

    When I think of all the wishes I could have made if only I had known sooner [trails off meaningfully, to steal a device from Mandos].

    Of course, now that I know this, I still eat every piece of pie point-first. Can’t help myself. So pointy.

  12. WOW. Still staring at that cup of coffee.

  13. meliors.blogspot.com

    Never ever have I felt so bereft to be so far from Austin, Texas. I am so taken by the idea of a delicious hummus wrap, and better yet Key Lime Pie that I will have to go and forage in my kitchen for some sad substitute probably involving fresh limes. New Zealand has many charms but a distinct lack of dessert pies is not one of them.

  14. No wonder you had death threats on you in The Lou. No one there can write a food review like that. I’ve never read one.

    And damned if I can find anything worth eating around here that I don’t cook. But then, I have issues with food, I use for it sustenance and no more. Your pleasure is a fantastic read though. Thanks.

  15. kathymccarty.info

    OKAY Okay, I know it is not the POINT…But I am feeling so DISILLUSIONED that Amanda Marcotte doesn’t LIVE in SOUTH AUSTIN. Amanda….come on down!! ALL the good restaurants are here in South Austin…come join us…..in South Austin….(Hypno-music and Hypno-toad eyeball graphics)…….

  16. Yes! I can do this. I am told there’s a take-out a few miles (pshaw) that makes empanadas. Chilean. And I will never never again have coffee without a doily.

  17. Oh, and “incedental hazelnuttiness”: thank you. Many coffee shops now have several varieties of “serve your own refill” coffee in airpots. The problems I have with this are manifold (although I’m glad not to wait in line 15 minutes for a refill), but one I’ve never seen anyone write about before is the incidental hazelnuttiness factor. So here’s my open letter to coffee shop proprietors:

    1) Flavored coffee is an abomination; cloying hazelnut-flavored is the worst of these.

    2) The synthetic chemical flavoring agents (what, did you think someone, somewhere was grinding up real hazelnuts?) will eventually permeate the innards of any airpot and its plumbing, rendering all subsequent and perfectly well-meaning coffees hazelnutty.

    If you must serve flavored coffee in your establishment, I beg you to please, PLEASE have dedicated coffee makers and airpots (if necessary) for the purpose. Think of it as keeping a kosher kitchen. Those of us who truly love coffee will thank you.

  18. reclusiveleftist.com

    Whenever Twisty graces us with a restaurant review, I wonder why on earth she garnered so much hate mail in St. Louis (if she really did). What foodie wouldn’t be overjoyed to have such a witty and original restaurant critic in town? That sounds like the most shameless sucking up to Twisty, but I’m quite serious. What the fuck was wrong with the people in St. Louis?

  19. hexpletive.blogspot.com

    Hummus wrap. Yum.

  20. uh, i call horseshit. “On the corner of South 1st and Oltorf” is EIGHT words, and you know it. so why don’t you just stop trying to spread your left-wing liberal misinformation. everything i see on this site is such lefty-pinko crap, just like on the rest of the blogosphere and cnn and nytimes. well screw you, we see through your lies.

  21. Crisp AND moist? Are you sure? Is it possible? Oh dear gods!

    There is one thing to be said about doilies: Belgian coffee sucks, but they always serve it with a doily and a chocolate and thus, life is better there than here. Perhaps there is a correlation.

  22. Violet Socks:

    I don’t know what is wrong with the people in St. Louis, all I know is that when I was seventeen I couldn’t wait to get out of the midwest entirely. The entire region is a hotbed of old-time racism for one and white cronyism at its finest, which I am afraid has nearly completely destroyed the vibrant city both of my parents enjoyed in the 60’s when they attended Wash U.

    In fact, upon my last depressing visit to that city, I found that the entire city I remember in my childhood living on Westminster, close to Delmar and my birth place of Use City has been allowed to fall into a wasteland of economic degradation and depression. Beruit, Lebanon looks better than St. Louis.

    I’m not old enough to have reached the age to lament the passing of my childhood memories and accept them as the result of growth and change. Entire residential blocks which once contained row upon row of classic brick townhouses, apartments, shops and businesses now sport giant weeded, vacant lots. Here and there a remnant of the life of community that was stands naked and abandoned with collapsing walls and rotting beams.

    In typical midwestern fashion, the area surrounding Wash U. comprises expensive restored victorians inhabited by upper middle white residents and I assume, their upper middle counterparts who enjoy the priviledge of attendance to a nationally esteemed Ivy League university. And in fact, thanks to twenty years of Republican classism, the number of students like my mother by graduate school being a single mother attending on student loans and living on welfare and child support, is soon becoming a mere memory.

    Only patriarchy and its attendent hegemony of racism and classism can allow an individual to drive through a community on a daily basis and not only ignore the destitution and degradation around them, but in fact, mentally seperate themselves from it, magically oblierating the important link they have to its existance. It is sick.

    I know this isn’t part of the thread, but frankly, the racism and classism that destroyed St. Louis has much to do with the heirarchy and economic destruction of American patriarchy.

  23. the above should have read:

    ‘…destruction that results from

    To my knowledge, the American patriarchy has suffered no economic destruction, nor could I see St. Louis playing a part in such an event were it to occur.

  24. tonypatti.com

    I hope this works! I’m attempting, for the first time, to embed an URL in a blog comment. It’s hard to believe I once ruled the html world.

    Twisty’s reviews here.

  25. politblogo.typepad.com


  26. liberalserving.typepad.com/liberalserving

    I am awfully suspicious of meringue – even if it’s artfully scorched. Does TP’s link give away the Twisty pseudonym?

  27. bornfamous.com

    I’m thinking seriously of moving to Austin just to be near the Buenos Aires Cafe.

  28. politblogo.typepad.com

    I think it does, not that the other given information (St. Louis, restaurant critic, unpopular) wasn’t enough to figure it out or something or the fact that other web sites give her away.

  29. Including her old one, where she provides a link herself.

  30. liberalserving.typepad.com/liberalserving

    I’ve never been nosy enough to google around. It was more for my own sake, like finding out santa and jesus weren’t real…

  31. genderberg.com

    Though a non-self-righteous vegetarian must keep to herself such thoughts, and be humbly contented that the eating establishment has acknowledged her existence by the very inclusion of ANY non-meat item on the menu, I get so goddamn tired of hummus wraps and portabello sandwiches.

    In the NW it’s spinicopita we vegheads get stuck with all the time. I was amazed upon entering an Applebees at the request of carnivorous friends at how meat is now considered a side dish to other meats such that people get steaks with a side of chicken, pork chops with a side of ribs. Meat smoothies are next, you read it here first.

  32. politblogo.typepad.com

    Us South Asians already have meat smoothies (those of us who are carnivorous). It’s called “haleem”.

  33. Girlyshoes.com/Girlyblog

    I’m stunned that there is meringue on the key lime pie. As a native SoFloridian, I have to tell you that merinque is the exception, and not the rule at restaurants around these parts. Here, and most everywhere else outside of my own kitchen, folks slap whipped cream, faux whipped cream, or any other variant of milk-like product on top of a filling made from condensed milk. Not only has your Argentinian food purveyor gotten the correct topping on his pie (and the correct crust) s/he has not gone and dyed the damn thing green.

    The next time (which would also be the first time) I’m in Austin, I will have to try this pie.

    And the doily? I just had to fan myself a little bit, to keep from swooning.

  34. Excellent review. Almost enough to make me head to Texas, pronto.

  35. Pie trivia for Sara way far up: Gnostic pie eaters know you’re supposed to eat pie offa someone else’s face.

    yrs, B.D.L.

  36. Oh, my god, crisp and moist. My uncle used to make a sort of fat chocolate shortbread that was like crunchy fudge. I miss it.

  37. phemisaurus.blogspot.com

    What’s up with the pictures Twisty? Are you, like, taunting us or something? I had beans – out of a tin.

  38. Hurrah for key lime pie that has an authentic meringue top, and only 3 ingredients in the filling: egg yolk, sweetened condensed milk, lime juice.

    The only thickener should be the coagulation of the proteins that occurs when the acidic juice hits the condensed milk. The only coloring should be the vibrant gold of the egg yolks.

    It’s also uncooked. Can’t serve the *real* real thing in restaurants because of the raw eggs, but I think that pasteurized eggs would be OK for faking out an uncooked version where a commercial transaction makes the authentic unlawful.

    Another authentic variation on the same recipe is calamondin pie, made with calamondin juice instead of Key limes.

  39. Mmmm beans from a tin. I had tuna from a tin. Pull back on ring, drain half the olive oil offf, add dash of red wine vinegar, sprinkle of rosemary, pepper.

    In front of the monitor, enpanada photo enlarged.

  40. The other day on The Partridge Family, there is a gender role-reversal project at Laurie’s and Kieth’s high school.

    Act I (funny quirky part)
    It quickly turns into a bet/battle between Partridge guys and gals. Assignment 1: Kieth is to make pancakes, Laurie is to change a tire. Laurie wins, and she and Mom Partridge exchange shit-eating grins at least twice during the following 2 minutes. The youngest female partridge also smirks before picking up a tambourine and pretending to play it.
    Assignment 2: Kieth is to make a spinach souffle and Laurie is to change the oil. Guess what?!!? Laurie wins again no prob, while Kieth’s souffle ends up in the yard. He even got Rubin (Reubin?)and Danny to help! Wow!

    Act II (more serious part)
    News gets around school that Kieth is a big sissy, losing to his sister and all – you know how kids can be – and some lug named Goose, wearing a studded denim vest picks a fight with Kieth. Laurie to the rescue again. Alas, though, it’s only temporary, as it serves to put Kieth’s manliness even more on the line.

    Act III (climax, conclusion)
    The next day, Goose and his gang (who all look to be in their 40s) plan to beat up Kieth between sets at an outdoor Partridge gig. A song happens. Girls swoon while sitting on the grass and picking dandelions.

    Kieth goes offstage and sees Goose and co. Shirley and Laurie want to step in but Kieth needs to “handle this myself.” He refuses to fight Goose, and Goose compliments him on his guts (?) and walks away. Hmmm.

    Danny is annoying as ever, and all ends well.

  41. politblogo.typepad.com


  42. Phemi I love your new one. Esp. the comments.

  43. buttercupia.blogspot.com

    it’s always a very good sign when key lime pie is not green.

  44. A few times I ground up hazelnuts very fine and put them in the basket with the coffee grounds. Turned out pretty good; subtle. But, decided I’d rather have the ground hazelnuts in my homemade biscotti, all other things being equal.

  45. Pony, the food police are going to arrest you! Tuna in OLIVE OIL? God forbid!

    I detest tuna in ‘water’ and go out of my way to find real Italian tuna packed in olive oil. If you think this is going to kill you, just drain the oil off, give it a quick rinse and squeeze with the lid, and you will remember the tuna you had as a kid. Forget, please, the soy oil imitation.

  46. Yes it was Italian branded, and I pour half the olive oil off because I once opened a tin, used half and just set the tin with the other half in the fridge, with the tin tipped so the oil would run to one side. Holy bursting arteries! There were four tablespoons of solid olive oil in that half tin.

    One teaspoon is more than enough. I never had tuna as a kid. Pickerel.

  47. faultline.org/place/toad

    Pony: You got cats? Oil poured off the tuna, they’ll love it. I’d consider saving it for salad if it’s olive oil, but I’m a perv. Or making salad with greens and all and tuna with the oil plus vinegar.

    Mandos, I’ve had haleem, made by a housemate’s mother. She’d come from Tehran to visit her kids and brought a footlocker of dried foods and spices because she was sure they’d all starve in America. She and her traveling companion had also smuggled serious quantities of saffron (illegal to export at the time) in their bras.

    Gawdamighty. “Farina with cinnamon and pureed turkey” sounds gross, but tastes wonderful. Breakfast of champions. I suspect it’s more a drug than a food. For four hours afterwards, I was Superwoman.

    Well I said I’m a perv.

    Betsy: calamondin pie! Cripes, I can grow calamondins here! Theoretically. Joe, Lord of the Pies, has a challenge in his future.

  48. politblogo.typepad.com

    That sounds like Iranian haleem and probably totally different. The haleem I’m thnking of is pureed lamb, for one thing, lentils and peas as well as cereals, contains burnt-to-cinders onion, and is mindbendingly hot. It is served with a specific set of condiments: lemon wedges (as it is supposed to be a little sour), more burnt onion, the hottest fresh green chilis, and finely-chopped fresh ginger. And yes, it is incredibly addictive, and a bowl of it will make you feel like you have a lead ball resting in your stomach.

    You can make this type of haleem yourself from a packet. At your local Indian grocer, get the “Shan” brand haleem box. It has everything you need. “Quick” haleem will make it even faster, in that you needn’t do the cereal-boiling-and-pureeing yourself, just the boiling. However, expect to spend at least half a day making the lamb (or beef) soft enough to mash.

  49. I too love pie.

  50. I do keep the tuna/olive oil, Ron, but I don’t always want my kale to taste of tuna. I think I’m going back to the water packed anyway. It’s a lot cheaper.

    Mandos that sounds divine. The closest I’ve tasted, which I realize isn’t close at all, is mujadara, of course with carmelized onions. I don’t buy lamb often but when I do it’s halal. Hey Thanksgiving is around the corner. Hmmm gives me ideas.

  51. barlyru.blogspot.com

    Careful, Twisty. Sounds like you & Stingray have a touch of the Stendhal’s syndrome caused by great food & coffee instead of art. I may have to mosey south and check this place out. I wonder if they keep smelling salts behind the counter for swooning customers?

  52. vera.wordpress.com

    My group had a “brown bag” lunch yesterday, so after reading Twisty’s review, I had to go eat a pre-packaged sandwich. It was from the Apple cafeteria, though, so it wasn’t bad. The Apple cafeteria is the only place I’ve seen turkey sandwiches (on some sort of fancy bread, of course) with “tuna flavored mayonnaise.” I’d previously never heard of such a thing, but it’s not bad. Perhaps it’s Cafe Mac’s way of dealing with the leftover oil from tuna — make it into mayo.

  53. I also love pie. Love, is, in actual fact, a complete understatement. And I particularly love key lime pie. But I must point out that key lime pie really should not come with meringue.

  54. I can’t get any of this food here, and I don’t even know what half of it is. Key Lime pie no. Empanada no (but maybe something called churuos). Deep fried oysters no. Taco no. Corn dog shrimp no.

  55. Why, curiousgirl? The meringue fits perfectly, as it can be made with the two egg whites one has left over after using the two egg yolks in the filling. Symmetry, and all.

    More importantly, it is authentic.

  56. politblogo.typepad.com

    Yes, Pony, but at least you have poutine. I can’t get poutine on the Plateau of Gorgoroth. *sniff sniff*

  57. reclusiveleftist.com

    Pony, where are you? The Yukon?

  58. Violet I take your comment to mean do I live at the end of the world. YES. But the problem I think is the ethnic mix here is different: Slavic, Chinese (mostly Taiwanese but mainland too), Italian, Arabic, Iranian, Jewish, Aboriginal, French, Scots like that.

    More stuff I will never get to eat: how do I make a corn taco? I have never eaten one or seen one (apart from those Taco Bell things) so I need to know exactly what I should be aiming for. So you know, I do not end up knoshing fried pickerel on a pyroghy.

  59. I was so desperate to blame you know who I forgot this, the link for more stuff I will never eat:

    Wow, what a deal!
    We hit the streets to find the most delicious bargains around.
    By Betty Hallock, Times Staff Writer
    September 13, 2006

    WHETHER it’s saving $200 on the price of an airline ticket to the Mayan Riviera or snagging a pair of Christian Louboutin sandals priced to move on the last day of the Barneys Warehouse sale, there’s something about finding a great deal that’s supremely gratifying. And if it’s three-star dim sum for the price of a paperback or a cold, frothy chocolate egg cream that’s just 50 cents (in Beverly Hills, no less) — it’s just that much more delicious.

    So what tasty bargains await hungry Angelenos? The best fish taco in town, filled with crisply fried halibut, crunchy cabbage, salsa and crema for 99 cents. Two cocktails for the price of one in a swanky setting from a top mixologist. A steak dinner at the beach for less than $20. A three-course chef’s tasting menu that might include impeccable yellowtail sashimi with bacon and preserved lemon, suckling pig confit with fresh garbanzo beans and blackberry gastrique, and coconut panna cotta with pistachio-cumin brittle — for only 30 bucks.

    Click here to find out more!
    These are just a few of the 25 tasty bargains that Food section writers discovered after pounding the pavement, from Santa Monica to the Sunset Strip, from North Hollywood to Westminster, from Koreatown to Little Tokyo. Sometimes the delicious deal depends on knowing when to get what where — so step lively if you want that free bottle of wine or a blow-your-mind-but-not-bust-your-budget bento box lunch. Others, like a superior Vietnamese sandwich for $1.75 or a perfectly spiced samosa for 59 cents, are perennial steals. Here are our favorites.

    1. Fish taco at Tacos Baja Ensenada, 99 cents on Wednesdays. Perfect Baja-style fish tacos with delicately battered, freshly fried, piping-hot hunks of halibut in soft, warm corn tortillas, dressed with crisp shredded cabbage, salsa, finely diced red onion, cilantro, a dollop of crema, a squirt of lime — these are what customers line up for at this East L.A. mecca. Every other day they’re a well-priced $1.15 each, but come Wednesday, 99-cent fish taco day, the crowds are even thicker, and the line can extend past the ceviche counter and the trays of fresh radishes, limes and red-pepper-dusted yellow chiles — and sometimes out the door. Tacos Baja Ensenada, 5385 Whittier Blvd., L.A., (323) 887-1980, http://www.tacosbaja.com .

    2. Egg cream at Barney Greengrass, in the Barneys New York store, 50 cents. Why are those ladies who lunch on the top floor of Barneys New York paying $3.75 for a small bottle of Norwegian Voss water when they could be having a frothy chocolate egg cream for just two quarters (and four pennies, including tax)? It’s a good one too, made with a squeeze of Hershey’s chocolate syrup, milk and seltzer water. Traditionally it’s made with Fox’s U-Bet, but hey, this is Beverly Hills, not Brooklyn! Barney Greengrass, 9570 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills, (310) 777-5877.

    3. Tri-tip special for six to eight people from Swinging Door, $56. Take home a feast of slow-cooked, wood-smoked barbecue for less per person than the price of a movie ticket. Swinging Door’s wonderful barbecued meats are widely appreciated, and when they run out, there’s no more till the next day, so order ahead. The tri-tip special, big enough for a family meal, includes a whole tri-tip, a slab of baby back ribs, three side dishes and a dozen of the cafe’s addictive fresh garlic rolls. Swinging Door, 11018 Vanowen St., North Hollywood, (818) 763-8996, http://www.swingingdoorbbq.com .

    4. Barbecued pork banh mi and avocado smoothie at Top Baguette, $1.75 for banh mi, $2.50 for smoothie. After tasting more than a dozen banh mi, we can be sure Top Baguette is indeed top baguette. Its list of Vietnamese banh mi sandwiches includes beef sautéed in lemon grass, a combo of cold cuts and a veggie banh mi with vermicelli noodles and tofu spiked with coarsely ground black pepper. But the best is sweet, succulent barbecue pork. The freshly baked crispy-crusted-but-soft-inside baguettes hold handfuls of pickled carrots and daikon and slabs of crunchy cucumber, plenty of cilantro and a few slices of jalapeño. And lots of banh mi spots offer avocado smoothies, but the luscious one here is the best. Blended with a whole fresh avocado, a little sugar, half and half, milk and ice, it is cold, creamy and wonderful. Top Baguette, 9062 Bolsa Ave., Westminster, (714) 379-7726.

    5. Three-course tasting menu at Opus Restaurant, $30. Tasting menus aren’t just for those who can afford to drop more than $100 on a meal. Opus Restaurant’s new chef, Josef Centeno, formerly of Meson G, offers three-course spontaneous tastings for less than you’d spend on a steak at many restaurants. First might come a sashimi of hamachi (yellowtail) with bacon and preserved lemon with shio konbu (salted kelp) and geoduck clam; then Four Story Hill Farm sweetbreads and veal cheeks with lobster béarnaise and corn pudding; and for dessert, maybe quince-pineapple pie with tarragon anglaise and crème fraîche ice cream. Opus Restaurant, 3760 Wilshire Blvd., L.A., (213) 738-1600, http://www.opusrestaurant.net/ .

    6. Roasted-spices samosa at Bharat Bazaar & Samosa House, 59 cents small, $1.25 large. This Indian grocery has been the go-to market for more than 25 years for Westsiders cooking East Indian food. An outlet of a spice importing and distribution company, Bharat Bazaar roasts and grinds its spices on site (and packages some for sale). In January, it expanded to turn a makeshift back-of-the-store deli counter into an eat-in or takeout cafe. The samosas, fried up to order, are justifiably famous. The filling is traditional — potatoes and peas — but oh, the seasoning! Fresh roasted spices make the difference; the flavor is bold and full-bodied but not trendily hot. Each order comes with house-made mint and tamarind chutneys. Bharat Bazaar & Samosa House, 11510 W. Washington Blvd., L.A., (310) 398-6766.

    7. Lychee ice cream cone at Fosselman’s, $2.15. One taste of this flavor at Alhambra’s famous shop and it’s hard to imagine ordering any other. It’s bright, tropical, creamy and not too sweet — altogether dreamy. In a sugar cone, please. Fosselman’s, 1824 W. Main St., Alhambra, (626) 282-6533, http://www.fosselmans.com .

    8. Two-for-one cocktails at Norman’s. Mixologist Peter Birmingham’s drinks are inspired, and between 5:30 and 7 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, cocktails (as well as beer, sake and wines by the glass) are two for one. His signatures include a Furikake Martini with Hendrick’s gin, “flash pickled” cucumbers and a little furikake, a Japanese dried-seaweed-and- rice-cracker seasoning, and a Mesquito, a sophisticated take on the mojito, made with Siete Leguas platino tequila, lime, Thai basil, simple syrup and soda water. Cheers. Norman’s, 8570 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood, (310) 657-2400, http://www.normans.com .

    9. Big box of fries at Skooby’s Hot Dogs, $3.70. Skooby’s may be a hot dog joint, but it’s the fries that are killer. A mix of thick strips and thin chips, twice-fried in peanut oil, sprinkled with Skooby’s special spice mix, they’re worth crossing town for. A Skooby’s skoop of fries costs $2.31 but a big box provides double the fun. And nothing could be better than people-watching from a red-cushioned stool on a Hollywood Boulevard corner while dipping a crispy-brown Skooby’s fry in house-made aioli. Skooby’s Hot Dogs, 6654 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood, (323) HOT-DOGS; 502 Pacific Coast Highway, Hermosa Beach, (310) 376-1292, http://www.skoobyshotdogs.com .

    10. Butter steak aux fines herbes at Chez Jay, $19. This Santa Monica steakhouse hangout just a stone’s throw from the beach attracts local twentysomethings, families, couples on dates, bar regulars and an occasional pack of Australian lifeguards or Japanese tourists. You’ll also find an excellent steak dinner for less than $20: 10 ounces of New York steak, a baked potato, sautéed vegetables and garlic bread. Tuck into a booth and enjoy the friendly, dark, boozy scene, with a jukebox that plays what would make a great CD compilation called “Just Good Rock.” Chez Jay, 1657 Ocean Ave., Santa Monica, (310) 395-1741, http://www.chezjays.com .

    11. Bento box lunch at Izayoi, $9.50. Don’t sleep on this deal: It’s available only to the first 20 lunch customers who request it. A pretty lacquered bento box holds a panoply of beautiful Japanese specialties: fabulous grilled mackerel, perhaps; chawanmushi (a silky savory custard), shrimp and vegetable tempura, pristine sashimi, tangy pickled cabbage, and simmered daikon and bean curd. Plus there’s miso soup, salad and rice. Izayoi, 132 S. Central Ave., L.A., (213) 613-9554.

    12. Sheykh al-mehshi dinner special at Marouch, $10.99. Melt-in-your-mouth slices of eggplant filled with seasoned ground beef and pine nuts and baked in a light tomato sauce, served over a fluffy mound of rice, along with pickled turnip, olives, chiles and pita: This is just one of the tempting daily dinner specials that chef Sossi Brady turns out at this Lebanese cafe in Little Armenia. Others include her kebbeh labanieh, meatballs of browned beef and pine nuts wrapped in a crust of veal and cracked wheat, with delicious yogurt sauce. Marouch, 4905 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A., (323) 662-9325, http://www.marouchrestaurant.com .

    13. Bottomless bean pot at Tacomiendo Mexican Grill, gratis. A steady word-of-mouth cult fave, this small, cheerful taquería that successfully straddles the line between roots cooking and up-to-datedness is well-loved for its house-made tortillas, hot off the griddle, filled with terrific carnitas, cabeza, asada, lengua or grilled veggies. $1.75 buys you a taco; tortas are $4.95. Fresh-squeezed vegetable juices ($2) and agua frescas ($1) are great too. But the kicker is the pot of rich, stewy pinto beans, part of a condiment bar that also includes salsas, lime wedges and radishes. Help yourself to a ladleful, or more if you like. Tacomiendo Mexican Grill, 4502 Inglewood Blvd., Culver City, (310) 915-0426; 11462 Gateway Blvd., West L.A., (310) 481-0804, http://www.ta-comiendo.com .

    14. Sesame bread with green onions at Mas’ Islamic Chinese, $7.50. Would you like the sesame bread? Thick or thin? That’s what your server wants to know the moment you sit down at Mas’. Each enormous round loaf is baked to order so they want to get yours popped into the oven right away. Say yes; it’s incredibly delicious. The yeasted bread’s top crust is crunchy, covered with tiny fragrant sesame seeds with just the right degree of toastiness. Inside, the flavorful interior has pockets of soft green-onion bits. An order is big enough for 10 generous pieces. Mas’ Islamic Chinese, 601 E. Orangethorpe Ave., Anaheim, (714) 871-9166.

    15. Wild mushroom pie at Pitfire Pizza Co., $8.25. Whoever said there’s no great pizza in L.A. has never tried Pitfire’s. The dough is allowed to rise one and a half to two days, and the pie is fired in a special ceramic-bottomed oven for a crust that’s deeply flavorful, with wonderful, chewy-crisp texture, somewhere between Neapolitan and New York style. And the toppings are superb — you can’t go wrong with field mushrooms, balsamic roasted onions, four cheeses and fresh herbs. But it’s tough to choose — the white pizza with bitter greens (kale, dandelion, arugula and collard) frequently on special is fabulous, as is the classic tomato, basil and mozzarella. Pitfire Pizza Co., 5211 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, (818) 980-2949; 108 W. 2nd St., L.A., (213)808-1200; http://www.pitfirepizza.com .

    16. Dim sum at Triumphal Palace, about $17 per person. How can that perfectly roasted barbecue duck, with its crackling-crisp skin, cost just $5.98? Taste that pea tip and seafood dumpling — it’s polished and perfect. Assemble a group and head to Alhambra for this three-star experience at a very nice price. Sticky rice in lotus is some of the best around; pan-fried turnip cakes with XO sauce are rich and creamy; barbecue pork belly is crisp on the outside, meltingly tender on the inside, amazingly flavorful. On weekends, be prepared to wait: The place is popular. Triumphal Palace, 500 W. Main St., #A, Alhambra; (626) 308-3222.

    17. Rotisserie chicken dinner for four at TiGeorges’ Chicken, $19.95. This is no jerk chicken, it’s Haitian “poule kreole” — a whole fall-apart-tender bird that’s been roasted over an avocado wood fire, marinated with black pepper, parsley, onion, paprika, key lime juice, salt and a few other key ingredients that TiGeorges himself isn’t about to disclose. Dinner comes with rice and beans, a salad of greens and pikliz, a fresh, tangy cole slaw made with key lime juice. Don’t skip the ti malis sauce (it’ll cost an extra dollar, but it’s so worth it) — lots of garlic and sour orange juice, some fermented habanero pepper, a little roasted thyme … the rest is another TiGeorges secret. TiGeorges’ Chicken, 309 N. Glendale Blvd., L.A., (213) 353-9994, http://www.tigeorgeschicken.com .

    18. Sweet rice flour cake at Koo’s Grill, $1. In front of California Market in Koreatown there’s a bright, shiny cart that sells hot-from-the-grill, sweet, chewy rice flour pancakes filled with a little bit of honey syrup and a few nuts. Golden-brown and delicious, they’re great street food, especially good after a game of darts and a couple of drinks at Frank ‘n Hank’s around the corner. Koo’s Grill, at 450 S. Western Ave., L.A..

    19. Chile verde burrito at Tacos Por Favor, $5.20. Tender chunks of pork long-cooked with green chile and folded into a big soft-flour tortilla with rice and refried beans: This is a burrito with just the right gestalt. It’s big — make that huge — and it’s mojado, meaning more chile verde is spooned over the top. Great with a bottle of Bohémia or a watermelon agua fresca. Tacos Por Favor, 1408 Olympic Blvd., Santa Monica, (310) 392-5768.

    20. Buy one bottle of wine, take one home free on Wednesdays at Pastis. Warm goat cheese and artichoke tart, mussels marinière or a platter of charcuterie and pâté might put you in the mood for a bottle of wine — or two. And on Wednesdays, you can get that second bottle of wine free if you order a bottle at dinner from a select list that might include a nice Montepulciano d’Abruzzo or a Saint-Émilion. Pastis, 8114 Beverly Blvd., L.A., (323) 655-8822, http://www.lapastis.com .

    21. Fresh fruit bowl with freshly baked muffin at Square One, $6.50. It’s not fussy or faux-exquisite, no doilies or little ruffles of gold leaf, but the simple fruit salad at this minimalist cafe is amazingly luxurious. The selection of fruits is seasonal to the moment, as if your own private chef had meandered through the market, selecting, for example, white-fleshed Sharlyn melon, perfectly ripe cantaloupe, sweet yellow-fleshed Ruby Grand nectarine, plum, fresh Black Mission fig and half a dozen incredibly sweet deep purple Kyoho grapes. Muffins change daily. Breakfast is served all day. Square One, 4854 Fountain Ave., L.A., (323) 661-1109.

    22. Hot dog and soda at Costco, $1.50. What’s better than a Dodger Dog and comes with a refillable 20-ounce drink? The parking-lot-concession-stand hot dog at Costco. Yes, Costco. It’s a tasty Hebrew National dog (or Polish sausage) in a soft, fluffy bun, wrapped up in foil and smeared with your choice of dispenser toppings: ketchup, yellow mustard, relish and onions. (Sauerkraut is available upon request.) And you don’t even need a Costco membership. Costco, 2901 Los Feliz Blvd., L.A., (323) 644-5220; 3560 W. Century Blvd., Inglewood, (310) 242-2777; 1051 Burbank Blvd., Burbank, (818) 557-3783; 13463 Washington Blvd., Marina del Rey, (310) 754-2021; http://www.costco.com .

    23. Chinese chicken salad at Tender Greens, $9. It’s easy to find silly reinterpretations of this classic salad, but this Culver City salad spot gets it so right. Strips of flavorful, perfectly cooked organic chicken, pea sprouts, delicate julienned carrots, spicy baby lettuces, roasted peanuts, crispy wonton-skin chips and “popcorn sprouts” (pale yellow corn shoots with a lovely sweet-corn finish) are all tossed together with a dreamy sesame dressing. You may never want to go back to the classic. Tender Greens, 9523 Culver Blvd., Culver City; (310) 842-8300, http://www.tendergreensfood.com .

    24. Soju or sake with hearty bar snacks for two at Sohoju, $29. They know what you’re here for, so the friendly folks at Sohoju, a popular Little Tokyo spot for drinks and “Korean nomadic” food have a board list of tempting package deals for two that offer discounts on drink-food combinations. You can get two beers or hot sakes, for example, with an order of chicken and another of tempura for $19; but our favorite features soju or Taru sake (a cedar-aged junmai sake) plus popcorn chicken and “chillie shrimp.” Ordered separately, it would set you back about $37, but it’s a deal at $29. Sohoju, 104 Japanese Village Plaza Mall, (213) 621-2288.

    25. Goat taco at Monte Alban, $3.75. You might not think “refined” when you hear the phrase “goat taco,” but the version at this attractive West Side Oaxacan spot is just that. Tender, mild goat meat is combined with sautéed onions and cilantro and rolled up gently in a large and wonderful house-made corn tortilla. As served in the restaurant (don’t get this one to go), the dish looks rather chichi nuevo Mexicano — it comes on an oblong plate with a bit of velvety black bean purée, a wedge of lime, a sprig of cilantro and a dose of zingy salsa verde. And it’s a knockout. Monte Alban, 11927 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A., (310) 444-7736.


  60. Hi Twisty,

    I don’t think I’ve ever read a more entertaining restaurant review. And as a semi-self righteous vegetarian (though not in an in-your-face kind of way), I’m always happy to hear of a satisfying veggie-based meal.

    (And as SpongeBob says, ‘Everyone loves pie!’)

    Kristen from MA

  61. Told you! (Though not as eloquently.)

  62. oh shit I put it in the wrong thread. crema. what is crema?

  63. saraarts.com

    Pony, “crema” in this context is usually sour cream.

    B. Dagger, at what point is the gnostic (not Gnostic, I assume) pie eater supposed to make a wish?

  64. You must try the dulce de leche crepes next time, if they serve them. Dulce de leche is a caramel sauce made by putting a can of condensed milk in a pot of water and boiling it for two hours, hoping it doesn’t explode and spray molten sugar blobs all over your kitchen. Stuffed in a delicate crepe, topped with whipped cream, another drizzle of dulce de leche on top, it is heaven, especially paired with the coffee you raptured about. You can also buy already-made-in-a-jar-no-danger-of-kitchen-mishaps DDL, which can crassly be eaten with a spoon, like Marshmallow Fluff.

    I’m moving to Austin within six months and I will make a beeline to that place, ’cause I love Argentinian food..

  65. reclusiveleftist.com

    Violet I take your comment to mean do I live at the end of the world.

    No, actually I really meant the Yukon. You know how we sort of subliminally register clues about where people are? Somehow I had gotten the idea that you’re in the Northwest and in a remote environment.

  66. Violet Socks, are you in the Yukon? I ask because my home town is Whitehorse, which has some damned fine restaurants including a pretty good Mexican place although it’s more of a deli than a sit-down-and-stay sort of place.

  67. reclusiveleftist.com

    No, I’m not in the Yukon, nor have I ever visited. And I do know that the Yukon has towns! But lots of it is what we ‘murikans call wildnerness, or at least sparsely populated forest and tundra (or it was when I was learning geography, and according to my 1996 atlas, still is). I certainly don’t mean any disrespect to the Yukon or the people who live there.

  68. Oh, I’m not pissed off, Violet Socks, I’m homesick. Every so often I start talking about the Yukon and people look at me like I’m insane when I extol the pleasures of watching the winter sunrise at 10:30 and having one’s eyelashes freeze shut. I was hoping you knew the place.

  69. I celebrated my 47th birthday by having dinner at Buenos Aries based on your recommendation. It was amazing food – thanks! I’m just going to have to move south of the river.

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