I’m back

in the bicoastal groove

Hello, it’s been a while! I was in Los Angeles for a month, where I was trying to soak up as much sunshine, time with friends, and of course the food scene as possible, all while managing a deadline-heavy workload. So I took a Some Meals hiatus, but now I’m back. Reentry has been a whirlwind.

I don’t have an intro essay today. Instead, I’m dropping a mega hit list of the best dishes I’ve eaten over the last two months—some in New York, some in LA. It’s a great time to get out and eat, so without further ado…

(Also, for on-the-go access to my ever-revolving list of vetted food spots, follow the Some Meals map. I’m doing my best to keep it updated. Do note that many of the LA places below are pop-ups and therefore don’t have permanent addresses on Google.)

East Coast

At brand-new Dame, buttery charred bread is topped with creamy aioli and meaty chunks of glistening tuna tartare then sprinkled with shaved bottarga. Tuna tartare & bottarga on toast is the star dish.

The strawberries grown in New York will never taste as good as their California counterparts, but the sugar snap peas are where it’s at this spring at the Union Square Greenmarket. Grab several generous handfuls at Kernan Farms’ stand.

It had been a while since I had proper Peking duck and Hwa Yuan Szechuan does it justice. Go with a big group and order a whole fish with hot bean sauce, too.

The chef Kate Telfeyan recently debuted a new menu at Porcelain in Ridgewood that includes a refreshingly addictive savory tofu pudding. Cold, silken, and showered with fermented mustard greens, spicy granola, black vinegar, and cilantro, I’d eat this dish several times a week if I lived nearby. Also, don’t miss her cold thick wheat noodles, laden with charred tomatoes for umami, and peppery from fermented chili—ideal hot weather food.

Warm, vinegar-tinged sushi rice. Crisp nori. Fresh, fatty toro. Kazunori does one thing (hand rolls) and does it well. A quick meal at the bar is a strong pre-game move to a night at Madison Square Garden. (RIP, Knicks 2020-2021.)

Yin and yang. Black and white cookie. Chocolate and sesame pudding cup. I bought the latter mostly for aesthetic reasons, as an add-on to the sandwiches we were buying at Hart’s grocery on the way to Jacob Riis Park. And I’m happy I did: each satiny bite was equal parts nutty and rich.

For me, ribs are summertime food. I look forward to my mom’s version from May through August, but as far as American-style restaurant ribs go, the pile of sticky-sweet baby backs at Bernie’s are king. They’re finished with chopped chives and served with bread and butter pickles.

Cervo’s is back in full restaurant form, so head to Canal Street, dine on the Open Street, and don’t miss the saucy, acid trip of an appetizer that is the Louisiana white prawns a la plancha. An order of fries is another must; I think they make some of the best in the city, and a meal here centers on juices to soak up.

The Bangladeshi street food spot Tong has two carts (one in Jackson Heights, another in Jamaica) that churn out exceptional fuchka and jhaalmuri. Right now, they’re also serving mango bhorta—fresh mango chopped finely and doused in kasundi (a spicy raw mustard condiment popular in Bangladesh)—that tickles your nose and sweetens your tongue.

Ha’s Đặc Biệt’s roast chicken is slicked with a glaze of lime leaf, lemongrass, and chili and served in a pool of sauce. I had it when they were still popping up at Frenchette, but it looks like it’s also featured on their collaborative menu with Kreung Cambodia, which they’ll be slinging on weekends all summer long at Outerspace in Bushwick.

West Coast

Something my dad always says and that I wholeheartedly agree with is that a bowl of pasta and a glass of wine is the perfect meal. At Lolo in East Hollywood, order the bucatini alla vodka, ask your server for a btg recommendation, and you’re golden.

Saarim, a die-hard Thai food enthusiast, believes that Northern Thai Food Club makes the best Thai food he’s had outside of Thailand, and I agree. Get the feathery sai oua sausage and the jackfruit salad laced with curry paste, kaffir lime leaves, and fried garlic. Everything is very spicy, as it should be.

The best thing about Gigi’s in Hollywood is the beautiful mural by artist Andie Dinkin. The worst thing is the fries. Petit Trois, on the other hand, makes excellent fries.

Go on a lunch date to Gjusta and go splitskies on a veggie sandwich and a veggie burger. Bliss.

Kang Kang Food Court in Alhambra is a great place to go to try and cure a hangover. Put in an order for their famous sheng jian bao plus a serving of stir-fried egg and tomato over rice for fuel as you wait for a freshly pan-fried batch of doughy dumplings filled with juicy pork. Be careful, they squirt.

Under the moniker Arden Street Ice Cream, my friend Gabby Green makes flavors like strawberry-basil and cardamom-rose (my favorite). Purchase a pint via DM or through Golden Rice Co.

Breakfast burritos aren’t commonly eaten in New York, so forgive me for any ignorance, but am I right to think that most of the time they’re made with a scramble or an omelet? All Day Baby’s take contains an oozy fried egg so that when you bite into the monstrosity of refried beans, jack cheese, avocado, and salsa roja, you’re greeted by a bright orange stream of gooey goodness.

Mini Kabob blew my mind. If you live in LA and haven’t been, get there. If you’re visiting soon, move it to the top of your list. Get the chicken thigh, pork shish, and chicken luleh combination plate, which comes over plump basmati rice with a side of hummus, charcoal-grilled tomato and spicy green pepper, and Armenian flatbread. The shirazi salad also slays.

When I was a kid I used to love to go to Starbucks for the mini chocolate bundt cakes. Republique’s individualized marble cakes with chocolate-hazelnut glaze remind me of them in the best possible way.

I love kombucha and Sunset Cultures’ stuff is the finest I’ve ever had, due in part to the farmers they source from. The Koda Farm Rice & Ruby Grapefruit is my #1.

Speaking of booch, Revel in Ojai offers theirs on-tap and as a float with a scoop of açaí ice cream. It’s not for everyone, but it’s definitely for me.

The trek to Granada Hills is entirely worth it for Rose + Rye’s nazook, which look like giant rugelach and taste like so much more. Sour cream and freshly milled Sonora wheat flour impart an acidic richness and a luxurious crumb to the Armenian pastries. They come in four flavors but if I had to choose one it’d be the classic vanilla.

If you have to wait a long time for a table, it’s better to have something to drink while you do it, and Anajak in Sherman Oaks has a solid natty wine selection from which you can buy a bottle to sip from as you linger. On Tuesdays, guest chefs come for Thai Taco Tuesdays, and the fried chicken is a menu mainstay on every table for a reason.

You can find Dano’s Dumplings at Cookbook and Sandita’s at Wine & Eggs, and both are worth stocking your freezer with. A steamed combo of spicy vegetable from the former and rainbow-skinned mixed mushroom from the latter is an ideal lunch.

Lasita’s pork belly lechon is crispy, juicy, tender, and best enjoyed with a plate full of pancit kang kang—yakisoba noodles tossed with water spinach, oyster mushrooms, garlic-calamansi sauce, chili crunch, and cilantro—on the side.

Happy Mediums makes dips, meat salads, dressings, and other deli-style fare out of their Echo Park home, including perfect pimento cheese.

An entire round of whole grain, salt-and-pepper focaccia from Friends & Family is the right thing to bring if you’re going to a friend’s house later for drinks.

Run by the youthful taquero Victor Villa from his grandma’s backyard in Highland Park, Villas Tacos is an entertaining follow. The real draw is his seven-layer quesatacos, which start with cheese crisped onto handmade blue corn tortillas, then get loaded with refried beans, onions, cilantro, crema, cotija, guac, and a mesquite-grilled protein of your choice.

Chef Rasida Holmes’ roti are something special: flakey parathas stuffed with inventive combinations like the channa and sweet potato number with fried cauliflower and spiced turmeric slaw. You’ll want a side of sweet & spicy plantains and all of her hot sauces, especially the funky pineapple-habanero. Follow Bridgetown Roti on Instagram for updates to her pop-up schedule.

Courage Bagels is as good as everyone says, maybe better. Go the purist route: cream cheese tomato (lemon, salt, pepper, olive oil) on a burnt everything.

Go Get Em Tiger makes a vegan strawberry muffin so moist and so tasty that thank god they have multiple locations.

Brandoni Pepperoni pies come with squash flowers, rapini, purple basil, and other artful California toppings, but at the end of the day, it’s all in the dough—and Brandon Gray’s is very good. Try the Big Bank with steamed leeks, stinging nettle pesto, truffle burrata, and grilled artichoke.

It’s mango season, which means mango sticky rice season, so any dinner in Thai Town should be finished with the perfect dessert. But also, try to save room for an added sweet: the steamed sticky rice with banana from Thai dessert shop Bhan Kanom Thai.

The back patio at Cambodian deli Gamboge is an idyllic spot to enjoy one of their baguette sandwiches. I liked the grilled and pulled trumpet mushrooms, marinated with lemongrass paste then paired with vegan Maggi mayo, chili jam, fresh cucumber, pickled carrot and papaya slaw, scallion oil, and cilantro. Spicy, sweet, tangy, saucy.

I’ve never had anything like the wonderful zhengyalov hatz at Zhengyalov Hatz, an Armenian flatbread filled with 15 types of fresh-cut herbs and sunflower oil rolled into a wrap and served warm. To call it herbaceous would be an understatement.

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Published (lots of stuff, hence why I disappeared!):

Winona’s Opened Mid-Pandemic. Being Flexible Became Its Identity. [Resy]

The Cookie Tin Will Not Be Put in a Box [TASTE]

Pantry Essentials for Bangladeshi and Bengali Cuisine [Caravan]

The June Hit List (NYC): Dame, Outerspace, Fulgurances, and More [Resy]

Just Checking in on Frosé [PUNCH]

Perfect Pairings (how to match your clothes with your food) [Garmentory]

The Resy Guide to Date Night in New York [Resy]

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A few recommended reads:

Anne Helen Peterson debunks the myth that “no one wants to work anymore” in the restaurant industry for her newsletter Culture Study

Osayi Endolyn on the profound significance of Netflix’s “High on the Hog” for the New York Times

Stephanie Breijo reports for the Los Angeles Times on the post-pandemic future of the city’s pop-ups

Korshak Bagels is first on my list for my next Philly trip; read Michael Klein in the Philadelphia Inquirer to find out why:

“This is the bagel they made, with less than two weeks of working with dough in my shop,” he said. “That’s astounding, and it’s because my shop is a place of beauty and light, and it is because my shop is a place where equanimity and respect is inherent.” Korshak said he pays a living wage.

I want to drink ranch water all summer long — here’s Veronica Meewes for PUNCH on how the tequila, lime juice, and soda drink from West Texas made it into the mainstream

In case you haven’t yet seen the tearjerker of a trailer for the Anthony Bourdain documentary releasing in July

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I’m @emilyjwils on Twitter & Instagram.