Sunday, November 23, 2008

Visit your local hole-in-the-wall

Who needs to frequent a big chain restaurant when you have a hole-in-the-wall or 2 or 3 that serves better food, is cash only and sports some of the best d├ęcor around?

Stop 1 was the Thai restaurant in Eagle Rock, CA. Thai Spirit sports a great name and likely some of the best naugahyde around. Nineteen-seventy's green "hyde" was the rage back in the day and with rips and tears abound, it always makes me wonder what may have happened. Did a hot plate of Pad Thai hit the spot and disintegrate the man-made miracle? Who knows, but if a place has a deep, half-moon booth with a crumbling laminate tabletop, it's a guarantee that the food will be good. Exterior lattice on the interior of the restaurant is another sure bet too. Fake plants? Yep. If the place has them it's a bonus. If the plants are dusty, even better. The last element that assures the place is good is not the "A" or even "B" rating, but the tiny Asian kid taking a nap on the seat in the booth across from us. Apparently he's the owners kid and was real tired.

Stop 2 is also in Eagle Rock, CA. Casa Bianca is without question the best pizza, bar-none. It's a landmark for kitsch and of course cash only. Red naugahyde adorns this joint too along with bad wallpaper and those sweet overhead lamps you normally see in Uncle Bubba's paneled basement above the pool table. The walls in the entry have framed pictures of the B-celebrity variety, and the people who own it have done so since the mid-1950's! The cash register is still the old "typewriter" style and the female waitresses kick ass. We've watched many of them grow up! Another tip for judging a place: If the bathroom is a shithole, the food will be good. Oh yeah, the lineup is always out the door... another good sign it's good.

Stop 3 is our favorite little sushi place in Korea Town (Los Angeles). Noshi Sushi is also an institution and also cash only. Please note that if you are "whitebread" you will stick out like a sore thumb, but they don't care. This place serves the basic sushi. No jalapeno-cream-cheese-sour-cream-candy-yuck-hipster rolls, but instead the tried-and-true bits and the rolls are big. About the only thing super-progressive is the Dynamite. Everything but the kitchen sink (or including the kitchen sink) has been thrown into this casserole-type dish. It's hot and gooey and will likely give you heartburn, but when you eat something like this you don't contemplate the consequences! It's the equivalent to going to Tommy's. You know it's "bad" for you and that you will pay dearly for it, but it tastes so damn good. "The journey is the destination" my friend. Noshi sports green naugahyde and the bathroom is also nasty. The kicker to this place is the old Asian guy who acts as the security-parking patrol in the parking lot. He's usually kitted out in the usual security garb and on occasion sports a pistol that resembles that of a child's cap gun. He's a great dude, always smiling and directs you to a open space.

Go ahead and seek out your local holes in the wall... They're there!

To recap some requirements for what makes a dump a true dump with great food:
1. Must have naugahyde. The more ripped the better.
2. Cash only.
3. 1970's style lighting.
4. Laminate table top, preferably the crumbling variety.
5. Booths that have seating that have nothing left in terms of padding or springs.
6. Stucco and/or lattice on the interior walls.
7. Massive iron security gates that keep the place tight when it's closed.
8. ATM machine inside.
9. Napping Asian kid in the booth across from you.
10. Pistol packing (on occasion) parking guy.
11. An "A" rating is okay but it's always better if it's lower, or if the rating sign is obscured.
12. A crappy bathroom.

Bon appetite!