Thursday, September 3, 2020

Café Catelog: Los Angeles

***UPDATED 2019

Some new ones to add to the list, and a return to old favorites…the baby edition.

When I lived in Los Angeles from 2005-2009, the only cafes I went to were Starbucks and Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf. I don't know if I had bad taste, or if great local cafes just didn't exist in the city back then. I'm pretty sure every cafe on this list opened in the last decade, so it's quite possible that we are in the midst of a coffee renaissance in LA. Now that I have documented great cafes all over the world, I looked forward to returning to my former home and sampling the very best of the city. 

 In order from my very favorites:

 Verve (downtown)

This is my default oasis and one of the most beautiful and atmospheric cafes in the world. I wouldn’t even suggest bringing a computer for trying to get work done. Sit in the cover patio and soak up the lush greenery. As this is located in a fragile territory between downtown LA and the fashion district, expect to reminisce to the sound of car horns and buses. I can never get sick of this place. 

Giorgi Porgi (downtown) *closed
A hidden gem and one-of-a-kind experience in LA. This café feels more like an art installation that a coffee shop. No sign. Enter though the door covered in old newspaper,  and come in under a moss wall. In the glow of neon lights, the owner Giorgi will ask you some simple questions. Coffee or tea? Hot or cold? A little or a lot? Milk or no milk? Depending on your answer, she will prepare for you whatever inspires her in the moment. Our coffees came drizzled with coco. Keep the laptop in your bag and enjoy sitting at the bar and chatting with her. She was the one who recommend Coffee Hall and Spoke to us.  

Maru Arts District

The only negative of the original Maru in Los Feliz was that it was too small and didn’t have enough seating. Well, then way overcorrected that flaw with their store in the Arts District, which is the size of a warehouse in itself.

RVCC (Arts District)
A must-see-it-to-believe-it café with impressive interior design and architecture. The space houses a café, community space, barbershop, art gallery, and soon-to-be mezcal bar. The latte I ordered was among the best I’ve ever had, but I was stunned with the layout of this lavish and impressive space. 

Blue Bottle (downtown)
Like Intelligentsia, this place is a chain found throughout the city, but a stunning and spacious downtown location makes this one of my favorite places. Plenty of seating and natural light, and even a mini library!

Verve Mateo
Verve in the fashion district is already my favorite café in Los Angeles, so I was excited to see their Mateo outpost which is gorgeous.

Coffee for Sasquatch (Melrose) 
A stunning testament to café architecture and welcome addition to the Melrose neighborhood, Coffee for Sasquatch does not disappoint. It’s curved white walls and natural light made me feel as if I was sitting in a dry bathhouse. I loved my iced latte and relished being in this light and airy space. 

Trinity (Echo Park) **2018
A new hip café-cum-restaurant off Sunset in Echo Park. Order one of their unique offerings, like the Black Sesame cortado and Buttered Yam Latte, and pair that with Icelandic Cod or wild mushrooms. Flip through an issue of Monocle and savor the all-black interior.

Black top (downtown)
Black. White. Chocolate. The minimalist menu says it all. This simple café is a gem on the outskirts of Little Tokyo. Lack of tables make this a difficult place to work from, but who wants to look at a computer screen when you are surrounded by lush vines.


Coffee Hall (Chinatown)

A small minimalist cafes in an old shopping mall in Chinatown, Coffee Hall brews local roasters amid hipster heaven. A ping-pong table and collection of Kinfolk magazines will keep you busy as you wait. Well worst a visit for the experience of seeing the new hip side of LA Chinatown. 

Nossa Familia Cal Edison (downtown)
A Portland transplant makes its debut in the stunning Cal Edison lobby. This tiny stand is worth going to for the amazing architectural experience as well as friendly bartender. We drank a drip coffee with cream and cinnamon. 

Rose cafe (Venice)
A spacious and hip café-bar-restaurant in Venice with hanging plants galore with one of the best Vietnamese Iced Coffees I’ve had in the U.S.  Rose Café is a place I would return to again and again if only I could tolerate the rest of Venice. 

Maru Coffee (Los Feliz)
This tiny gem in Los Feliz is a real treat. Reminiscent of Japan, Maru coffee has a cozy and sparse atmosphere. I ordered a green tea latte - which was the right choice. The only downside is that all the tables are too low to work from, so this is a place to enjoy the company of others, or a silent, self mediation. 


Intelligentsia (Silver Lake)
A shaded gem on Sunset Blvd, I spent hours people-watching from this cafe's ceramic-tiled patio. Lack of seating inside is one downside, but if you are lucky enough to be on the patio, you will witness a magnificent spectacle of human migration.

Paramount Coffee Project (Melrose)
An Australian export that has become an icon in LA. This beautiful green café feels foregin from the start. The only café I’ve been in with table service, I enjoyed sitting in their back patio outside and ordered a few lattes, which were masterfully prepared. 

Eightfold (Echo Park)***2018
One of Echo Park’s most popular cafes, Eightfold’s zine wall and marble countertops make it a perfect place to Instagram. We enjoyed a great latte on a sunny Sunday afternoon. 


Local chain has a nice outpost in downtown. Really enjoyed my iced latte.

Paramount Coffee Project (The Row)

I loved the Paramount branch on Melrose and was excited to try their outpost at The Row. It was packed on a Sunday during the farmers market but I still got to enjoy a nice latte.

Paper or Plastik Café (Little Ethiopia)
A popular place for meals and entertainment. But full of rules. Kitchen opens and closes at odd hours throughout the day. They sell magazine but don't allow browsing. You can only open your laptop on community tables - smaller tables are reserved for those guests who wish to dine. But all is forgiven because of their amazing Lavender Chai. In hot and iced forms this drink is worth.

Don Franciscos (downtown)***2018
A beautiful new Cuban café located in a newly developed underground breezeway on Spring Street in downtown. The lavishly designed interior is what drew me to the location, where we enjoyed a strong latte, Cubano, and Cuban toast. 

 Endorffeine Chinatown)

Minimalist space tucked away in a busy Chinatown shopping plaza, Endorffeine
 Has some original offers for the coffee aficionado. I took home a vanilla-pandan cold brew. Absolutely delicious and the first and only time I’ve ever had pandan in coffee. I must say now I want it all the time. 

Coffee Colab (downtown)
An alternative cafe in a back ally near Santee, this cafe seems strangely out of place in LA's quickly gentrifying fashion district. Ten years ago no one would ever think of opening a boutique coffee shop in this district, but it seems well-loved by the neighborhood. No seating so grab your coffee to go and savor the charm and grit of the streets as you walk away.

Go Get Em Tiger (Larchmont)
A frenzied neighborhood joint tucked almost discreetly on Larchmont Street. Popular for their kale salad and other fad-food, this place is constantly packed and a bit chaotic.

Dinosaur (Silver Lake)
A bustling space with interior design that evokes the likes of the Fukuoka Starbucks, but lacks the atmospheric quality of a truly artistic space. When I arrived, it was on the eve of their one-year anniversary, and they had a petting zoo in their parking lot to celebrate.   

 Tilt (downtown)
A sweet little cafes tucked away inside a newish apartment complex. This little place has all the essentials, and being located inside the courtyard garden of an apartment, feels cloistered away from the chaos of downtown. 

Spoke Bicycle Cage (Frogtown)
A excellent traditional latte  to be enjoyed amidst the outdoor patio overlooking the River in Frogtown (a place I didn't even know existed!). The café has the advantage of being nestled between a quiet neighborhood and a river.  

Menotti's (Venice Beach)
I might be biased because I hate Venice Beach, but Menotti's is a nice retreat from the neon thongs and blaring pop music of the main drag. I ordered an iced vanilla latte which was wonderful. The size of the cafe and constant shuffle of people coming and going makes it impossible to work from, but the coffee and service were good. 


 G&B (downtown)
An overrated and over-hyped joint in the famous Grand Central Market in downtown. Let me clarify: the market is awesome; but G&B coffee is disappointingly just "ok." After waiting 20 minutes for a drink I was expecting something spectacular, but my macadamia latte was barely drinkable. I must have ordered the wrong thing.


Bulletproof (Arts District)
Known for their famous latte with butter, this chain is now located all over the west coast. My first experience was in the LA arts district and it may be my last. I wasn’t a fan of the orange color palette or intense branding of the store. But I mostly wasn’t a fan of the latte. The butter was just too unsavory an experience. 

Sunday, August 23, 2020

Best Meals in LA: The 2017-2019 Edition

I thought I had the LA food scene pretty well-documented on this blog, but then I saw that my last LA Eats post was from 2016 – and I’ve been back five times since then!

Instead of sharing every single meal I had, which would be an enormous list, I have decided to curate it by sharing the best meals. Here they are in order:

Guerilla Tacos
My first Michele-star dining experience and boy did it exceed my expectations! I especially loved the Mexican-Japanese fusion. Where else can you eat a tostada with peach and uni?

Bottega Louie
I dine here on every trip to LA. At first, I was just ordering cakes and macarons, but after seeing all the delicious pizza sitting at other diners’ tables which walking through the restaurant to use the bathroom, I decided to order a pizza for myself one time and I became hooked. I love the TARTUFO pizza which includes mozzarella, fontina, truffle pecorino, crème fraîche, black truffle mushroom pâté and a soft cooked egg. Absolutely amazing!

My first experience at Perch was in the evening with a group of friends, and I was the only one who ordered food. Thank goodness I did because I was able to try their incredible Steak Frites and thus inspired to return on my next trip to LA. We made reservations and were lucky to get outdoor seating next to the edge so we had a fabulous view. The whole experience of being at Perch is awesome from the food, to the service, to the ambiance and view.

The Row at DTLA
The first time we went to The Row it was a Tuesday evening and everything was closed. So we decided to return on a Sunday afternoon to see the place when it was open. That Sunday was packed and people were lined up to get food at some lobster carts outside. I was tempted to join the crowds and line up at the most popular carts, but by chance ended up ordering a Patita, which is slow cooked then deep fried pork shank coated with special spoon & pork sauce served on jasmine rice & cucumber flower, from Spoon and Pork. This was one of the best meals we had on our trip and I am so happy I discovered them.

Daily Dose
Now, I am not a sandwich person. When someone suggests sandwiches I tend to decline. But a friend took me to Daily Dose in a group and I could not dissent. I am so glad I didn’t, because since that first time I tried their delicious sandwiches I retuned on every single trip since. Unfortunately the Daily Dose closed, but the owner opened a new café in the same location that I am eager to try.

Grand Central Market
I love this hawker-style food court and like to try a new restaurant there every time I visit. I have had bagels at a deli, Mexican tacos, and an egg sandwich from the popular Eggslut.

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Dispatches from Addis Ababa

I spent a week in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in February of 2020 for work. I did not know at the time that it would be the last business trip of the year one the pandemic hit. This is an excerpt from my diary as I await my flight at the airport.

"I’m sitting here in the terminal awaiting my flight to Addis Ababa. I have been wanting to go on this trip my whole life. Finally I am being paid to go, and yet I am miserable. Shouldn’t I be excited? Shouldn’t I be honored that I have the opportunity to participate on a trip in the way that I always wanted to? And here I am, getting paid to go to a new country, a new continent, on a trip where I am working at my top expertise. And yet I am sad, I am frustrated, I want to return home.
There’s something especially rough about being awake and at an airport in the wee hours of the morning, whether its because I had to leave my bed and ride a Lyft here, or because I had a long layover. I just don’t like missing a night of sleep, or being awake and sitting up when I want to be asleep and sitting down, or having to be in a place where nothing is open. Maybe that’s why I’m bitter now. Because I’m tired and uncomfortable and displeased with this airport and nervous about my very long 13-hour flight. Didn’t I write a blog post once that said, “the journey is definitely not the reward” after a particularly brutal trip to Japan, but that how it was oh-so-worth it once I got to Tokyo and had sushi with my best friend? And didn’t I question, every single time I was on a flight, why on earth I would want to put myself through such misery, and that I am never traveling again? And yet each time I get to my destination I quickly forget the misery of airplane travel and fall in love, once more, with this beautiful earth.
I think I am realizing now, that nothing I do is without sacrifice. A long time ago, when I was young and single, I once longed for nothing more than to escape life on an airplane and arrive somewhere in Asia. But now that I have a husband and a baby, every time I leave without them I leave them behind. I sacrifice time with them for these trips. But if I take them with me, I sacrifice time alone. Nothing I do from here on will be without sacrifice. I will always be giving up one thing for another.

- Diary Excerpt, February 14th, 2020 6:35am

Monday, August 3, 2020

The most anticipated date

We've been dying to check out Korean restaurant Han Oak for years. Every time we make a reservation we end up needing to postpone or cancel. Finally, after two years we made it in, and were not disappointed. This one of the best prix meals we every had.

Jacket: vintage via my aunt
Dress: H&M from Portugal
Bag: vintage Coach
Belt: Primark in London

The restaurant:

The meal:

Café Catelog: Los Angeles

***UPDATED 2019 Some new ones to add to the list, and a return to old favorites…the baby edition. When I lived in Los Angeles...