Tag Archives: Los Angeles

The oldest Japanese American business in the US: Fugetsu-Do

One of the trips we wanted to take over the last two years was to Japan, however, that trip was canceled due to COVID (like so many people’s trips over the past few years). However, on our recent trip to Los Angeles, we got a real taste of Japan at the Fugetsu-Do Bakery Shop (315 East First Street, Los Angeles, CA) in historical Little Tokyo Japantown in downtown Los Angeles. The Fugetsu-Do shop has been operating since 1903, and is considered the oldest store in the neighborhood, and the oldest Japanese American business in the US!

The specialty of Fugetsu-Do is mochi, made from pounded glutinous rice flour shaped into single-bite balls. In the US, mochi are often popularly filled with ice cream. However, in Japan, the filling is usually red bean, or simply the mochi itself is served unfilled, and can lean either savory or sweet. Also available at Fugetsu-Do are manju, treats made from cake flour. At the helm of Fugetsu-Do is Brian Kito, third-generation owner, and master confectioner. Inside the shop, there are well-worn bakery cases filled with a myriad of multi-color mochi, which you can buy by the piece, or in prepackaged sets of enticing rainbow-colored wagashi confections perfect for tea.

Among these choices are some traditional flavors like inaka or habituai (filled with red bean paste) or kiku (filled with white bean paste). There are also more idiosyncratic and colorful flavors like peanut butter, blueberry, or mango. In the springtime, the pretty pink cherry blossom Sakura flavor is particularly popular, and often sells out quickly.

The texture of the mochi was amazingly smooth and chewy. We also liked the mix of traditional and more avant-garde flavors. The store accepts credit cards only over a certain amount, so you should bring cash. If you are not able to get to LA, you can even buy Fugestsu-Do mochi online. We are so glad we got to visit Fugetsu-Do, and taste a living piece of Los Angeles history. The stores of Little Tokyo were hit hard by the pandemic, so we encourage you to give them a visit as well (either in person or online).

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The Best Al Pastor Tacos in Los Angeles

One of the things we look forward to most when we visit in Los Angeles is going on a self-styled taco crawl across the city. We developed our first taco crawl – focusing specifically on our beloved al pastor tacos – in the Spring of 2022, on what was actually our first plane trip since the start of the pandemic. We crowned a winner in 2022, but we wanted to sample a few more spots before we were ready to declare a true champion. Fortunately, we returned to Los Angeles in April of 2023, allowing us to add some more contenders, and to re-test our previous winner. For the taco crawl we focused on al pastor tacos, since they are our favorite variety, and the gulf between excellent and mediocre tacos al pastor is wide.

Al pastor tacos are typically made by shaving meat from a large rotating cone stacked with marinated pork topped with a pineapple – known as a trompo – in a fashion similar to gyros. However, not all taquerias utilize this technique for al pastor, but for us it is a must, so we narrowed down our contenders to only those taquerias with a trompo. When assessing tacos we rated each on a few different parameters (admitting to some subjective preference). The parameters: 1. Trompo / Meat Quality 2. Meat Delivery Method (cut directly off the trompo vs finished on the grill) 3. Presence of pineapple 4. Tortilla quality. 5. Price 6. Other intangibles, which include general vibe and topping options. At each taqueria we ordered al pastor tacos to eat there immediately, with only the classic topping of onions and pineapple.

When deciding where to visit, we gravitated towards spots on the west side of LA, since that is where we were based. We started out by consulting “best of” lists alongside Yelp, Google Maps, and Instagram to gauge the highest-rated taquerias. But all this research notwithstanding, we were floored at how many al pastor trompos we saw simply spinning at roadside taquerias on the literal street corners. In fact, all of the tacos in our competition were street stands or food trucks. People in LA simply don’t know how good they have it. We invited our lovely hosts in LA, C and A, to come along for the taco crawl with us, and they were more than game, and helped us assess the contenders. After visiting a total of 6 spots – including a follow-up visit to our 2022 winner – we landed on a unanimous grand champion.

So, what was our favorite al pastor taco in Los Angeles? Tacos La Güera Pico (2949 W Pico Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90006), also our 2022 winner!

  1. The trompo at La Güera was a thing of beauty, as you can see in the photos. The pork was extremely flavorful, had a good color, and was and not fatty or gristly. Upon being sliced off the trompo, the meat was extremely thinly sliced, with some nice char. We loved the crispy texture, and one of our friends described this quite accurately as a “meat croissant” in terms of its thin, almost translucent, texture.
  2. The meat was shaved directly off the trompo into the tortilla. We consider this to be the superior delivery method, but requires some additional skill from the taquero to decide which parts of the trompo are done enough.
  3. We feel that pineapple is a must, and here it was included generously.
  4. The tacos were composed on a two small corn tortillas, not particularly memorable, but they got the job done.
  5. Each taco was $2.50, slightly more expensive than other places which charged $2, but ultimately worth the small difference.
  6. La Guera was a simple stand with a tent, and a street corner setting. One one end was the trompo, and the other, a generous toppings bar with veggies, salsa, limes, etc. However, there is not much in the way of seating, and it was cash only (or Zelle). We visited on a rainy night and simply scarfed down our tacos, so this didn’t really matter for us.

La Güera takes the al pastor trompo crown! After visiting across 2022 and 2023, La Güera was the unanimous winner amongst all 4 of the taste testers, giving us confidence in our verdict. Many of the other taquerias were nearly as delicious, and we give honorable mentions to fan favorite Leo’s (1515 S La Brea Ave., our winner prior to 2022), and Tacos Zempoal Mixe (2541 S Barrington, pictured above), an under-the-radar stand that simply caught our eye when we drove by, but was justifiably highly rated. Other contenders were: Tamix, Naomi’s, and Brother’s Cousins. Even though we have a solid winner, we feel that we only scratched the surface of the al pastor options in LA. We would encourage you all to go out on your own taco adventures, wherever you are. We are already looking forward to the 2024 edition of the LA Al Pastor Taco Crawl.

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Moles for Days at Guelaguetza in LA

When we told our friends we were going to Los Angeles and asked around for recommendations, one restaurant that kept coming up was Guelaguetza (3014 W Olympic Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90006). Located on the edge of Koreatown in central LA, Guelaguetza is a long-running restaurant, founded by the Lopez family in 1994. Guelaguetza was named after the Oaxacan festival of the same name, and the cuisine of Oaxaca is on display. The moles at Guelaguetza, in particular, have gained a following over the years (you may even notice that their website is ilovemole.com), and in 2015 they even won a James Beard award. The restaurant’s unmissable orange exterior is decorated with murals on the outside and though its boxy exterior masks it – the inside of the restaurant is gigantic, with several large rooms, and it even houses a stage (with live music on most nights).

The menu at Guelaguetza is extensive, though the Oaxacan specialties seemed the most intriguing: as a mark of a real Oaxacan restaurant, you can get evem an order of chapulines (fried grasshoppers – $14.50) one of M’s favorites. Guelaguetza is also known for their tlayudas ($14.50) – large tortillas covered in re-fried beans and a variety of other toppings like mole, mushrooms, cactus, cheese and/or chorizo. Other Oaxacan dishes included goat barbacoa tacos ($14.50), Oaxacan-style tamales wrapped in banana leaves ($12.50) and a variety of preparations of tasajo (thin grilled sliced beef) and pork cecina (smoked and dried). While perusing the menu we decided to sample some drinks we had never seen before: horchata with prickly pear and agua de chilacayote. We had certainly have had horchata before (Mexican rice water with cinnamon) but the bright pink prickly pear added another element. The other drink tasted almost like a pumpkin spice late – chilacayote is actually squash – but this surprising drink was both refreshing and very sweet, thanks to the addition of the piloncillo sugar.

One thing we absolutely had to order was the mole – however we were a little overwhelmed at the options. We counted no less than 6 moles! When we sat down to the table, the first thing we were offered was a plate of chips with coloradito mole, giving us an idea of what was in store. The rusty red coloradito mole was rich, complex, salty, savory and sweet all at once (the secret ingredient to coloradito is plantain). We saw the The “Festival of Moles” sampler which served two ($29), and we figured that was our best way to sample the mole universe. The sampler included portions of four moles: Mole Negro, Mole Rojo, Mole Coloradito, Mole Estofado. Each little pot of mole was topped off with shredded chicken, was served with rice and (extra-large) handmade tortilla was there to sop up the sauce. The mole negro (aka mole Oaxaqueño), is the most complex mole, the darkest in color, and spiced with a hint of chocolate. This one was L’s favorite. The mole rojo, a slightly spicier, peppery sauce was M’s favorite, and far surpassed any version he had ever had in the states. The mole coloradito that we had sampled as an appetizer was just as delicious in entree portion. The most unusual mole was the briny estofado, which is made from olives. The salty, puckery taste was one we had never tried before – not even in Mexico.

We used every last bit of rice and the giant homemade tortilla to sop up the mole sauce – this was definitely some of the best mole we have ever had – both inside of Oaxaca and out. For dessert there was of course flan, but we were happy to also see nicuatole ($8.50) – a flan-esque pudding made with corn. We last tried nicuatole at our cooking class in Oaxaca – and it is great!  There is also a little shop in the front of the restaurant that sells Mexican jewelry, bags, molinillos, and most importantly, jars of official Guelaguetza mole and chocolate to take home. Sadly, we couldn’t bring the jars of mole home in our carry-ons, but we certainly will be ordering some soon. We were really impressed by the food at Guelaguetza, especially the mole, which will be really hard to beat!

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Koreatown LA: Chuncheon Dakgalbi [now Stone Grill]

koreaChuncheon Dakgalbi [Same location, now called Stone Grill]

703 S Vermont Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90005

Though we consider ourselves open-minded eater, we have not had good luck with Korean food, so we had kind of crossed it off of our list of “try-again” cuisines. Fortunately our fortunes have turned and we were introduced to some amazing Korean food on our Californian adventure. Our friend K lives in K-Town in LA, known to have some of the best Korean food anywhere, so we were excited to try one of her picks for Korean BBQ.

The sign outside the restaurant proclaimed “Chicken Kalbi” – in pink neon – which was a good sign for us since we love love places that specialize in a single dish. With this auspicious beginning we embarked on our chicken kalbi adventure. This restaurant itself was pretty trippy, and looked more like a nightclub. It has glossy black walls and, I kid you not, multicolored disco strobe lights. The music playing throughout the night was just as eclectic – a mix of K-Pop, Taylor Swift and Michael Buble (whatever!)

When we were greeted upon entry – the server proclaimed she needed to find the English menu – which, humorously enough, did not even contain any English. Our friendly English-speaking server was very helpful, walking us through the Kalbi process. We ordered 2 orders of the regular Kalbi and one order of the “fire chicken” especially for M, who is, as we know, a fire-breather. As is the tradition in most restaurants specializing in Kalbi, the dish was cooked in a giant hot plate right on the table in front of us. It also came with a small assortment of banchan (side dishes), including radish wraps, cole slaw and seaweed.

M proclaimed that the fire chicken was one of the best spicy dishes he had ever had (but of course it was not TOO spicy). The “regular” chicken kalbi was also stellar, and the sauce was a perfect mix of sweet and spice, and came cooked with scallions sweet potatoes and rice cakes. After the meal was (mostly) over – the ends of the kalbi were mixed into fried rice right in the hot plate by our server. After the meal was completely over we got a tiny cup of tangy frozen yogurt (a la red mango). We were definitely impressed with our meal, and were completely stuffed. With our LA experience we officially re-introduced Korean food into our cuisine rotation.

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