08 June 2007


As an antidote to last night's "We'll always have Leningrad and madeleines, darling" post (yes, we do travel quite a bit, but I don't have the opportunity to enjoy fine dining in Oslo all that often), I was going to do a 10 Best Dives Wherein to Have a Divey Experience, but then I realized that a lot of the places that came to mind weren't dives so much as just not fine dining. So instead, I present 10 Places with Ambience for a Good Meal, or Just a Fun Meal at Least Once Upon A Time, and One Dive. Keep in mind that some of the places no longer exist, or may no longer exist, or have changed hands. Still, not Leningrad.

The Dive:

The Red Lion Tavern in Silverlake. They serve mostly decent German food, although the potato pancakes come from something that might have been a potato in another solar system, and Spaten. But the decor. Holy mackerel!

A dive that no longer exists in its Platonic form: The Bucket. When I went to the Bucket, it was owned and run by an unbelievably foul-mouthed Basque. When he ladled an enormous helping of the Sauce That Defies Description over your French fries, you didn't balk (and once you tasted it, you wouldn't have wanted to because it was egregiously good and probably carried half of Gilroy's garlic harvest in it). But the insults! the invective! the profanity!

Not quite a dive, but in no way fine dining: The Original Tommy's in Eagle Rock. Cheeseburger. With chili. Trust me. (and yeah, I know it's cooler to go to the original Original Tommy's on Rampart, but really, the food's better here.)

That taquito stand in Olvera Street. Yeah, it probably has a name, but I only know it by sight. Not exactly the Platonic form of taquito, but hot and crunchy and darn tasty with salsa and that green stuff. When you're done, you turn around and buy sweets from the stand opposite. Especially the tamarind-chili goop.

When I was in college, it's entirely possible that on one or two occasions, I actually ate 3 meals a day at Arturo's Mexican Restaurant. The price was right, and the bean and cheese burrito with guacamole was heaven in a tortilla. The family knew us so well that they started preparing our order when we pulled up in the parking lot. But what was really scary was about 15 years later when I was enormously pregnant with the daughter, and had to have a burrito or die, I walked in the door, and Mrs. Arturo said, "I remember you!"

The Pig Joint. I don't know what The Pig Joint was actually called, but we called it The Pig Joint because there were pigs, everywhere. Stuffed pigs, iron pigs, pig quilts. Pigs flew. It was on Moorpark in Studio City, and closed a long time ago, but it had good barbecue, Dixie beer and *the*best*dill*pickles. On the rare occasions I have to be in the Valley, I mourn the loss of The Pig Joint.

Eegees, Tucson. Eegees started out as two guys in a van with frozen lemonade at UA football games. There's now one on every street corner in Tucson, but I still remember the good days when it was just the dreadful room with the swamp cooler on Speedway. My mouth waters just thinking about a hot grinder. And my favorite eegee, Pina Colada, wasn't an original flavor--only strawberry and lemon held that distinction, but everyone liked it so much when it was a monthly flavor that the owners finally acceded to popular demand and made it a regular flavor. Get a large one and watch your tongue turn a truly hideous shade of orange.

Well, the John Bull Pub in Pasadena had lots of ambiance, all in a weird sort of mock Tudor way, and great sausage rolls. Seriously great sausage rolls. Another one that bit the dust.

Molina's Midway in Tucson. Not great Mexican food, but sopaipillas. And they turned a blind eye to kids like me who filled them to bursting with honey. Now for great *New* Mexican food, nothing beats The Shed in Santa Fe. And the Frontier in Albuquerque has cinnamon rolls as big as your head.

I must specially mention El Minuto Cafe in downtown Tucson. Certainly a case of you can't go home again, but we visited this restaurant with some frequency when I was a child. They called their quesadillas "cheese crisps" (or maybe it was just us) and served them roaring hot on a cast iron stand. But my favorite was the bean chimichanga. I know, deep down, that puppy was fried in lard, but oh... And the jukebox. "And Honey, I miss you...and I'm feeling blue..." Yup.

Go listen to some music: "Honey" from the album The Best of Bobby Goldsboro by Bobby Goldsboro.

Love that song or hate it, go read this, mostly because it was funny.