LA Dive Dining
September 2003

Chomping in LA….

Los Angeles is kind of schizoid where restaurants are concerned. I guess we got spoiled living in New York. There, you can dine at some of the top restaurants, cuisine-wise, in the WORLD. The best restaurants there are all about food, wine, service. Not necessarily so in LA; LA restaurants are all about power. Where are you sitting? Who are you with? Could you even get a decent reservation in the first place? Who cares what the food is like, as long as the impossibly tiny servings look really pretty on the plates… it’s not like anyone in Los Angeles eats anyway…. We’ve tried some of the fancier places here on special occasions – Chinois on Main, The Farm of Beverly Hills, Carlito’s Gardel – and while they were good, it wasn’t a Superlative Dining Experience like Danube or Union Square Café. Heh. So Sayeth the Wannabe Food Snob.

Anyway, Los Angeles is also basically a bunch of interconnected suburbs rather than a real, urban/urbane city. Hence, mini-malls and shopping centers – and hence, chain restaurants and fast food – abound. Believe it or not, a great part of the population actually considers Olive Garden a nice restaurant. Heck, they actually consider it an ITALIAN restaurant! Vaffanculo! Lei e' un cafone stronzo!

It’s hardly surprising, in light of this, that our best dining discoveries, our favorite LA Eating Institutions, are… well… kind of… dives. THTM and me have been Questing in earnest now that we’re stuck in SoCal for a little while, trying to find those Truly Special Dining Experiences. Some places have lived up to expectations… and beyond. Others, like most things in LA (and like Hollywood itself) prompt an immediate “THIS is what everyone’s so excited about?!” reaction. And yeah, most of these places could be called dives. Tonight, over dripping chili dogs at Pink’s, we got to talking about our Special LA Dive Dining Experiences. Naturally, I thought it quite important to share. We’re no Zagat’s, but we have fun. Here’re some selections… buon appetito!

Philippe the Original
I first heard about Philippe’s in some book set in LA in the 1920s, and was quite surprised to find out it was a real place… and was still around. In fact, Philippe’s is supposedly the place that originated the French dip sandwich. It’s down by Union Station, sort of out of the way, not an easy place to just drive by. We first tried Philippe’s on a Saturday night. The restaurant is open and shabby, with long trestle tables and stools for communal seating, sawdust all over the floor, hideous fluorescent lighting, and a huge counter up front with haphazard lines. The wait was a little long… about 10-15 minutes… because the waitresses make the sandwiches individually as they’re ordered. Besides the sandwiches, Philippe’s gets a lot of praise for their extremely low prices. Coffee is, like, 15c a cup, a glass of lemonade is just 60c. Most sandwiches are under $5. In fact, we took O Nancy My Nancy and her Semi-Cute Husband to Philippe’s for dinner once, and bought dinner AND dessert (pie and doughnuts) for four and spent less than $25. Not bad!

But “not bad” doesn’t begin to describe the sandwiches. This is total comfort food, man. The bread is wonderfully fresh and firm, sliced, then dipped soft side down into pan drippings before being piled with tender slices of meat (you can chose between beef, pork or lamb). Much like Philly Cheese Steaks, there is much argument about the CORRECT Philippe’s sandwich. I maintain that it is roast beef. Period. A friend of ours argues that it’s pork. Period. THTM insists that the proper Philippe’s sandwich has cheese, whereas I insist adding cheese is akin to blasphemy. Try a couple and battle it out yourself. Side dishes include pickle spears, pepperocinis, pickled eggs, coleslaw, cottage cheese and other such picnic-like fare.


Roscoe’s House of Chicken and Waffles
It took me quite a few years, actually, to make it to Roscoe’s. Waaaay back when I was in school in Claremont, O Nancy My Nancy drove up to visit me one weekend. We pored over a silly LA guidebook, and were quite smitten with Roscoe’s House of Chicken and Waffles. CHICKEN AND WAFFLES?! Oh, this had to be good! So we drove into LA, found our way to Melrose, turned up Gower… and holy shit…. It looked like a horrible neighborhood, and there were six of the biggest, scariest looking black guys standing in front of the place- Remember, ONMN and I are both white suburban San Diego girls; we were raised on the notion that black people = “bad area”! *eye roll* So we looked at each other and went “No WAY!” and ended up at, like, a Sizzler or Denny’s or something equally crappy and geared toward squeamish suburban white girls.

But both of us always felt chagrined – nay, unfulfilled – by our Roscoe’s non-experience, and vowed to someday rectify it. When THTM and I moved back to LA several years later, we discovered we were close to the Pico Roscoe’s. The first time ONMN and her Semi-Cute Husband came up to visit for a weekend, the Inaugural Roscoe’s Trip was first on our list of things to do. We fearlessly parked in the rutted lot, marched through the door under the pink neon sign, and were promptly seated at a table for four. The interior of the restaurant is illuminated by harsh neon, and sometimes-amusing ethnic paintings are interspersed along various walls (my favorite is the one of the Roscoe’s interior with customers. You’ll see). The menu, though small, was convoluted and irregular, and can actually make for hi-larious reading. Specials are numbered, and we all opted for Scoe’s Special: two pieces of chicken and two waffles. Our waitress was nice but low-key, and it only took a few minutes before she slid four plates piled with fried chicken and butter-ball-slathered waffles in front of us. Syrup, served in those small plastic syrup cups, was brought to us by the half-dozen on little plates, next to a stack of napkins. Hesitantly, we all smeared butter… drizzled syrup… cut… ate-

Oh. My. God.

The noises that came from our table were obscene, I tell you. OH MY GAAAAAWD!! This went beyond “good homemade waffle”… there’s some infinitesimal flavor to a Roscoe’s waffle that can’t be described. Combine that with pools of butter and warm syrup, and- *drool* Hang on… I need a moment….

Ah. That’s better.

But, as we’ve discovered from numerous return trips, there’s other stuff that’s groovy on the Roscoe’s menu. (In fact, during a recent Post Slumber Party excursion, we came up with the official motto “Roscoe’s: And the Chicken’s Good Too!”) The chicken is battered, crisp, plump and juicy; they use the farm-fresh stuff, too, and you can taste the difference. I’ve gotten quite fond of their cornbread and their homemade mac and cheese as well. The biscuits and gravy – brown gravy loaded with onions – is major Comfort Food (as if chicken and waffles weren’t Comfort Food enough). Their French fries are also quite good. THTM was fond of the omelet he got with cut-up bits of fried chicken and cheddar cheese. Gramma loved their grits, and Robert the smothered potatoes. If you want to go beyond chicken and waffles, there’re plenty of options, but even if there wasn’t, who cares?! As for drinks, Roscoe’s earns my eternal love because they serve fresh-squeezed orange juice and Martinelli’s apple juice in the little glass apple bottles.

Another perk at Roscoe’s is our favorite waitress. We usually hit Roscoe’s on weekends, but one weeknight the Craving hit us, and we made a special venture. As we debated the gross gluttony of ordering chicken, waffles, cornbread AND biscuits, a huge, unsmiling black woman in a shirt custom-embroidered with “Momma Ella” ambled up. She immediately nudged THTM. “Git yer elbows offa my table! That’s it. No, sit up straight! Okay. Awright. Now. What does Momma’s babies want tonight? Mmm hmm… you want white or dark meat? Mmm hmmm…. And what can I get my babies to drink? Awright. Momma’ll take care of you.” Periodically, she’d come back to make sure THTM had his elbows offa the table (“That’s right! I better not see any elbows on my tables!”) and pinch our ears or whack the backs of our heads before she finally bore over our plates. “Awright, you know Momma loves you, don’t you, babies?” she said, slipping our chicken and waffles in front of us. Dudes…. I now make it a point to go visit Momma once a month. It’s the least I can do. She rocks the planet!

Roscoe’s can be inconsistent at times; on a few occasions, I’ve gotten a slightly overcooked waffle or biscuit that’s hard and tough, but the waiters have always replaced them quickly and effortlessly. It’s also worth mentioning that you should never go to Roscoe’s around 10 on Sunday morning and hope to get a table. Just don’t. Trust me on this.

And when you’re done with your chicken and waffles, be sure to grab a couple candies from the dish by the register (grape and cherry are best post-waffle treats). And wet naps. Lots of wet naps.


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