Archive for June 2013

Shophouse is the Best Asian Fast Food Concept Ever Launched by a Major Corporation (Sorry Panda Express!)


Even though the myth of Momofuku has made its way from New York to the west coast, did you know that Ssam Bar, the second and arguably most popular restaurant in David Chang’s empire, was originally a burrito joint? In 2006, following the runaway success of Momofuku Noodle Bar, Chang went the fast casual route- opening Ssam Bar as a Chipotle style burrito cafeteria in the East Village.  There were flour tortillas and rice, but instead of carnitas there was pork belly. Roasted veggies were replaced by kimchi, and the “salsa” was Korean red bean paste.  Keep in mind this was a full 2 years before Roy Choi started stuffing tacos with short ribs and quesadillas with kimchi.   In other words, it was genius.  Sadly I might have been the only one who thought so, and Ssam Bar was quickly converted into the restaurant it is today.

But those Asian burritos left a mark on me, and I hoped one day that Chang would avenge his detractors by relaunching his only failed concept. A concept I believe in with all my fat encased heart.  Of course that is probably never going to happen, but when Chipotle first announced a few years ago that they’d be launching their own Asian concept called Shophouse, I found myself getting a little bit excited.

Midtown Lunch’s relationship with Chipotle has been quite the roller coaster ride.  Their burritos go against everything I believe a great burrito should be, and we won’t even talk about quesarito-gate.  But their work with Jamie Oliver and commitment to using sustainable and well sourced ingredients made me into a reluctant cheerleader.  But could Shophouse turn me into a true fan? Could this be the lunchtime, Asian burrito I had been hoping for?!

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Food is the New Rock: Roy Choi, Ecuadorian Food & the L.A. Street Food Fest

Just a couple of things to let you know about this week…

First… Food is the New Rock, the podcast I do with Chuck P from KCRW where we talk to chefs about music and bands about food, turned one year old this week.  And to celebrate our 50th episode we had Chef Roy Choi on the show.  Midtown Lunchers will know Roy as the genius behind Kogi & Chego, but there’s also Sunny Spot, A-Frame, and the soon to open Line Hotel in Koreatown. But we didn’t really talk about all that.  We talked about hip hop, Alice Cooper, and Grateful Dead parking lot egg rolls.  You can download the episode for free on iTunes or stream it from the Food is the New Rock website.

And speaking of the Food is the New Rock website, the 2013 list of Eater Young Guns was released this week, and on Sunday they’re having a big party at LACMA featuring food, drinks, and a performance by the up and coming OC band Yellow Red Sparks (get your tix here.)  We ended up asking their lead singer for some food recs, and he mentioned El Caserio- an Ecuadorian spot on Virgil.  Definitely sounds like a lunch that will be happening in my near future.

But wait.  There’s more!

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Yabu’s Soba is Better Than Sojibo (and Their Tempura Gives Hannosuke a Run for Their Money)


As great a lunch street as Sawtelle has become over the past few years not everybody is doing gangbusters. A parking spot might be hard to come by, but so is a steady stream of customers for some of the restaurants on this bustling strip- both new and old. Valley success story Ramen Jinya, who arguably started the L.A. ramen craze back in 2010, is being replaced by Downtown favorite Daikokuya after just a year.  Miyata Menji didn’t even last that long, making way for the new Tsujita Annex a couple of months ago.  Sawtelle Kitchen’s inoffensive white table cloth Japanese has gone the way of the dinosaurs, and I can’t help but think that Soba Sojibo isn’t far behind.  Itself a replacement for Spaghetti House by Orris, Sojibo isn’t bad but it isn’t great either.  And when faced with noodle competition like Tsujita, or even Tatsu and Nong La, it doesn’t really stand a chance.  Thankfully if you love soba there’s another option just down Pico from Sawtelle.


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Lunch Links (The “Best Dosa in L.A.” Edition)

Paru’s dosa. Photo courtesy of Squid Ink

  • DTLA Where to eat lunch when you have jury duty [Squid Ink]
  • DTLA Blossom is solid Vietnamese food [The Minty]
  • DTLA Your first look at Built Custom Burgers [AHT]
  • HWOOD Paru’s is the best dosa without going to Artesia [Squid Ink]
  • USC Azla Ethiopian has opened in La Paloma Market [Eater]
  • WEST LA Daikokuya is coming to Sawtelle [Eater]
  • WEST LA … and so is Shin Sen Gumi!? [Eater]