At the French restaurant where they both got their start, Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger discovered decidedly un-French cuisine in the privacy of the kitchen: homespun Oaxacan and Yucatan recipes prepared by their fellow chefs. The duo promptly untied their aprons, loaded them into a VW Beetle, and took off for a road trip to Mexico in 1985, where they sampled and studied delicacies prepared at beachside taco stands and family barbecues. Three restaurants, two gourmet food trucks, five cookbooks, hundreds of episodes of Food Network's Too Hot Tamales, and sizzling appearances on Top Chef Masters later, their Border Grill eateries add contemporary twists to authentic Mexican cuisine. Guests are greeted by dining rooms originally designed by the architect Josh Schweitzer, who is Mary Sue's husband and Susan's childhood friend. Within their walls, healthful plates enhanced by seasonal fruits and vegetables and fresh salsas roll into handmade tortillas or revel beneath cotija cheese. Devoted to sustainable eating, Border Grill infuses its dishes with sustainable seafood, organic rice and beans, and hormone-free meats, as well as Good for the Planet, Good for You meals made from at least 80% plant-based ingredients, just like Captain Planet's faux-leather jacket.
Before you die, you must eat one of Chichen Itza Restaurant’s panuchos. At least that’s the opinion of LA Weekly food critic Jonathan Gold, who included the appetizer on his list of 99 essential L.A. eats. The turkey-stuffed corn tortillas kick off chef Gilberto Cetina's menu, which contains original recipes as well as Mayan, Spanish, and Lebanese dishes traditionally found in Cetina's native Yucatan. Among the selection of mesquite-grilled entrees is the cochinita pibil, a pork dish that Gilberto marinates with sour orange juice and spices before cooking it in banana leaves. The dish's “succulent, aromatic, tender, irresistible pork” is so sought after that Gilberto makes up to 60 pounds a day, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Chichen Itza is located inside Mercado La Paloma, an upscale food court whose restaurants, bakery, and juice bar have attracted attention from local press. Patrons approach the restaurant’s counter to order their meal and then wait at linen-dressed tables for servers to present their selected dishes.
Devan and Reena Shah, and Tek Mehreteab are passionate about tea. By sourcing leaves from eight regions in India, China, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, and Japan, they are able to proffer more than 300 standard and specialty varieties online and inside Chado Tea Room. The name Chado, taken from the Chinese cha, meaning "tea," and the Japanese do, meaning "path," speaks to the owners’ strict standards for their product. Many of their green, black, white, and oolong teas are USDA-certified organic; the Shahs also stock unique varieties such as Chinese pu-er teas and hand-tied blooming tea balls. In addition, they brew special house blends for morning, afternoon, and evening, helping customers find the right blend to start the day or serve to bats that have invaded their home.
Staffers pair teas with an array of cream-topped scones, cookies, cakes, and roasted savory sandwiches during teatime at Chado's three tearooms. Though each location is decorated differently, the same three-tiered sandwich platters and steaming pots of tea travel between panda paintings hanging in the Los Angeles location, underneath strings of holiday lights at the Pasadena location, and between ceiling-high wooden shelves stocked with mugs, filters, teapots, and bags of loose-leaf tea at the Hollywood location.
After opening their first store in Anaheim in 1993, the grocery gurus behind Super King Markets noticed the globe-spanning diversity of their customer base. This keen insight led them to stock shelves with brands from across the world and around the corner, a policy which helped them win LA Weekly's Best Ethnic Deli Counter of 2009, Best Place to Buy Nutella of 2010, and Best Palace of Cheap Produce of 2011. Now expanded to five locations, the store still fills each outpost with fruits and vegetables, quality meats and private-label seafood, and an assortment of shells in the mixed-nut bar. Staff members behind the service deli weigh imported salamis, caviar, and cheeses for their upcoming high-school wrestling matches, and clerks in the liquor aisle dole out advice on each spirited beverages. Additionally, the Los Angeles, Altadena, and Claremont locations invite shoppers to linger longer with an expansive fresh bakery.
When co-founders Luis Quismorio, Ruben Perez, and Anthony Bermudez began plotting their market, they envisioned a place where fresh, healthy produce, groceries, and meats met the standards of upscale stores and the budget of an average Joe. At Figueroa Produce, their dream is realized thanks to groceries that, like new slang words for "tractor," are sourced from local farmers and small foreign distributors alike. Colorful bouquets of freshly plucked fruits and veggies claim a big chunk of the shop's floor space, appealing to both the mouth and eyes with organic produce from the South Central Farmers Co-op and regional farmers who form personal rapports with store staff. The grocery section represents exotic locales from New Zealand to Mexico in its bounty of mostly organic and all-natural products, many of which are free of artificial components. At the deli, staff members slice grass-fed beef from Open Space Meats, organic and free-range poultry, and specialty cheeses for at-home use or service in overstuffed sandwiches. Vegan or vegetarian eaters can also get in on the deli action, devouring sandwiches loaded with ingredients from brands including Teese, Diva, and Tofurkey.
The complexity involved in the creation of traditional Polish cuisine presents an overwhelming obstacle for many new restaurants. Not so for Polka Polish Cuisine, where husband-and-wife team Andrew and Katherine Dabrowski turned the savings from Andrew's big rig career and staggering credit-card loans into a success story. Now in the capable hands of Katherine's relative Mike Budny, the medium-sized strip mall eatery has blossomed into an area gem featured in a segment on Food Network's Diners, Drive-ins and Dives. Budny's chefs grill up regular and spicy kielbasa, marinate beef stew gulasz (goulash) for 24 hours, and hide sauerkraut, potatoes, or cheese inside pierogies' doughy pockets. Amid Polka's kitschy, playful décor of trophy buck heads, whimsical signs, and multicolored ceiling tiles, patrons slake thirsts with 10 varieties of herbal tea and end meals on a dulcet chord with nalesniki, crêpes stuffed with sour cherries and cheese, drenched in vodka, and set ablaze as a tribute torch to a memorable meal and to the infamous flaming peaks of Poland's Carpathian Mountains.