Bally's is a standard chain workout club. This is a place where salesman happily give you a tour, happily tell you all about the facilities, happily tell you there is always help available... but a place where once you sign on the dotted line, there isn't a helping hand anyway. They are all too busy giving tours and getting new members. I once spend fifteen minutes trying to find someone to help me with a broken piece of equipment, only to be told: everyone is giving a tour right now. If you can't afford the smaller and more expensive chains, Bally's is a sufficient series of clubs with lots of workout equipment and an abundance of classes. I find the locker rooms at this branch slightly dirty and unkempt. And of course, there is a parking lot for which you must pay everytime. In short, sufficient to work out but nothing special.
I was fortunate enough to discover this gem of a restaurant on Third Street in Los Angeles before it became so popular. I was able to have many meals in a quiet, peaceful restaurant before it was "discovered" and now has a never ending line, especially on the weekend mornings. However, it is worth the wait. Toast serves amazing omelets and breakfast dishes. My favorite is the do-it-yourself omelette. I always use goat cheese and bacon which they whip up in an amazing and delicious dish. It comes with toast (obviously) and a dish of fresh fruit -- and I mean fresh, there is never a blemish in the bunch. The staff is very friendly and the prices are very reasonable. I really enjoy the atmosphere and there are plenty of places to stroll afterwards and "work off" your breakfast. This is a real find.
It's pretty bold of me to say Langer's serves the best pastrami sandwich in the world, but having eating at the best of them (Carnegie Deli, Stage Deli, etc, etc, etc), I can attest to the fact that this is indeed the best. It's not exactly the easiest restaurant to get to, or the most glamorous, as it is situated near downtown Los Angeles near MacArthur Park. There is a small parking lot nearby and they close at 3 pm. But it is well worth the trip. Although they serve plenty of standard deli fare, I've never tried any of it as I'm not wasting a trip to Langer's on anything else. The pastrami comes completely lean and fatless. The rye bread is "double baked," as they say and the effect is staggeringly good. Get a side of Russian Dressing on the side and you'll be in deli heaven. Try Langer's for a pastrami sandwich unlike any other you've tried.
Just when I thought I'd given up searching for authentic Southern bbq, I came upon The Pig, located across the street from that hot dog institution which I don't understand, Pink's. The Pig was started by a true Southerner from Memphis who brought his ribs and pork here with him. The pulled pork sandwhich, my own special favorite from home, is delicious. Not too sweet, and served on a bun with cole slaw. I haven't tried the ribs because I love the pork sandwhich so much. I love the selection of old fashioned bottled soda drinks such as root beer and grape, too. There is indoor and outdoor dining but beware, this place gets a crowd at lunch and evenings. So I opt for the off-hours where I can enjoy my sandwhich (or two) in peace.
For those times when I want the real thing, I travel to El Cholo of Hollywood, far and away my favorite Mexican restaurant in Los Angeles. Even though there are branches in Pasadena and Santa Monica, it just doesn't seem as tasty or authentic as in the original location. The bar is always hopping with margaritas that always get raves. The fajitas are outstanding and come sizzling enough to fog up your glasses. The chips and salsa served prior to the meal are extremely addicting, beware! But far and away, my favorite is the green corn tamale, served seasonal in midyear. I always go in the summer for my birthday and am never disappointed at these sweet treats which I douse with sour cream. Yum. And just when you're so full you think you can't eat anything else, a sinful praline comes along with your check (maybe they want you sugared out before you see the bill which isn't necessarily cheap -- but worth it). I always take out of towners to El Cholo and they always come back wanting to go again. It's
I love El Pollo Loco. Although I wouldn't characterize it as Mexican food, it is fast food with a Mexican twist. It is always served hot and delicious. My basic order is a two piece combo which consists of a breast and wing (which are marinaded in spices) and two sides, one of which is always the smoky beans which taste more like barbequed beans from the South. Your meal comes with fresh corn or flour tortillas. I have an affinity for their cole slaw as well. Occasionally, when I'm lazy, I get the El Pollo Bowl where they do all the work: cut up chicken, rice and smoky beans in a bowl. It is delicious. For those with a sweet tooth, there is a Fosters Freeze there, too, which offers ice cream. The prices at EPL are low low low. It is well worth the visit.
Having spent some time eating noodles across Japan, I was delighted to discover this gem in a mini-mall in West Los Angeles. Yokohama Ramen is a tiny restaurant which makes the most authentic Yaki Soba I've eaten since Tokyo. I have had it, conservatively, 30 times and it gets better and better each time. A plate full of delicious noodles in a mild sauce with chicken. It is a true taste of Japan. They also specialize in ramen noodle bowls and specials of the day which have includes many versions of fish. The wait staff is friendly and smiling and always happy to greet you. There are always a lot of Japanese customers, which always makes me feel homesick for Asia. Beware though, they are closed Tuesday nights (which I found out the hard way one Tuesday evening when I had to turn around and go home soba-less).
Whenever I'm in the mood for California Chinese (i.e. not your same old chow mein), I head for one of the Chin Chin locations. This particular branch is my favorite for its great service and delicious food. My favorite item on the menu, hands down, is the Main Mein. This is a throwback for me to the peanut sesame noodles I loved in New York. This version is a large plate of sesame noodles which are very tangy. There is more than enough for several meals, or for sharing with someone else who is hopefully ordering the dumplings which I love as well. I wasn't that thrilled with the Chinese Chicken Salad so I stick with my favorite. For dessert, there is a fortune cookie dipped in chocolate that can't be beat. This is also one of those places that you can dine alone with a book and not feel self conscious at all. Chin Chin is highly recommended.
I have been to every branch of California Chicken Cafe but I must say I love the Encino branch the best. The seating area is large even when there's a crowd (which is always) I don't seem to have to fight for a seat like at the Westwood or Santa Monica branches, or feel everyone hovering over you as at the tiny Hollywood version. This place makes terrific and very large salads. My personal favorite is the Chinese Chicken Salad. Although I must admit, I have them doctor it up a bit by having their superb Balsamic Vinegrette instead of the one that normally comes on it. I have also tried the Cobb Salad which is great, and several of the wraps which are very tasty. And of the side dishes, I hold a fondness for the butternut squash. I really enjoy the fact that they are more than happy to fix the salad any way you like, from scratch, and serve it quickly, with some pita bread stuck on top. The prices are incredibly reasonable and you will leave full and happy that you got your daily veggies in such a deli
Is there an ailing that can't be cured with a piece of See's Candy? Housed in the Fashion Square Mall in Sherman Oaks, California, See's Candy can cheer up even the grouchiest person. They sell a wide variety of mouth watering chocolates by the piece or by the pound. In fact, they are happy to sell you just one piece, and give you a featured sample as well. (Tip: If you don't like the featured sample, they will change the sample to something you do like.) I also have a fondness for the See's Suckers which come in various flavors, chocolate being my favorite. Obviously, the store is mobbed during the big candy holidays such as Easter, Mother's Day, and Valentine's Day. But the wait is worth it. My only gripe is when a young person happens to wait on you. Nothing against youngsters but I love the elderly grandma types who just seem like they were hired by Mary See personally.