FAZ'S GUIDE TO EATING IN LOS ANGELES — JUNE 2015

Six months into living in Los Angeles, lots of kickass food, and a hodgepodge of questionable choices later, I decided that I should whip up a food guide. Granted, I've been in LA for a very little amount of time, and never mind that I'm no food writer — I love good food, especially when it comes at a good price. 

Other than my never-fail In N Out protein style, animal style with raw onions and chopped peppers order, here's a comprehensive guide to my favourite places to eat in LA.

Seafood

If you told me I had to spend the rest of my life eating only seafood and nothing else, I would really have no complaints. My husband, too, loves seafood as much as I do, so skip Red Lobster and try these places instead .

Spinfish Poké House in Pasadena & Sweetfin Poké in Santa Monica

There are few things in life that will never fail you, and Spinfish's, and Sweetfin's poké bowl are two of the best raw-fish-in-a-bowl deliciousness that never fails me. I've tried five poké spots in LA so far, and I keep going back to Spinfish because it's closer to home, the portions are generous and the service is second to none. Spinfish has such good sauce combos. I'm a fan of Sweetfin's toppings, and green bamboo rice. I mean, who doesn't like green rice?

Boiling Crab, Multiple locations

You've probably heard of Boiling Crab from your friends who have visited Los Angeles and photographed themselves in adult bibs before tucking into cajun-style crabs. While this style of cooking and serving seafood has seen imitators all over the world, John and I keep going back to Boiling Crab because it's tried, tested and loved to death. We get the shrimp over crabs and always take it to go. 

Mexican

I mean, in a country that birthed the greatest pick-your-own Mexican fast food restaurant in the world (i.e.: Chipotle), it's hard to go wrong with Mexican food. Unfortunately, you can come across shitty Mexican that'll make you want to throw your burrito against the wall. Like Makciks in hawker centres who serve up sugar-laden, bastardized versions of Nasi Padang to cut costs. 

Pinches Tacos, Multiple locations

It's not a cat that got this cow's tongue for sure. 🐮👅 #VSCOcam #sorryfastingfriends #tacos #tacodelengua #mexican #tacotuesdays

A photo posted by 🐰 Faz Abdul Gaffa-Marsh (@fazabdulgaffa) on

Pinches is one of the spots I fell in love with the first time in LA and I keep going back, and bringing guests to, because nothing in their menu is mediocre. It will always be an explosion in your mouth. The spot is affordable, and opens late too.

La Azteca Tortilleria in East LA

This an old school tortilleria in East Los Angeles has been open for 65 years. Their burritos, touted as the best in Los Angeles on LA Weekly, are assembled with freshly made tortillas, which strangely, tastes like crispy of prata! It's cheap - under ten bucks, and it's frills-free and a hole-in-the-wall spot. It's worth noting that La Azteca is closed Mondays and opened from Tues-Sat 6 AM - 3:30 pm and Sun 6 AM - 2:30 PM.

Cha Cha Chili in Alhambra

Located close to my favourite Asian supermarket in all of LA, Cha Cha Chili dishes up some Asian-fusion Mexican food. Don't bother with anything else — just go straight for their Adam Richman-approved chimichanga. The beef chimichanga we shared was a beef bulgogi, fried to crispy perfection and slathered with a tangy, slightly spicy creamy sauce. It's worth noting that they dish up really big portions.

ASIAN/ ASIAN FUSION

While I love fortune cookies, American Chinese food is whack. I am appalled by Panda Express and everything else people try to pass off as "Asian" in this country. And sure, I can probably never find an honest-to-goodness Singaporean food joint, there are a handful of Asian food places I love.

Take A Bao in Studio City

We went to Take A Bao a few months ago, and I love it. It's a chic Asian fusion restaurant and dishes up delicious bowls, baos and more. Ask to have their cocktails as mocktails like I did if you don't do alcohol. Super yummy.

Suriya Thai in Pasadena

You can find Thai food EVERYWHERE in LA, but you come across a lot of shitty ones. This one is dope. It's authentic, quick and it's actually spicy unlike a lot of Thai spots that have been dumbed down for American Chick Fil A palates. 

Jitlada in Thai Town

Jitlada is one of those places that everybody knows. They've been featured in just about all the magazines in the city and can be overhyped. It gets really expensive for Thai food, but it's good. They have a massive menu, so much that a blogger went through a quest of devouring all 300 items. They don't skimp on the spice when you ask to make it extra spicy, so it's a winner.

RANDOS, BUT DAMN GOOD ONES

Some people would categorise this as American, but I think American is burgers and fries, so these are a little deviated.

Scratch Bar in Beverly Hills

This tapas-style restaurant is located on restaurant row, and is downright phenomenal. Adventurous eating, quirky taste combinations and incredibly insightful staff go hand-in-hand here and you won't be disappointed. The staff explains what goes into your food, and how best to eat each dish, which makes the experience even more memorable. Don't leave unless you've ordered their Foie, uni and marshmellow masterpiece pictured above.

Roscoe's Chicken & Waffles, Multiple locations

All sensibility should be left at the door when you go to Roscoe's. This Southern style eatery is an LA institution is nothing but healthy but it's good. Fried chicken, waffles with a slab of butter, mac and cheese. All American, all around. Admittedly, I got a headache when I ate there for the first (and only) time from the amount of salt used in the food, probably.

More will be added from time to time, just bookmark this! ;o)


ONE POT. TWO HOURS. HEALTHY PULLED CHICKEN!

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One of the things I've always wanted to own is a slow cooker. My mum didn't like the idea of slow cooking - she has a pressure cooker to make it all go by faster. While I understand the appeal of pressure cookers, I wanted pull-apart moist perfection that is not always achievable in a pressure cooker. That, and I'm bloody terrified of getting scalded by the steam from pressure cookers.

After a painful bout of food poisoning over the weekend from a Mexican spot, I got inspired by Natasha's food and decided that I wanted gluten-free chicken wraps for the week. Instead of throwing them chicken breasts in the oven or grilling them over the stove like I usually do, I decided to slow cook them over the stove.

Here's what I used:

  • 5 tablespoons of Chilli paste - I have chilli paste from grounded dry chilli ready for cooking all the time. You can choose not to use chilli paste and just use pepper instead.
  • 1 red bell pepper
  • 4 stalks of celery
  • 1 habanero
  • 200g of baby carrots
  • Half a large onion
  • 500g of chicken breast
  • Water
  • 1 teaspoon of dill

Chop up all the vegetables roughly. I chopped up the chicken too. Put all the ingredients into a pot, and pour water into the pot. Make sure the water covers all the ingredients and set it over a very low flame. 

Check it from time to time to make sure the water doesn't spill over. I honestly thought it would take about three hours, but by two, the chicken was pulling itself apart in the pot, and it was ready. Fish the chicken out from the broth, and pull it apart with a fork, it should come apart really easily.

Don't throw away the broth. It'll make a great noodle soup (which is what my husband is having for dinner tonight!)

WHAT LIVING WITH YOUR HUSBAND IS LIKE IF YOU'VE NEVER LIVED WITH EACH OTHER BEFORE

I have never lived with my husband before December 2014. Sure, we've travelled together, and I've visited many, many, many times but anybody can tell you that travelling and visiting are two completely different things from actually living in the same household.

We never co-habited partly because of geography, and partly because of religious beliefs, in particular, our parents' religious beliefs. In the course of our relationship (and we were together 4.5 years before we got married, so you can trust me on this), we have been told enough times that we should move in together before we get married. Apparently, you wouldn't truly know someone unless you've lived together.

Sure, I understand the excitement of moving in together, domestic bliss and all that jazz, but I don't think it'll make much of a difference. Say, for instance, you moved in with a man you're sure you want to spend the rest of your life with, are you really going to break up if he doesn't wash his plates after he eats? And likewise, is he going to dump you when he sees how you look in the morning? I highly doubt it.

Everybody can change, everybody can adjust and adapt. I call bullshit on people saying that you wouldn't really know your partner unless you've lived together. I've known John for slightly more than four years before I showed up in his bachelor pad with three suitcases full of clothes and shoes and makeup and he is exactly the same person as he was before I moved in.

He's had to change some things he does around the house, like where he leaves his clothes for laundry, for example, because that cupboard is now what I use as one of my wardrobe spaces. And likewise, I've had to change some things that I've gotten used to, like, sleeping diagonally on my queen-sized bed.

I've been grumbling to myself how our bed feels too small, and I miss sleeping alone until John fell ill and moved himself to the couch so I didn't fall sick. Let's just say it was a lonely four nighter.

You learn to be patient. I know that John has lived by himself his whole adult life, and I, with my family. We both make little, gradual changes to make our lives cohesive. Sometimes, he annoys me but then, he drives me to get froyo and all is right in the world again. And me? We can now henceforth refer to March 2015 The Great Tampon Incident where I flushed tampons down the toilet, and then clogged it the f**k up (in my defence, I've been flushing tampons down the loo my whole life.)

Embracing quirky living habits is something that you need to learn to deal with. John can't fathom how I don't mind being at home the whole day writing up a storm; when he's not in the office, he enjoys writing in cafes. On the other hand, I prefer to work on my stomach, on the bed, with my materials sprawled around me. I've freelanced successfully for many years this way, and it's not about to change.

I'm not saying that you should only live with your partner after you're married, you can really do whatever you want. All I'm saying it - I'm calling bullshit on all those people who've told us we should live together before getting married.

As John says, you do you.

THE DAY I WATCHED AN ELLEN DEGENERES SHOW TAPING

If you've checked something off your bucket list, does it mean that you can't do it again?

I sure hope not.

When John and I were in our long distance relationship years and I'd fly to LA to spend time with him, the next thing I do after I book tickets is to try and get myself tickets to watch an Ellen taping. It's literally taped a skip and a hop away from John's place, or like, home for me now, which is really really ideal. So, since I've booked my tickets to move to this side of the world, I've fervently applied to get tickets for an Ellen show taping - practically every day whenever a new date shows up on their site.

All that said, here's a low-down of everything you need to know about watching an Ellen Show taping:

HOW TO GET TICKETS

Tickets to watch the show are free and you get the tickets by balloting for them on Ellen's website. 

There are VIP Tickets (which I've no idea how you get), Guaranteed Tickets and Standby Tickets. I got notice a month before the taping that I received guaranteed tickets for Mon, 9 March. Unfortunately, my husband has to work (and can't skip work, and then show up on TV). They contacted me again to let me know that the show on Monday was cancelled, and they gave me a ticket for Tuesday, 10 March instead. I was given a ticket that I had to print out and was told to be there by 2pm.

WHAT TO WEAR

You're going to be on TV, dress up. There was this girl who looked totally over the top - a too-tight romper with butt cheeks hanging out, super high wedges, heavy eye makeup with false lashes that look like camel lashes. I wish I had taken a photo to say 'what not to do'.

You're told to wear bright solid colours and you should. Avoid prints, dark colours and black and white. Bonus points if you're not White, because 90 percent of the audience is White.

WHAT TIME SHOULD I BE THERE

I am a bona fide Singaporean. I will never queue for doughnuts, I have never queued for an H&M collaboration, but if I have to, I will stand in line. I arrived at about 11.30am, when my ticket said I should be there by 2pm. I checked in with security and got a stamp and was told to be back there by 1.30pm if I wanted to leave.

I could walk back home and come back since home is ten minutes away, but since I had a book with me, I got comfortable and started reading. I was also strategically seating myself as close to the start of the guaranteed tickets line, of course.

WHAT HAPPENS AT 2PM

Production staff will come out about 1.30pm and let you know the protocol. At about 2pm, they will tell you to start queuing up. Since I was strategically seated, and alone, I manoeuvred myself to get in line. I let an old couple go in front of me to you know, because I don't want to bulldoze over seniors.

WHAT HAPPENS AFTER?

VIPs get to go in first, but being VIP doesn't really determine where you sit. You're led through security - no tablets, no sharp objects, no cameras and basically - everything you can't and won't bring on a plane, you shouldn't bring to Ellen. You get seated in a long hallway that is lined with photos of Ellen and her guests

You sit there for a while, according to the order of your number tags before moving to what they call the riff raff room. This is the room where they house people who didn't get to sit in the show - they get to watch it from there and sometimes, they send the show's guests back there as well. These people are usually holding standby tickets and they get to watch the show taping on TV monitors.

The riff raff room also houses the Ellen Shop, where I purchased Ellen underwear for Natasha and a money clip for my brother.

AFTER WAITING FOR ABOUT TEN MINUTES...

You get ushered into the stage, according to your designated numbers. The VIPs went in first, but there were actual seaters in the audience. Like I said earlier, they want to make it seem like the audience is diverse, so if you're young, a minority, dressed bright, chances are, you'll be seated in front and in the aisles - basically, where the camera pans to the most.

I was in the front row corner. Here's proof:

WHAT FREE SH*T DID ELLEN SEND US HOME WITH?

The performing guest on the show was Earth, Wind and Fire and obviously they sent us home with a pair of tickets each to catch their Heart And Soul Tour in the summer. We also got $200 gift cards to Houzz.


THINGS NOBODY TOLD YOU ABOUT MOVING ACROSS THE WORLD

And so it's March. My official first month of unemployment since... I don't remember when. Granted I still have a handful of clients, writing assignments and regular email pitches to send out, but it has been a while since I don't have a routine and since my job at Sassy Singapore ended last week, I have been trying not to feel like an invalid.

Save for the few months when a magazine I worked at shut down during the recession, I have never not been busy in my life. When I didn't have a full time gig, I had freelance gigs, and even when I had a regular gig the past few years, I was also juggling multiple things at the same time. It's bizarre to suddenly... have time. I know it's temporary... this waiting on immigration papers thing before I can get a job and actually feel normal. But still strange for now.

That aside, you're told a lot of things before you embark on a new part of your life. You're not just there "for the time being while you study", you're not there to travel. You know you will miss your mum and her food, you know you will miss your regular $3 nasi campur spot and your raw fish bowl lunches with your BFF. But on the other hand, here are some things nobody told you about moving across the world...

#1 It's a lonely business

I know the expat wife struggle in Singapore (aside from the skanky SPGS trying to steal their husbands, and the flip side, husbands who can't keep it in their pants). Unlike people who move to another country for school, or for work, I am not in an environment at this moment where I will be interacting with people. I go to the gym, and I go home to cook. I make friends with John's friends, but I don't have any of my own yet.

Thank GOD for technology of course. I fervently be WhatsApping Natasha, I have a daily Facetime date with my Mama, texting my cousin in Sydney, multiple social media-ing with Andrea, amongst other things. 

#2 You spend too long a time trying to figure out currency.

Let's start with the fact that I am incapable of counting. So first, I have to figure out what the Singapore is, against what I'm about to purchase. Of course XE.com doesn't give you the same rates as the bank, and the bank rates in Singapore are different from that here.

On top of that, American money in itself is confusing. Why did they make all the dollar bills the same colour?! Plus, I have only managed to identify what a quarter dollar coin is, so I have a very full ziplock bag of coins.

#3 What used to work for your hair and skin no longer works.

Save for Nigel my monthly period zit that I just leave be, I know what to do to my skin when it's acting up, etc. I had it down pat - between a facialist, to go-to products, from my hair all the way down to my toes. Suddenly, I have to figure all that out again. I've thankfully, found a drugstore shampoo + conditioner combo that works and keeps my curls instead of straightening out - which happens heaps to my fine hair here when there's no humidity. I've found an Indian auntie who threads my brows, and I'm still depending on Dermalogica.

Unfortunately, for the first time in my life, I get ashy! I drink 3 litres of water a day and I'm still dry. I put light moisturizer on in Singapore, but I have to depend on those thick, heavy duty soufflé types. And oils! I love face oils and I'm dependant on Josie Maran's all day errrday. I've yet to find a good drugstore makeup remover and a water-based sunscreen (Biore, I miss you), but I'll have it figured out.

Have I mentioned my lips are always dry now? FML.

#4 Water doesn't taste the same.

It's a weird thing I have. I love the convenience of drinking water from the tap, and thankfully, you can drink tap water in LA too. Unfortunately, water doesn't taste like water that you're used to for over 20 years of your existence. I mean, when you travel, you brush it off because you're going to come home anyway, but I'm still trying to get used to the taste of water. Which is such a weird thing to say.