Certain corners of downtown Los Angeles feel like a real city, contained and thriving. They are individual blocks filled with storefronts, restaurants, bars, apartments and foot traffic.
The stretch of Broadway between 3rd and 4th streets, which is home to Grand Central Market, the DTLA Superette, a theater, multiple restaurants, bars and a store selling discount yoga pants, is one of those precious pockets.
It’s where I found my new favorite sandwich, a French-Mexican creation served at a counter in front of a bar with a speakeasy in the back, which I passed on my way to buy some butter at a cheese shop earlier. my reservation at a Korean restaurant with a tasting menu. The only thing that could make that sentence more LA is if it featured the highways I took to get there. That would be 210 to 134 to 2 to 5 to 110. Really.
But it’s gems like this that make me grateful to live in Los Angeles, where a bourguignon meat pie exists and makes sense.
Beef Bourguignon Pie from Fabby’s Sandwicherie
“It’s very Mexican, very Los Angeles and very French at its core,” Alejandro Guzmán says of his small sandwich shop, where he also serves beef tartare on a paper plate.
Guzmán, who has cooked at Le Comptoir and La Cha Cha Cha, deftly navigates the small kitchen at Fabby’s Sandwicherie, preparing cakes and toasting them in a panini press.
After moving to the United States from Mexico City, his first job was at his mother’s restaurant in North Hollywood, washing dishes, preparing and cutting carne asada.
“That’s how I got my allowance and how I paid for prom and all that when I was in school,” he says. “I told myself I would never go back to a kitchen and here I am in a kitchen, naming the restaurant after him.”
The cakes of the day are displayed like the dessert tray that some chain restaurants still serve after dinner. They sit atop a display case containing dozens of Bakers Kneaded naturally leavened, salty birote semi-baguettes.
I watched the bread and sandwiches from the window, and with just 50 minutes left until my dinner reservation, I stopped to share a meat pie bourguignon with my dining companion.
Guzmán makes what he describes as a fairly traditional Bourguignon, although he swaps out the French wine for a Grenache blend from the Guadalupe Valley. And he braises the meat for 24 hours, finishing it with butter to eliminate any pungent flavor that may arise from prolonged braising. What remains is juicy, dark and concentrated. You can taste the wine. You can taste the meat.
Before placing the meat on the bread, place a Joel Robuchon-style mashed potato that contains equal parts butter and potato. Add springy strands of Oaxaca cheese and quickly pickled carrots, cut into quarters for a powerful hit of acid and salt.
The heat from the panini press crisps up the already crispy baguette and melts the buttery potatoes into the rest of the sandwich. It’s pure decadence between two bread ships.
Guzmán serves the cake with a cup of red sauce based on a recipe he has been making since he worked at his mother’s restaurant. It’s garlicky and a little sweet, with a hint of heat from whole chiles de arbol.
“The red sauce is what really brings everything together as a Mexican dish,” he says.
Sandwiches, tartare and whatever else Guzmán cooks are available from noon to midnight. It is an ideal place to visit before or after having a drink at the two bars at the back of the restaurant. It also serves a weekend-only brunch tasting menu at the nearby Mignon Wine bar. Why? Why not?
Nem khao and pieng xeen from Yum Sະlut
Less than a mile north in Chinatown, you’ll find a Laotian pop-up-turned-restaurant operating in half of Lokels Only’s kitchen space next to a soul food restaurant.
This is where Tharathip Soulisak prepares food that reminds him of his mother’s cooking. His parents are refugees from Laos who moved to Virginia in the late 1970s. When Soulisak landed in California, he missed his mother’s cooking.
“I would go to a Thai restaurant and try to get them to modify the Thai dishes to make them taste a little more Laotian,” he said.
Thailand and Laos share a border, and many dishes overlap with similar flavors and ingredients. “But it never hit the mark,” she says.
Soulisak began making his own Laotian food, cooking for friends, and eventually becoming a contract chef. He moved into the Lokels Only space in March.
Nem khao is the dish that is on everyone’s table, more of an elaborate dish than a plate of food. About half the land is taken up by a mound of crispy rice studded with morsels of cured pork, peanuts, pork skin and green onion. The other half is a jumble of cilantro and mint tangled over lettuce leaves.
Soulisak cooks the rice in a liquid spiked with red curry paste, sugar and salt. Once cooked and cooled, you form the rice into balls, fry them, and then break them up. Fried rice crumbles are seasoned with fish sauce, sugar, lemongrass, galangal, makrut and shallots.
It’s easy to get distracted by the rice and forget about the mountain of lettuce and herbs. The rice is packed with the complex acidity of pork and lemongrass, and the distinctive, tangy smell of fish sauce. It’s wonderful on its own with a bite, but the lettuce wraps are half the fun. Place a mound of the rice mixture on top of the lettuce, load it with herbs, and dip it in one of the many sauces that arrive on the condiment cart that the staff brings to each table.
Soulisak’s crisp chili, made with various aromatics including Sichuan peppercorns fried in pork fat, is hard to resist. You can end up with a tablespoon over everything.
I will also recommend the pieng xeen. The grilled meat dish is accompanied by glutinous rice and a bowl of yum sະlut, a green salad. The rib-eye is marinated for at least a full day in lemongrass, oyster sauce, sugar, garlic and cilantro. It is grilled and served with two sauces. The first is an orange-hued fish sauce vinaigrette that Soulisak calls “crack sauce.” The second is jeow bee, a variation of the first, with the addition of beef bile.
“This is the most traditional sauce you see those guys hanging out around the grill at someone’s house eating,” he says. “We add a little sugar so it’s not too strong for people.”
The sauce has an austere meat, with a bitter and spicy touch and a lot of chili heat. Bring on the beef bile!
Paneer pinwheels and duck birria tacos from Baar Baar
If you’re near Crypto.com Arena, be sure to grab a meal at Baar Baar, the Los Angeles outpost of chef Sujan Sarkar’s New York Indian restaurant.
On a recent afternoon, almost all the seats were filled. Many diners were dressed in saris saturated with all the colors of the rainbow. The energy and good vibes of a big backroom party permeated the entire dining room.
Start the night with an order of Kashmiri duck birria tacos, one of the Los Angeles location’s signature dishes.
“Los Angeles really likes tacos,” Sarkar says. “Even Nobu has a taco. “We wanted to make tacos, but make it make sense.”
Braised duck meat is tucked into a crispy corn tortilla with shredded cheddar cheese, red onion, and cilantro. On the side is a cup of braising liquid, rich and warm with fenugreek seeds, cardamom and cinnamon.
Sarkar says he plans to make significant changes to the menu in January, but the tacos will remain, as will the paneer pinwheels.
“If we had a signature dish, this would be it,” says Sarkar. “Paneer is one of the staple foods in India. However, what you get here is not the same. “We wanted to make something that was as close to Indian paneer as possible.”
Sarkar decided on cheese and stuffing pinwheels, made with paneer slivers. He fills the cheese with ground almond and pistachio, onion, cilantro, green chili and homemade garam masala. Cheese and nuts are rolled into a pinwheel cake that is steamed and seared before serving. The cheese takes on the texture of al dente pasta and the filling is reminiscent of a tasty baklava.
The pinwheels come swimming in a creamy, spicy tomato sauce, thickened with cashews and heavy cream. There’s plenty to repurpose as a dipping sauce for the plate of naan you should order for the table.
Where to eat in downtown Los Angeles right now
Fabby’s Sandwicherie, 351 S. Broadway, Los Angeles, (818) 796-3897
Yum Sະlut, 635 N. Broadway, Los Angeles, (818) 795-5384
Baar Baar, 705 W. 9th St., Los Angeles, (213) 266-8989, baarbaarla.com