Wednesday, June 07, 2006
Addiction: it's better with friends
I have a problem. I am addicted to late night fast food. It is practically a given that if I go out for a drink, on the way home, I will stop at a greasy drive-through, order something disgusting (that at the time sounds like the most delicious thing ever), scarf it down before I get home, and eliminate the evidence before I step inside the apartment. About 20 minutes after I wake up the next morning, the realization of last night's gluttony hits. Ugh.
I never eat fast food in daylight. Ever. Not even tempted to. But my self-control turns into a pumpkin at midnight. I try to keep driving, but never succeed. It's kind of embarrassing. Saturday night was no exception, but it kind of was.
There's something special about my friend Geoff Oki. He can get away with things that most people can't. An example, at a friend's Christmas party a couple years ago, he arrived with a big box of T-shirts. They were designed like the ubiquitous "I Heart New York" tees, but instead said "I Heart Oki". Now, a man distributing T-shirts professing love for himself to his closest (and not-so-close) friends would generally tip off the megalomania alarm full blast. But the thing about Oki, if you know him, you do heart him. He's a hardworking and accomplished animator and music video director. He hobnobs with DJs, filmmakers, and all sorts of tall blonde characters. But, there is not a whit of ego to this boy. He manages to gracefully toe the line between ultra hip and genuinely nice like few others can.
He also likes to throw parties. Big parties. Most of us, if we were to invite our friends to a bar, might come up with 5, maybe 10 people. This year for his birthday, Oki took over Mountain Bar, a gorgeous 2-story bar/club in Chinatown, and filled the place. As Downtown LA tries to rebuild itself into an actual downtown with nightlife and culture, Chinatown's walking streets have become home to a growing cluster of art galleries. Mountain Bar sort of grew out of this artsy scene -- red walls, high ceilings, funky lighting fixtures. A dance floor and bar on each floor, and upstairs, the added benefit of cozy loungy couches. So, between the great venue and Oki's great people and great vibe, it was a fine night out.
It got even better. Sitting outside at one point, friends mentioned plans to go to El Gran Burrito afterwards. Sweet Jesus, enablers! The post-bar food run was actually preplanned! Genius! So as the night was winding down, we trekked to the corner of Santa Monica and Vermont, 6 people in total, for the late-night fix. But somehow it was different.
El Gran Burrito is currently my favorite taco stand in LA. Not so much for the food (the asada is decent, but not amazing), but the atmosphere. 1 indoor and 2 outdoor stands, long benches for sitting, extremely well lit. A crowd of after-bar kids like myself, but also at least 2 groups in various mariachi outfits, men in suits chatting with colorful weirdos, and various others who just felt the need for a taco at 2 am. The line moves fast, and Spanish is the preferred language of discourse. Fortunately, I have it down to a mantra: "Dos tacos de asada y una horchata, por favor." There's a salsa bar, with green, red, and avocado, along with spicy pickled vegetables. The tacos are simple here: 2 corn tortillas, and meat. So the salsa bar also provides onions and cilantro -- kind of nice if you don't want to overdo the raw onions.
I got my tacos, the rest of my group got their burritos (dense, substantial) and fried plantains (perfectly golden, just off-sweet, served with refried beans and lots of sour cream), and we took over a table. And we talked, and laughed, and ate. This is the way late night eats should go. No sneaking clandestine fries, no dripping grease in the car, no run-ins with seedy scary late-night charcters. As I sat with friends and ate food that came directly from actual vegetables and meats instead of freezer bags of prefab nuggets infused with artificial everything, my shameful late night ritual felt almost wholesome. (Does this mean I've broken free of the addiction? Um, probably not.)
El Gran is at 4716 Santa Monica Blvd, just west of Vermont Ave.
Mountain Bar is at 473 Gin Ling Way, which is a walking-only street off of Hill.
file under: dining out