Figueroa Phillys makes its name with best cheesesteak in LA

He left the comedy stage for cheesesteak, and the crowds are going wild

Danny Hizami awaits his next happy client

With franchise sub shops on every block serving up mass-produced generic sub sandwiches, many of us have forgotten what a true Philly cheesesteak tastes like. If you want to experience the real deal — the Philly cheesesteak that hardcore Philadelphians clamored for at the recent Eagles vs Rams game at Exposition Park, then get in line at Figueroa Philly.

At the corner of Figueroa 39th Street, across from the stadium, the fast-and-friendly restaurant that Danny Hizami opened up seven years ago has stayed on top of its game by offering up the highest quality ingredients, like Boar’s Head meats, that give the eatery the edge that has kept crowds coming back year after year.

When Hizami, a former stand-up comedian, decided to convert his father’s former Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant into a Philly Cheesesteak shop, he made it his mission to bring the most authentic and delicious cheesesteak to LA. He traveled the eastern US researching and personally tasting the best hoagies, and he brought back the proverbial secret sauce that has made his restaurant famous. From his inauspicious opening day, when he sold just six subs, Hizami is now filling the house, selling upwards of 500 subs on peak days.

With an original menu of traditional subs, like their most popular sandwich, the Figueroa Philly — made with steak, fresh onions, bell peppers, mushrooms and your choice of cheese, Hazami began attracting cheesesteak fans. As diverse patrons, from students from nearby USC and sports fans, to conventioneers and tourists, frequented the restaurant, Hazami expanded the menu to please his clientele, adding specialty subs like “Flaming” Hot Cheeto Cheesesteak, The Yin Yang Philly, and the Texas, Buffalo and Boston Philly subs.

The menu also includes a line-up of deli delights, Mia’s Famous Hoagies, named for his daughter, featuring a variety of thickly-layered Boar’s Head meat sandwiches; and Laura’s Hot Wings, named for Hazami’s wife, available with Mango Habanero or Buffalo Hot Sauce.

For regulars, the restaurant has a “secret menu” of subs that are available by request. The menu also features limited-time subs, like the LA Street Dog Cheesesteak, a $12 sub that will be served only on Sunday, December 30, 2018, as a nod to National Bacon Day. The sub includes a bacon-wrapped hot dog, steak and topped off with melted Cheese Wiz.

Hizami’s inventive sub creations and careful sourcing of ingredients have earned Figueroa Phillys the distinction of Best Cheesesteak in LA by CBS, an honor which Hizami says is made possible due to simple economics and real estate values. He says as the owner of the premier real estate where the shop sits, which has been in his family for 40 years, he does not have the overhead of a lease, which enables him to spend more where it matters to his customers.

“I can buy the finest ingredients, which my competitors can’t do,” he says. “Our quality is what sets us apart.”

No matter what you order, if “Danny” — as he’s known to regulars — is behind the counter, it will be served with a broad smile. Its clear to see by his charismatic personality, exuded as he greets customers by name, patting them on the back, thanking them for their patronage, and cracking jokes like you’d expect from a former comedian — that he loves his work. By the faces of those enjoying their food, his clients love him too — or at least they love their Philly cheesesteak. Ba-dum-ch.


Um, um, convenient. Pink Dot delivers again

LA’s legendary Pink Dot is back with fresh fare and  more products on demand

Expect to see more of those adorable polka-dotted VW bugs on LA’s side streets, as Pink Dot is buzzing again. The LA-unique uber-convenience delivery service that delivers milk, baby wipes, or even a casual dinner to your door, within minutes, is expanding its offerings and keeping Angelenos stocked up with just about whatever they need, day or night.


For the busy parents, workaholics and other shut-ins, Pink Dot brings the goods to keep you going.  If you noticed a few more of the branded bugs on the road over the last few years, that’s because new owner Sol Yamini has dedicated himself to reviving the service that he had grown up on. With a new website in 2017, and a brand refresh, Yamini has focused on Weho and LA delivery areas, operating out of the flagship store on Sunset Boulevard.

The service has adding upgraded items, like sandwiches made with Boar’s Head deli meats and Clark Street bread, and first-ever delivery options, such as a Cocktails on Demand kits.


A bit of history: Before there was Amazon Express, there was Pink Dot. The original owner, entrepreneur Bill Toro, launched the concept in 1987, and by 1999 he had opened 12 locations.. As happens with many great ideas, the company expanded too soon too fast, and by 2001 the darling of LA side streets was on the verge of bankruptcy.


Yamini acquired the stalled out business and gave it some gas.  Now Pink Dot is hitting the streets of WeHo and LA again, with a vengeance. With the same buggies but a new look and improved technology to make ordering easy, and tons of new products, the polka-dotted bugs are back, zipping around the city from 9 am to 2 am, getting LA loafers what they want, when they want it, within 45 minutes.

Santa Monica’s Tumbi Takes Modern Indian Cuisine to the Next Level

From street food to haute cuisine, Chef Imran Ali Mookhi’s menu is an epicurean journey across India

Forget everything you know about Indian food when you step into Tumbi. On a trendy stretch of Santa Monica Boulevard, where a common Indian restaurant would not survive the what’s-next Westsider crowd, this upscale craft Indian kitchen is bustling, even on a typically slow week night. Certainly, the food itself is an allure, but the cool ambiance and outstanding service at this Santa Monica Indian eatery round out an excellent dining experience.


Chef Imran Ali Mookhi’s modern twist on Indian faire is inventive and daring, but of course first you must figure out what to order on a menu that seems exotic even to Indian food fans. Luckily, the serving staff is eager to help.


As our server was quick to note, Tumbi is unlike any other Indian restaurant. The menu is a mix of Indian gourmet foods and traditional street food, organized in categories equivalent to appetizers, entrees, and sides, listed as Start, Street, Tandoor, Dosa, Pot, and Side. With a quick primer, we learned that on average people order about five different items from the menu to share.

20180724_045227617_iOS20180724_050654561_iOS20180724_050953601_iOSEven for someone like myself who is intimidated by Indian food, due to my lack of knowledge about it, the server’s enthusiasm and warm manner was inviting, and her descriptions of the food and its preparation made the menu intriguing yet accessible. When the chef learned I was a newcomer to Indian cuisine, he came out to give his recommendations.

We started with a bursting-with-freshness heirloom tomato and caramelized pineapple salad with turmeric yogurt and mustard oil. This we enjoyed with a side of garlic naan. Our server relayed that the nanna bread here is known as “phenomenal,” in varieties of traditional, garlic, and malai.

We followed with a signature dish called Butter Chicken, figuring you can’t go wrong with any dish with both ‘butter’ and ‘chicken’ in the name. The savory boneless leg meat is simmered for 10 hours in a in mildly spicy tomato curry sauce, which adds to the rich vegetable flavor. The laborious process to cook this dish was well worth trouble.


Next we had Apricot Curry Patagonian Toothfish Masala – a soft and flakey seabass steak, which was cooked in the tandoor Indian clay oven. This method cooks the fish at a high heat, with the fat dripping onto the coals at temperatures of up to 900 degrees Fahrenheit, preserving the juices and sealing in the flavor. Again, the means were worth the end result. This fish steak was delectable.

From the Street category, we munched on the Vada Pav & Ildi Fries, which are spiced potato patties with gun-powder seared pav bread, along with rice fries, which are sticks of steamed rice that is breaded and deep fried into satisfyingly crispy treats.

We wrapped up our meal with a delicious crunchy empanada-style dessert, a hard-shelled pastry filled with sweets and nuts and drizzled in chocolate and served with a small dollop of barfi Indian ice cream.


All the courses were presented with artistry that matched the extravagant flavors and spices, inspired by tastes from Rajasthan, New Delhi, Goa, Chennai, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Tumbi is a hot mix of authentic street food with Indian haute cuisine, with a laid-back chic vibe that makes an Indian food newbie’s epicurean journey across India an inviting experience.  If Tumbi – named after an Indian musical instrument – is the music of Indian food, play on.


OB Surf Lodge: San Diego’s beach hangout

Ocean Beach après Surf hangout offers more than expected

If beach casual is your thing, the OB Surf Lodge, located on the corner of Santa Monica Avenue and Abbott Street in Ocean Beach, offers everything you’d expect from a casual beach bar and restaurant. For starters, there’s the spectacular view from the dining room, which features large open windows overlooking the beach across the street, so diners feel more like they on a patio than sitting indoors.


Some nights, the restaurant becomes front row to a free show of Venice-Beach-style street performers, drum circles, hula-hoopers, fire dancers, neon baton twirlers and a homegrown group of Cirque du Soleil wannabees called AcroYoga, which can be boisterous, but really, this is a place to drink, laugh, and talk loud, so crowd – a mix of local and tourists – do not seem to mind.

Despite the primo real estate, the restaurant does not rely on the draw of the sunsets to bring in patrons but also features a terrific menu of plenty strong drinks and good food.

20180726_023122195_iOSThey are famous for their Swell Times Mai Tai, topped with a signature froth of guava foam. The staff is accommodating, such as gladly squeezing up a tall glass of fresh lemonade that’s not on the menu and providing a carafe on the side with the rest of the batch.


A favorite entrée is the hanger steak, which was perfectly cooked to order on the rare side of medium rare and served with a decorative medley of diagonal sliced carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, and mushrooms and mashed potatoes.

The Grilled Romaine salad is one of tastiest and most unique Caesar salads I’ve ever had, with a generous coating of shaved Parmesan on top, and sliced cherry tomatoes. For a big finish, the Chef’s Bread Pudding ‘Du Jour” features a regularly changing recipe for this hearty dessert.


JSix Degrees of Delicious

San Diego’s Jsix offers American-Filipino fare at its finest

Named for its location at the corner of J Street and Sixth streets adjacent to the Kimpton Hotel Solamar in the East Village, JSix is known for its California Cuisine with Filipino influences from Executive Chef Anthony Sinsay.


The garage-door-sized dining room windows allow guests to enjoy the the street scenes outside as they dine in the modern, lofty space with vaulted ceilings and original brick walls. The vibe is cool yet relaxed, like the servers. Suited to the swanky bar, the drinks are hip, fun and flirty, like the Designated Drinker cocktail of Greenmark vodka, aperol, lemon, vanilla, berries, and mint; or Morning Thunder, a blend of Pisco encanto, elderflower, giffard banana, malahat spiced rum, chareau aloe, grapefruit, and greek yogurt.


Chef Sinsay has created a menu of what he deems “honest food and drink,” featuring many of his favorite dishes from his childhood, with a modern twist. The appetizer plates, which he calls “shares,” include Lumpia Shanghai, Filipino crispy spring rolls served with a garlic chili vinegar – served on a homey floral “grandma plate,” wrapped in aluminum foil, just like it’s served by the street vendors in the Philippines; or Foie Gras Short Stack, buttermilk pancakes served with apple-brandy syrup and Foie Gras mousse. Even those foods that one might think are ordinary, the chef can make into a work of epicurean art, like the local melon and prosciutto, decorated with tiny edible floral garnishes and farmer’s market melons, with speck, burrata and espelette – comprising one of the most beautiful dishes I have ever beheld.



While I am generally not a sushi fan, I swooned over the yellowtail ceviche with its blend of flavors of coconut, citrus, chilis and red onion. Chef Sinsay visited our table and enthralled us with the history of the trading of these flavors and ingredients from the Philippines and how they became incorporated into this classic dish.


It was no surprise to us that when I suggested he should write a book about this fascinating culinary history, he informed us that he already is. The book is inspired by his journey from first believing that his Filipino culinary heritage was not “good enough.” As a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu and someone who began his career opening restaurants, such as at SLS Hotel in Beverly Hills and in Las Vegas at the Platinum Hotel, he thought that French cuisine was superior.


Luckily for us, Sinsay didn’t get discouraged and continued to hone his Filipino recipies, adding his flair and attitude, to create a menu and dining experience that is extraordinary and unique, and one that an adventurous diner does not have to travel half around the world to enjoy.



The Un-Restaurant Osteria Bigoli

Santa Monica’s little Italian eatery that’s all about the food

You may miss Osteria Bigoli if you walk too fast down Montana Avenue. If you did pass by this proverbial hole-in-the wall eatery along Santa Monica’s stylish strip of boutiques and famous-chef restaurants, you’ll be sorry you did.

This intimate Italian restaurant with about 10 tables and several booths is authentic in all the best ways, which does not even include the old world Italian music that fills the restaurant. The charm of this place starts with the fact that the people working there do not impress as restaurant people, in the restaurant business, per se. They are instead humble people who cherish Italian food and are eager to share their passion with others.

Osteria Bigoli is helmed by Chef Claudio Marchesen, who has been preparing his menu of Italian favorites with flare for 40 years, and who found his way from San Francisco to Santa Monica in 2017. Despite the chef’s worldly experience, the restaurant maintains a small-establishment aura that complements Marchesen’s rustic northern Italian delicacies.


Our server clearly was enamored with the food, but he was not a career waiter. He did not rattle off a memorized list of specials or suggest a bottle of wine; he simply gestured towards the kitchen saying, “They make it fresh here. Very good pasta,” in a genuine Italian accent.


He was right. The pasta was excellent. We started with the Silk Handkerchiefs, a delicate dish of thin pasta squares, Genovese almond-basil pesto. We followed with a heartier Tagliatelle Alla Bolognese, a ribbon pasta with Bologna style meat sauce. Both dishes were superb. Since three’s a charm, we shared a third entrée of Braised Short Ribs with Pappardelle, baked slowly in red wine, mushrooms and tomatoes, which was equally delicious and perfectly cooked.


Not to miss mentioning were also the deliciously fresh Arugula & Roasted Beet salad, with goat cheese and candied walnuts, and Fritto Misto Di Calamari E Gameri, an appetizer of deep fried shrimp and squid.

At a two-top by the kitchen entrance sat an older gentleman, presumably the manager, who was looking perplexed at something on his laptop. He and the waiter engaged in a brief, animated conversation in Italian, with lots of hand waving and shrugging. I thought, it is probably restaurant business confounding him, and he wishes he could just serve fine Italian food and forget about balancing the books.

I was reminded of one of my favorite movies, the Big Night, where the protagonist restaurateurs only desired to bring a special experience to their patrons, even if their earnestness went unrewarded by the masses. In this case though, Marchesen’s artistry in the kitchen will certainly be appreciated by true lovers of Italian cuisine who stumble upon this hidden gem.


A lot of Italia in Santa Monica

A warm Italian welcoming and abudanza  awaits at Santa Monica’s North Italia restaurant

From first blush I liked North Italia. And yes, that is an allusion to the fine list of vino, but first, let’s talk atmosphere. On a Friday night, the place was bustling. The vibe was lively and friendly. Like a hot night club, there was a line out front door, and the patio and bar were full of stylish people. Luckily, we had reservations, and the hostess escorted us to our table pronto.

While there’s a shiny polish to this restaurant – represented by our party being greeted and seated right away, the ambiance and attitude is casual and genuinely warm. Our server was cheerful and sincerely seemed enjoy getting to know the patrons; in fact, she was so interested in my work as a blogger she sat down with us a while to chat about it.

Despite her taking a bit of extra time at our table, this diversion didn’t impede with the flow at this restaurant, which is a well-oiled machine. Perhaps the orderly management owes to the fact that North Italia is not a concept that’s just off the boat. North Italia has 17 locations, four in California (Santa Monica, El Segundo, Irvine and soon San Diego), though the management doesn’t like the term “chain,” because they don’t feel like one. Unlike many concept restaurants that feel manufactured and generic, Norte Italia feels fresh and genuine.

There were so many appetizers it was hard to choose. We started with the Zucca chips, which were delicately thin sliced and served heaping in a bowl, warm and salty. We also had the Chef’s Board with prosciutto di parma, artisan cheeses, marinated eggplant, roasted pepper, castelverano olives and Marcona almonds. Since three is a charm, we also had the crispy calamari, which was very lightly breaded and grilled and served on a bed of arugula and lemon vinaigrette, making it almost like a salad.

Next came choosing entrees, for which we relied upon recommendations of our server. She advised we must try the house specialty of Bolognese – made by a ranch in Bologna – served with a traditional meat sauce, tagliatelle noodles and grana Padano cheese. After the big build-up on this dish, we were not disappointed. It was zesty, hearty and highly satisfying.

The manager had her own favorite dish to recommend, so we tried that too – the Short Rib Radiatori, served with parmesan cream, fresh horseradish, wilted arugula and herbed breadcrumbs. From the main dishes we chose the diver scallops, served with sweet corn risotto, asparagus, crispy shallots and a pancetta gremolata.

The seasonal vegetable salad was also a must-try, clementine, golden raisins, quinoa, goat cheese, roasted cauliflower and kale, tossed with a spicy Sherry vinaigrette that balanced out the sweetness. Lastly, because the restaurant is well known for their pizzas, particularly their margarita pizza, we had to try at least one, which was the daily special, a delicious variety featuring eggplant thinly sliced on top.

The menu is complemented by a terrific wine list with great Italian wines, from which we chose a bottle of Sangiovese, Il Poggione “Brancato,” from Tuscany.


In addition to the wines, the restaurant offers a full array of designer libations, such as the popular Julietta, made with ginger-infused Smirnoff, with homemade vanilla, fiorente elderflower, lime and prosecco, and served with a beautiful orchid flower that you could even eat if you wanted.

And for true Italianos, they offer a delicious limoncello for sipping. For the nondrinkers at the table, they also had a delicious strawberry lemonade infused with real strawberries and lemons.

While it seemed we ordered half the menu, there was much more to try, which due to limitations in appetite during a single sitting, will have to wait for another timer. Our table was rather demanding, posing many questions about the menu, which our very professional, apparently indefatigable and extremely accommodating staff answered astutely. At the end of the evening, our server boxed up our leftovers with a smile, sending us home with the next night’s dinner and a great feeling to last until the next visit to North Italia.

Venice’s Surfside bar and grill delivers on its promise of two great things together

An enviable location at the end of Winward Avenue makes this seafood and California comfort food restaurant a hotspot for locals and travelersda3c31_fa4b4d26823144e083518e44cad274db_mv2

Surfside At Venice Beach from all outward appearances looks like a laidback, local bar by the beach, but what’s inside is a pleasant surprise of a high-quality seafood restaurant which also features a lively nightlife scene.

After unsuccessfully trying to find the entrance via a set of doors without handles, my dinner companion and I first thought we were at the wrong place. Then then we found our way into the restaurant by another set of adjacent doors, and we were glad we had been persistent.

Lighted with votives on the tables and dim soft bulbs in wicker baskets suspended overhead, the restaurant had a romantic aura, but it was definitely not a quiet date restaurant. Promptly as the sun went down, the placed started reverberating with loud reggae music. The restaurant downstairs began to empty out, as a new crowd of people began to arrive, seeming to know exactly where they were headed, upstairs, to an open lounge space where the music was blaring.

surfside venice band

We had a feeling if we had come earlier to the restaurant, we would have had a more serene dining experience, but it was too late. We were there, we were hungry, and so we were staying, even though we could barely hear each other speak across the table.

Not just because of the loud music, but for other reasons, this seemed like the kind of place that you would not expect great food, because of its location by the water. In my experience, many of the beach side restaurants don’t have to work too hard to draw a crowd, so the food is just passable. But Chef Jesse Guiterrez did not rest on his real estate.  I was delighted to enjoy a great meal at his beach bar that Guiterrez has made a genuine dining destination.


Amazingly in Los Angeles, where the abundance of the ocean is at our doorstep, there are very few good seafood restaurants, but Surfside is one of them, serving up excellent bounty from the sea as well as a varied menu of California comfort food.

The crunchy calamari was some of the best I’ve had lately. Another appetizer we indulged in was the delicious and decadent pork belly mac & cheese, which takes longer to prepare, so it came late right before our entrées. Glad we had enough hunger to enjoy the beefy and juicy Surfside burger and salty steak frittes, along with the seafood linguini with plenty of shrimp, cod, calamari and seasonal veggies. We also had to try the L.A. Street Corn and butternut squash flatbread. Both did not disappoint.

A bonus is that the restaurant practices sustainable sourcing from local purveyors, and the server was very knowledgeable about the menu and the preparation of the food.  What more could you ask for? Great services, superb food, groovy vibe, and after dinner you can walk out just steps from the Venice boardwalk and beach. What could be better than seafood by the beach, where you can enjoy chef-driven surf and turf, followed by some real surf?

Classy reaction to dueling dresses at celeb luncheon goes a long way

Celeb luncheon highlight is fashion faux paux that nets media buzz for children’s charity

The question of “Who wore it best” at a recent charity event might just make the lives of many children a lot better. At the annual spring luncheon presented by the nonprofit corporation the Colleagues and fashion house Oscar de la Renta, actress Jane Seymour, who was presented with the Champion of Children Award at the event, and Paris Hilton jokingly engaged in a catwalk faceoff, as they both showed up wearing the same lovely Oscar de la Renta floral patterned dress.

Seymour in usually grace mentioned the dueling dresses in her acceptance speech, expressing hopes that the fashion faux fiasco would draw attention to the worthy cause central to event, which raised more than $750,000 in proceeds that will go toward the Children’s Institute’s efforts to protect children from abuse, neglect and domestic and community violence.

“Paris, thank you for choosing the same dress,” she ribbed Hilton. “We will make it to the National Enquirer. I know we will,”

The event was attended by 650 guests paying from $175 for individual tickets up to $10,000 for tables. Guests also supported the charity fundraising efforts through a live auction.

Seymour joined a distinguished list of recipients for the award, including First Ladies Nancy Reagan, Betty Ford and Laura Bush together with her daughters Barbara Pierce Bush and Jenna Bush Hager, former California First Lady Maria Shriver; Princess Charlene of Monaco, Wallis Annenberg, Audrey Hepburn, Roma Downey, Sophia Loren, Carol Burnett, couples Gloria and James Stewart, Anjelica Huston and Robert Graham, and Annette Bening and Warren Beatty.


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