23rd Street Cafe is a fusion experience

By Tanaya Ghosh

Listen to an audio story from Annenberg Radio News.

Ever craved Indian food and Mexican food at the same time, and couldn’t decide where to go? Why not take both cuisines and roll them up into a burrito? That’s what 23rd Street Cafe does, and it does it well.

imageInside 23rd Street Cafe. (Photo by Tanaya Ghosh)

This place blends cuisines together seamlessly. If you’ve ever wondered what a samosa sandwich or a chicken curry taco tastes like, here’s your chance to taste for yourself.

23rd Street Café is on the corner of Portland Street and 23rd Street, just south of Downtown LA. It’s decorated in USC colors and memorabilia, and its close proximity to USC makes this humble yet spacious
eatery a popular destination for students. But the eclectic menu that combines Indian, Mexican and American fare appeals to local residents as well.

The breakfast burrito and chicken tikka masala burrito are some of the most popular items on the menu. The breakfast burrito’s fluffy egg contrasts nicely with the crispy strips of bacon. Hash browns blanket
the interior, and give the burrito more body and bite.

imageThe chicken tikka masala burrito combines the popular Indian dish with traditional burrito fillings. Chicken tikka masala consists of roasted chicken chunks, called tikka. The chicken is covered in a spicy,
or masala, sauce often made with tomato puree, cream and spices. If that’s not spicy enough for you, try adding the tangy house salsa verde to your burrito of choice.

Being of Indian heritage, I can tell you that although tikka masala is not a household staple, it is a popular dish with Indians and non-Indians alike. It’s perfect for eating out, or for special occasions.

The tikka masala burrito was a bit messier to eat than its breakfast counterpart, so I wouldn’t recommend ordering it on a first date!

For more information on 23rd Street Cafe, you can visit their website here.

Fish shack in Crenshaw a hidden gem

By Tanaya Ghosh
Listen to an audio story by Annenberg Radio News

Some of the best hidden gems in L.A. are tiny, unassuming eateries — and Mel’s Fish Shack is a prime example. If you’re a fan of delicious Cajun-style seafood fried up in a “homey,” friendly atmosphere, Mel’s is the spot for you.

The best part? Mel’s won’t force you to break the bank. Nearly everything on the menu is under $12. image

Mel’s Fish Shack is located in the Crenshaw District of Los Angeles. The fish is served fresh from their market — which you can visit just a few blocks away.

Once the staff discovered we were first timers, we couldn’t stop the flow of free samples. “This is your first time here,” the cook insisted, “And we’re gonna take good care of you.”

One of the best samples? The creamy, dreamy crab soup. The soup is available only on Mondays when Mel’s gets their fresh crab. The shells are cooked right in the pot, infusing a richer taste into the soup.

I ordered the grilled red snapper with grilled vegetables. We also ordered a fillet of sole, fried in a light Southern-style cornmeal batter.

The warm side of hush puppies are crunchy, springy soft bites of heaven in a deep fried ball. Dip them into Mel’s signature garlic-dill tartar sauce or hot sauce and they’re even more delicious.

Now, I’m picky with seafood. But Mel’s totally won me over. The grilled fish is amazingly fresh, and has no fishy taste. Each cut is firm and subtly seasoned with Cajun spices that give it a slightly spicy kick. The flavor of the fish really shines through.

Mel’s Fish Shack is a hole-in-the-wall adventure that’s totally worth it. You might come for the fresh seafood, but you’ll keep coming back for the excellent hospitality.

If you want to check it out for yourself, visit melsfishshack.com.

Student turnover, not economy, frustrates 2-9 Café owner

imageWhen employees leave him high and dry on a busy Friday night, the restaurant manager of the 2-9 Cafe does not think twice about picking up the slack. He quickly clears a table, places an order for patrons, and delivers food to a group of hungry customers. For Garinn Morton, this is just one of the many obstacles he has overcome as the owner of this establishment.

The 2-9 Café sits at the intersection of the University of Southern California’s Greek Row, the University Village and one of the largest areas of off-campus student housing. To many, the location would seem like a jackpot for a restaurant owner, but the restaurant’s demographic has been its biggest worry.

“I don’t know if you’ve been here in the summertime, but it’s a ghost town around here,” said Morton.

Aside from holiday breaks, every year, Morton loses 20 percent of his business. That is because every year, and often every semester, students that live near the café move further away or graduate. Something as simple as a move to the other side of campus can keep a student from returning. According to Morton, graduates also steer clear of the restaurant because there is a stigma associated with visiting USC right after graduation.

“You can’t get caught up in making profit,” Morton said. “It’s a very simple game. You’re either not making money, you’re breaking even, or you’re making money.”

Morton plans to combat these problems by starting a “Trojan Country Card” for students. USC students would give their email address, local street address and year in school. In return, they would receive special deals for cardholders only. The cards would be scanned on all purchases at the 2-9 and it would help Morton track his regulars in order to entice them to come more often.

Parker Finley, a senior majoring in aerospace engineering, began frequenting the 2-9 when he lived nearby during his sophomore year. Once Finley turned 21, he said he went weekly. Now that he lives on the Row, he goes once every couple weeks. His reason for going is simple.

“It’s convenient and has cheap beer,” said Finley.

Morton bought the 2-9 in August 2011 as part of the T.K. Burgers group, which also owns six other restaurants in Orange County. T.K. wanted to expand their reach into Los Angeles. According to Morton, when scouting possible expansion sites, the group looks for buildings with a natural and hip feel, like the 2-9. Morton’s short-term goal is to just break even. Five years from now he hopes the location is still operating.

“Trying to find excuses isn’t going to bring one more person in here,” said Morton. “You just gotta find your best way to navigate through it.”

Harold & Belle’s stays in the family and takes you back to the glory days

Listen to the audio story from Annenberg Radio News:

imageIn 1969, New Orleans transplants Harold and Belle Legaux opened a new hot spot in the Jefferson Park area of Los Angeles. Creole food, atmosphere, jazz music, and good drinks were served every night at Harold & Belles. It became in institution.

“It is the local watering hole for most people in the community who are what you would consider movers and shakers in our community.”

That was Rev. Eric Lee, one of the many business and political leaders in the area who visit Harold & Belle’s two or three times a week. It’s like an extended family, and one that’s very protective of one another.

Inside, Harold & Belle’s is like a time capsule, transporting you back to the restaurant’s glory days in 1969. It’s the same beige wallpaper, same tables, same bar stools, even some of the same people. The only thing that’s changed is the addition of more and more family photos on the wall.

Ryan Legaux, General Manager of the restaurant and grandson of the original Harold and Belle, is featured in many of those photos. But times have been tough and sales are down 30% from just a few years ago. When Ryan’s father, Harold Jr., passed away last year, his mother and her business partners considered closing it all down.

“I told them ‘no, ya know, stick it out if you can I’d like to take it over and create more business for it, kind of keep it going.”

They agreed, but Legaux would not be getting a family discount. To finance his dream, he applied for a $2.6 million loan from the federal government. Though he has been approved by the city council, Legaux hasn’t yet received federal approval. He remains optimistic.

“Our intentions are good and we’re straightforward as to what we’re trying to do.”

Legaux says he’ll keep the doors open with or without the loan. He owes it to his family.

“It also is a family legacy. It’s my grandparents name on the building, on the business. It’s my parent’s hard work for 30 plus years. It’s my career for the past 10 plus years. When I want to have kids and when I want to have a family of my own it’s going to be a part of their legacy too.”

The world has changed outside in 42 years. But inside Harold & Belle’s is still serving the same food, drinks, and the same family.

Cool down with a smoothie from Dyna’s

imageThis unassuming little cafe, tucked behind the Steak and Fries in Baldwin Hills Shopping Center, offers a broad range of delights: including breakfast specials, pastries rotisserie chicken, Mexican food and Asian entrees. On one side, a coffee shop with giant muffins tantalizingly on display; on the other, a few tables allow room for a quick bite and a sampling of the free WiFi.

The menu is a little eccentric, ranging from breakfasts ($3.95 to $6.95) to burritos ($4.25 to $5.45) to teriyaki bowls ($5.95).

But on a hot afternoon in Los Angeles, the range of smoothies and milkshakes seem the most appealing. For $3.95 plus tax, these freshly made delights are cool and flavorful. For ice cream lovers, the “Banana Nut” offers a delicious mix of bananas, vanilla ice cream, peanut butter and apple juice. For a thirst-quenching, dairy-free option, try the “Mango Strawberry,” with mango, strawberries and a mix of apple and orange juice. The smoothies come out thick and cold: perfect for an L.A. heat wave.

A big plus to Dyna’s is that the cafe/restaurant seems to be pretty quiet in the afternoons, leaving plenty of room for weary wanderers to take refuge and refuel.

3745 S. La Brea Ave., Unit D, Los Angeles CA 90016.
Hours: Monday to Friday from 8am to 8pm; Saturday from 8am to 6pm; Closed Sunday
Phone: (323) 292-9262
Free WiFi for customers.
Open lot parking.

Menu Sampler:
Good morning! Dyna’s Morning Special: two eggs, two bacon or sausages, potatoes with bell peppers and onions, toast and a small coffee or tea = $6.95
Good afternoon! 1/4 Chicken Combo with two sides = $5.45
Good evening! Steak burrito = $5.45
Specials: Whole Rotisserie Chicken = $6.95