One Dish: Pork shank at Mi Mexico Lindo, Santa Ana

photo by Brad A JohsonPork shank at Mi Mexico Lindo in Santa Ana (photo by Brad A Johnson)

There are lots of reasons to dine at the newly relocated Mi Mexico Lindo Grill in Santa Ana. Some come for the weekend karaoke and pitchers of cold beer. Others eye this place for breakfast, when the kitchen serves enfrijoladas.

But really, the best reason to come here is the house specialty called chamorro Mi Mexico Lindo, served for lunch and dinner every day. Continue reading

The New Italian: A revolution in SoCal

Bestia1House-made salumi at Bestia in L.A. (photo by Brad A. Johnson)

The future of Italian cuisine has arrived. And while it’s nothing short of a revolution in Los Angeles, it’s a movement that has mostly evaded Orange County.

It used to be that if you went out for Italian cuisine, you knew what to expect. You knew before you got there exactly what you would be eating: Caprese salad, fried calamari, bruschetta with tomato and basil, arancini in marinara sauce, spaghetti and meatballs, linguine and clams (in which the clams too often came from a can), chicken Parmigiania, veal Milanese, tiramisu …

Restaurants bent over backwards to conjure romantic images of Sophia Loren, Federico Fellini and Frank Sinatra. Tables were always set with bottles of Italian olive oil. Waiters offered Parmesan cheese with everything, even the fish. And while that’s still pretty much the norm in Orange County – with some exceptions, see the list of Top 10 local Italian restaurants below – it’s become a different scene entirely in Los Angeles.

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Critic’s Notebook: Good news, bad news at Ruby’s Dinette

Which would you rather? Same brand, two very different burgers. (photos by Brad A Johnson)

Here’s a cautionary tale about two Ruby’s Dinettes.

I stopped eating at Ruby’s several years ago after being severely disappointed with the burgers at a couple of locations. But a colleague recently told me that the newly revamped Ruby’s on 17th Street in Costa Mesa was actually quite good, so I ventured back in. Continue reading

OC Review: Driftwood Kitchen, Laguna Beach

Driftwood Kitchen (photos by Brad A Johnson and Sam Gangwer, OC Register)

“Oh, that’s beautiful,” I say, and my companions instinctively turn and look at the sunset. Someone sighs.

“No, not that. This,” I say, pointing to the shrimp cocktail that’s just landed in front of us.

It’s hard to ignore the view at Driftwood Kitchen. No matter how many times we’ve seen the sun dip into the Pacific, that scene has a way of demanding our attention.

“Nice,” someone says, pretending to glance at the shrimp before turning west again. “It’s perfect.” The sun is at that point where you can almost hear it sizzle as it touches the ocean.

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Quick Review: Marriott Courtyard & Residence Inn, LA Live

Marriott Courtyard and Residence Inn, L.A. Live (photos by Brad A Johnson)

Overview: In downtown Los Angeles in July, Marriott introduced a co-branded, 24-story Courtyard and Residence Inn hotel. This is Marriott’s first co-branded property on the West Coast. (The first such dual-flagged hotel opened in New York in December.) Although the hotel is branded with two logos, they share a common lobby and front desk as well as all the common areas such as the pool and fitness room. Continue reading

¡Pozole Thursdays in Zihuatanejo!

Zihuatanejo, Mexico (photos by Brad A Johnson)

The air is hot and sultry, weighted with smoke and sea salt and the heady balm of pig fat. It’s not exactly soup weather. It’s the rainy season, July, when I’m in Zihuatanejo, which doesn’t translate to any actual rain but rather a steamy, lazy heaviness that’s boxed in by an unrelenting sun, with the Pacific Ocean in front and the Sierra Madre del Sur behind.

The smoke hints at something delicious. It wafts over residential walls from busy kitchens whose stoves are powered by wood. The aroma of simmering pork broth outpaces the idle breeze that carries it from El Profe, a pozoleria on the outskirts of town, on an unmarked road just off the empty highway. Continue reading

Sneak Peek: Pozole Thursday in Zihuatanejo

In tomorrow’s Travel section in the Orange County Register, I write about the unique tradition of Jueves Pozolero, or Pozole Thursday, in the quaint beach town of Zihuatanejo, Mexico.  Pozole is one of Mexico’s great culinary treasures, and nowhere is it more revered than in Zihuatanejo. Here’s a sneak peak.

Copyright Brad A Johnson 2014Click through for the preview gallery. And stay tuned for the full story tomorrow.

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What I’m reading this week: selfie daredevils, Napa’s early harvest, pig viruses and where to eat now in Australia

I want to do this. Sort of. Maybe not. (via gawker)

1. Yowza! More daredevil selfies. This time in Hong Kong. I can’t even imagine. Gawker
2. Where to eat now in Australia. Gourmet Traveller
3. A book, a review, and all you need to know about banh mi. Ravenous Couple
4. An earlier than normal harvest for California wine this year. CPR
5. Koreans are apparently cuckoo for coffee. Quartz

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Quick Review: JW Marriott Los Angeles at L.A. Live

JW Marriott junior suite (photo by Brad A. Johnson)JW Marriott junior suite (photo by Brad A. Johnson)

Overview: It’s been a few years since the 878-room JW Marriott rose up in the former parking lot of the Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles in the complex that is now called L.A. Live. The glamorous JW is Marriott’s most luxurious brand, to be outdone only by the group’s Ritz-Carlton (which occupies the highest floors of this building). And when the JW came to town, it forever changed the trajectory of the hotel scene in the city’s historic core.

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Best. Guacamole. Ever. At the Viceroy resort in Zihuatanejo, Mexico.

Guacamole at Viceroy Zihuatanejo (photos by Brad A Johnson)

I was in Zihuatanejo recently to research the unique tradition of “Pozole Thursday” (story coming in the Register’s travel section Sept. 7). And while I was there, I encountered the best guacamole ever. I’ve always believed that guacamole should be simple and unadulterated. And this one meets that criteria, with a simple, spicy twist. At the Viceroy resort, chef Jose Paco Isordia Dorantes adds a spicy kick to his guacamole with roasted habanero chilies. Because the chilies are fully roasted and then mashed into a pulp along with roasted garlic, there’s never a super-hot mouthful of habanero in this dip. Rather, the chilies provide a subtle, spicy-yet-floral undercurrent to the otherwise rich and decadent avocado. Here’s the simple recipe.  Continue reading

Before & After: Sycamore Kitchen, Los Angeles

Sycamore Kitchen (Brad A Johnson)Sycamore Kitchen (photo by Brad A Johnson)

Best. Sticky. Bun. Ever. Wow, this thing is good. They call it a salted caramel pecan babka roll, but we all already know it as a sticky bun. And it’s the best damn sticky bun you will ever eat. Chef Karen Hatfield is a genius. This is what her babka roll looked like when I sat down at the table. And here’s what it looked like 10 seconds later… Continue reading

OC Review: Lola Gaspar, Santa Ana

Lola Gaspar (photos by Paul Rodriguez and Brad A Johnson)

The first thing that impresses me at Lola Gaspar is how short the waitresses’ shorts are. They make the outfits at Hooters look prudish.

To be fair, though, that was an awfully hot day, and Lola doesn’t have much — if any — air-conditioning inside the bar. On other days, I’ve seen them wear more.

Lola Gaspar is one of downtown Santa Ana’s early adapters. And now, just as the neighborhood starts to welcome a slew of new restaurants, this old gastropub seems to be stepping up its game. Continue reading