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**Readers!  I recently moved to the City of Angels.  The good news is that I'm keeping this site alive while simultaneously working on something Los Angeles-centric, as well.**

Welcome to The Lunch Belle, a food website/blog that views the New York City dining scene through the lens - and belly - of a highly opinionated, critical, adorably quirky, and culinary-obsessed thirty-something year old.

For those of you who enjoy highly thorough and traditional restaurant reviews, you may find them located here

But that's not all!  Additionally, I...

  • ~ For tourists, I can help you create itineraries and answer any questions you may have/offer advice for your upcoming visit to NYC.
  • ~ I can consult and/or advise on all of your small and large events.
  • ~ I will assist you with restaurant recommendations.

Just consider me your one-stop NYC - and, most recently, Los Angeles - shop!

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Entries in TRAVEL California: Southern regions (4)

Friday
Apr252014

So, a New Yorker walks in to a bar in L.A...

I consider myself fairly laid back/accepting/open when it comes to many things.  For example:

  • If a friend is acting like a total byotch, I'll chock it up to PMS or something else that really has nothing to do with me. 
  • I try to break down racial and cultural stereotypes and judge a person based on their attitude/personality - or lack thereof - not by their religion or skin color. 
  • I'm generally not the type of person to tell my employer that I "can't" perform a certain job function.  I have a "can do" attitude/work ethic on the job.

However, when it comes to places/locations/cities/towns, I am a seething critic and snob.  As a New Yorker, I think that pretty much everywhere else in the world sucks.  Hard.  Except for Paris.  Small towns freak me the fcuk out, as do strip malls.  Falling asleep - or, shall I say, attempting to fall asleep - in silence makes my skin crawl.  Businesses that close before 9pm are straight-up lazy.  What's up with that, by the way?  The most fearful I've ever been was on a trip to a sleepy New Mexico ski town during the summer before my 7th grade year.  My family and I spent 4-5 days in Ruidoso, which felt more like a multi-year prison sentence.  There was absolutely nothing to do but stare at pine trees and pretend that I enjoyed nature. 

So, where am I going with all of this?  I wanted to give you a quirky prelude to my recent visit to Los Angeles, a city chock-full of stereotypes.  Below, I will break each one of them down, from my point of view:

  1. "Driving is a nightmare."  Traffic is traffic is traffic, people.  Seriously!  Whether you're in Dallas, Houston, Chicago, New York, San Francisco, or LA, it's just a fact of daily life.  Be it you behind the wheel or a cabbie/driver.  And, to all of you a-holes who scared the crap out of me prior to my trip, I did not let the gridlock get the best of me.  Thank you very much.  Actually, it was way less intense/dramatic than what you idiots made it out to be.   
  2. "Everyone is blonde and has fake boobs."  Wrong.  Actually, to be honest, I didn't even see that many blondes.  And, aside from my instructor at barre class, I didn't spy any fake racks.
  3. "All of the chicks are rail thin and gorgeous."  Wrong again.  In fact, there was only one gal who was so good looking that she took my breath away.  And the thin thing?  Not so much.
  4. "LA sucks."  No, LA does not suck.  You suck!  People are intimidated of LA because of its size, the necessary driving, the wealth, the smog, and the "fake people."  But you know what?  I really liked LA.  I look at all of those "grievances" as a challenge.  Bring it on!

And here are some generalizations that I made on my own (sans stereotypes):

  1. There are taco trucks EVERYWHERE.  Dream. Come. True.
  2. People are not any nicer/nastier than they are in NYC. 
  3. The hipster population in Brooklyn pales in comparison to the City of Angels.  They're fcuking EVERYWHERE!
  4. ...with that being said, where all my yuppies at?  Anyone?
  5. Rodeo Drive is merely a stretch of a few blocks.  Yep, that's it. 
  6. Perhaps I was just famished, but I found the pizza in LA to be quite delicious.  Shout out to LA Pizza Company and Bottega Louie!Bottega Louie's wood fired savory pie
  7. There's just something incredibly special and magical about those super tall palm trees.
  8. The fact that you can eat or drink in surroundings as lush as Hawaii is priceless.FIG at The Fairmont Miramar Hotel, Santa Monica
  9. It isn't all Porsche's and perfectly manicured lawns and landscape; there are some downright fugly parts of LA.
  10. Valet parking is expensive as chit, man!
  11. For an airport in such a huge city, LAX is a total dump.  
  12. Were most of the apartment/duplex complexes built in 1975?  WTF?  Ew.
  13. Tricked-out low riders are everything. 
  14. ...I forgot how sexy I find cholos.  No joke.

That just about wraps up my recent visit to El Lay.  What are your thoughts/opinions on the City of Angels?

~~~

Until we eat again,

The Lunch Belle

Wednesday
Jan022013

SoCal: Where to eat/drink

Below, you will find restaurants/specialty shops that have been categorized by their respective cuisines.  I have only included venues where I have personally dined-in or ordered-out.  

~

American

Burgers

Coffee

Cocktails and other adult beverages

Cupcakes

  • The original Sprinkles location, Beverly Hills

Donuts

Gelato that will change your life

German

Mexican

Pizza

Seafood

South African

Steak

Tuesday
Jul102012

California dreamin' on such a humid (NYC) day...

How is it that I'm already back?  I thought, while staring out of my passenger's seat window in a random Manhattan-bound cab...

Every time I go to Southern California to visit my family (parents in San Diego - sister in Orange County), I always wonder what the hell I'm doing in New York.  Why?  Well, the weather, for the most part, sucks, 9 out of every 10 people are assholes, it's ridiculously expensive, the Mexican food blows, there's barely any green space, it's far away from everything and everyone, it's dirty and smelly...Shall I continue?  Then you have Southern California or, what my dad likes to call, "the Promised Land."  The weather is pristine year-round, the Mexican food rocks, the locals are friendly and actually smile at you (...and not just because they're a pedophile or high on crack), the landscape is breathtaking, the Pacific Ocean is warmer than the Atlantic (even if it is just by a few degrees), the produce is phenomenal, the cost of living is cheap compared to NYC, and I'd take a sun-kissed surfer boy over a douchey, Nantucket Red-wearing, East Coast-prep any damn day. 

"Nantucket Reds," for those of you lucky enough *not* to know what they are.  Until now.

Gahhhhh! Hate hate hate!! (Photo: Jenny Haniver dot com)At the end of every reunion, I hate having to say goodbye to my family.  Because I only get to see them 2-3 times/year, boarding that NYC-bound plane is always hard for me, and rarely tear-free.   But, the reality is, once I land in this gritty, grimy, either too hot or too cold city of mine, I am reminded that there's no where else I'd rather be.  California - while beautiful, laid back, and so many other glorious things - is a little bit too perfect for me.  I think that, because I thrive on pressure and am always up for a good challenge, I love New York.  Even with all of its flaws and proverbial road blocks.

 

Please enjoy some beautiful - and delicious - photos from my recent trip "home," in honor of America's birthday.  By the way, how did you spend the 4th of July?

...

No trip is *ever* complete without a combination plate (1 shredded beef taco, 1 cheese enchilada, rice and beans) from my favorite local Mexican spot, Juanita's Taco Shop.  Something about Christmas lights lining the perimeter of the roof, wrought-iron bars protecting the windows and doors, that scary chola cashier, and the fact that I have no clue what "Tepatitlan" means makes this place super fcuking legit. 

Make sure to grab some gratis homemade "Mexican Giardiniera" (pickled carrots, onions, and jalapenos) to accompany your meal!

Mexican combination plate:  1 shredded beef taco, 1 cheese enchilada, rice, and beans

The aftermath...

...

In what has become a tradition, we always grab a hearty breakfast at St. Germain's Cafe on my first morning in town.  Make sure to snag a table on the restaurant's lovely, shaded patio!

On this particular trip to the cafe, I opted for lunch, instead:  Red wine-poached pears, arugula, and brie on ciabatta with a side of garlic fries.

...

I was ecstatic to get to meet up with my great friend from college, Devon, later that afternoon.  We headed to Diversions Sport Lounge, overlooking La Costa Resort's new adult's-only edgless pool, to grab a margarita (or 3). 

Sweet and tangy, with the perfect amount of salt and extra lime, this traditional margarita was the best version I had during my trip.  Oh, and the view didn't suck too hard, either!  :) 

...

On Friday, Mom and I drove to Orange County to visit my sister.  For lunch, we indulged in a plethora of seafood at Newport Beach's The Crab Cooker

One thing that I found, repeatedly, across Southern California was that most menus did not feature *local* seafood.  Although delicious and incredibly fresh-tasting, everything, except for the halibut, at The Crab Cooker was either from Alaska or the East Coast.  WTF, man?

Ready to work for our food!

Locally-caught, simply-grilled halibut filet, sliced tomatoes, cheesy potatoes

Shrimp, cod, and veggie kebab, cole slaw, cheesy potatoes

Crab, vermicelli rice, cole slaw

...

After a window-shopping extravaganza at South Coast Plaza, we headed over to Fashion Island.  But, instead of shopping, we decided to grab cocktails at my sister's - and Real Housewives of Orange County - fave, True Food Kitchen.

Me, Mom, and LeilaWe each grabbed a margarita and shared a delicious Caramelized Onion Tart, with Smoked Garlic, Black Fig, and Gorgonzola.

...

As if we had not eaten enough during the day, we had dinner reservations a mere two-hours post our cocktails and snack at Corona del Mar's The Bungalow.

I whetted my appetite with a margarita, served up.

Homemade, parmesan-topped sourdough rolls were served with whipped butter.  I inhaled three before my entree arrived...

Colossal shrimp were accompanied by a horseradish-laden cocktail sauce

Our palettes were cleansed with a miniature scoop of lemon sorbet that was paired with a single basil leaf

For an entree, Mom and I split the filet, topped with blue cheese, fried onion strings, and sauteed mushrooms.  The steak sat atop a blanket of smashed potatoes.

This was, by far, the best cut of beef that I've had in recent memory.  I was able to cut each piece without the use of a knife!

We ordered the root vegetables - baby carrots, squash, and potatoes - as one of our two side dishes

...And creamed spinach

This meal was excellent from start to finish, making The Bungalow a new favorite.  I will make it a point to return here upon each visit to Corona del Mar.

...

On our last morning with my sister, we went to the Corona del Mar farmer's market.

Gorgeous, hand-made, glazed cherry turnovers

Heirloom tomatoes

Exotic flowers

Local white shrimp

...

On my last day in town, I grabbed lunch with a dear friend from college.  Beautiful Bethany owns the successful Bindu Yoga Studio in Del Mar.  She suggested dining at Haggos Organic Taco, a food truck serving healthy Mexican.

What a cool place!

Menu

As per the menu, I ordered the 'Cousteau' Fish Taco special:  Two grilled fish tacos (wild California seabass), organic brown rice and red beans, served with house-made salsa.  And, yes, it was every bit as delicious as it sounds!

...

Below, please find a list of the restaurants/markets that I went to in each town: 

Encinitas

  • Juanita's Taco Shop - my favorite Mexican food in the entire state of California; casual, no frills
  • St. Germain's Cafe - a solid cafe that offers al-fresco seating; great for a pre-surf breakfast!

Carlsbad

  • Diversions Sport Lounge - bar at the La Costa Resort overlooking adult's only edgeless pool; best margaritas in town

Newport Beach

  • The Crab Cooker - casual, no frills, old fashioned; great atmosphere and fresh seafood (but not too many local offerings)
  • True Food Kitchen - tasty, albeit, expensive cocktails; al-fresco dining/drinking

Corona del Mar

  • Corona del Mar farmer's market - lovely local produce, seafood, baked goods, and flowers
  • The Bungalow - fabulous steakhouse serving some of the best beef I've had, to date; martinis; a definite "must" when in Corona del Mar

Leucadia

  • Haggos Organic Taco - healthy, fresh Mexican that doesn't suck; food truck with a fantastic al-fresco dining patio

~~~

Until we eat again,

The Lunch Belle

Thursday
Jun022011

The Lunch Belle's guide to So.Cal

Ah, Southern California.  I have to admit that, during my last couple of visits, I've appreciated the "right coast" and its unparalleled beauty in a way that I never have before.  At least not since I fell madly in love with New York City.  There's just something so incredibly sexy about city streets lined with palm trees - perfectly manicured emerald-green hedges and lawns - magenta-pink bougainvillea bundles - citrus trees as far as the eye can see - cliffs and mountains that give way to the majestic Pacific ocean - and a temperature that never dips below 50 degrees.  My father refers to California as "The Promised Land."  And you know what?  He's kind of right.  Aren't parents always?

For the Memorial Day holiday, my friend, Em, and I made the cross-country trek to visit my family in So-Cal (that's "Southern California" to you).  During my stay, I *actually* took in a fantastic exercise class, ate my fare share of both Mexican and coastal/regional cuisine, got some sun, finished a life-altering book, celebrated my sister's Masters, saw my extended family and old friends, spent 24-hours in La Jolla, and found the best margarita recipe that I've had, to date (...this will be posted very soon!). 

Needless to say, it was hard to return to a hot and sweaty, angry NYC on Monday evening.  For the entire 24-hours leading to my departure, I was an anxious wreck.  I can't really explain this, other than to tell you that, like clock work, I go through the same pre-NYC-bound mental anguish on every family-ish vacation.  I've done this for as long as I can remember!  I think that my anxiety has something to do with, somewhere deep inside, me being genuinely homesick.  And by homesick, I'm not talking about secretly yearning for my native Texas - or any locale, for that matter.  I'm referring to being homesick for my mom, dad, and sister.  My family.  I can't help but ask myself, every time I board that East Coast-bound flight, "Is all of this really worth living thousands of miles away from my immediate family?  Life's too short and time is the enemy."  But then, as if my California vacation was all a dream, I wake up to the subtle hustle-and-bustle noise of 6th Avenue from my 7th floor apartment in my beloved Manhattan - smile - and realize that I'm not quite ready to leave.  

~

Are you:

  • Looking for a fabulous holiday destination?
  • Planning a trip to SoCal in the near(ish) future?

Consider Southern California!  Here are some of my personal recommendations & travel tips for the perfect SoCal weekend.  Enjoy!

~

When to go

July & August are the best "beach" months.  Aside from June (read: June Gloom), you really can't go wrong - but it's all dependent upon whether or not you want warm/swimmable ocean water. 

Make the most out of your vacation time (from the East Coast)

Leave on a Wednesday: early evening flights (think 5:30pm - 7pm) are ideal because you can put in a long day at the office and not miss too many daylight hours.

Airline that's worth every penny

Jet Blue: non-stop flights to San Diego and Orange County (SNA)!  Plus, nothing makes 5.5 hours go faster than live DIRECTV and free snacks that don't suck.  Also, your first checked bag is FREE!

My favorite SoCal day trips (assuming that San Diego is your base)

My favorite restaurants/bakeries/farmer's markets/watering holes

  • Carlsbad: La Costa Farms Flower Stand - everything from fruits & veggies, to hand-dipped strawberries, candied apples, homemade salsas and guacamole, tortillas, and flowers!

  • Del Mar: En Fuego - margaritas, hot-spot, watering hole

Best bets

Carlsbad: spend a day at the world-famous La Costa Resort & Spa

  • Burn some calories!  Begin your morning with a yoga class at The Deepak Chopra Center or, perhaps, a Zumba class at the Athletic Club.  Unlike Manhattan, most classes won't cost you more than $10-$15. 
  • Have a "spa day" at La Costa: whether you're staying at this fabulous resort or not, the spa is open to the public.  At a price, of course.  However, if you choose to forego a treatment and would rather lounge in the lap of luxury all day, opt instead for the $60 day pass, which gives you access to all of the spa's facilities.  $60 still too much?  Head to the spa right at 2pm, and pay only $30 for a day pass as opposed to $60!  Make your spa reservations here.     

Carlsbad Premium Outlets

  • I have amazing luck every time I visit this particular outlet!  You can't beat the gorgeous outdoor setting and names like Barney's, Ferragamo, Theory, and Crate and Barrel.

Coronado Island

La Jolla

  • Have dinner at George's California Modern: when making your reservation, make sure to ask for a window-side table for unbeatable ocean views!     

However you decide to conquer Southern California, just know this: you can't lose!  If you're bringing the kiddos, don't forget to look in to Disneyland, Lego Land, Knott's Berry Farm, and Sea World (I would have mentioned them but, to be honest, I haven't been to any since I was much younger.  Sorry!).  

If you have any specific questions about So-Cal, send me an email: Lindsay@TheLunchBelle.com.

~~~

Until we eat again,

The Lunch Belle