Summer Days: Mateo’s Ice Cream & Fruit Bars – Culver City, CA

Food Adventures, Los Angeles
Rainbow of Paletas at Mateo's Ice Cream and Fruit Bars

Rainbow of Paletas at Mateo’s Ice Cream and Fruit Bars

HAPPY JUNE from us here in sunny southern California!

The days are longer, the sun is shining brighter, and the weather is just screaming for (what else?) ICE CREAM! I had had Mateo’s Ice Cream & Fruit Bars bookmarked on my list of places to check out for years, all the way back when we still lived in Palms. Now we live in Del Rey, which is right around the corner from this unassuming strip mall off Sepulveda Boulevard near Lucerne. A flourescent orange length of retail with a giant laundromat anchor, you just can’t miss this spot. Mateo’s is squeezed in all the way in the corner.

The storefront is tiny but boasts brightly colored signs depicting fruits both familiar and exotic. It looks and smells like walking into a giant cornucopia, in a good way. The case of ice cream features flavors I’d never seen elsewhere like mamey, smoked milk, and horchata with walnuts. Making our way further into the store, we find the paletas — Latin American fruit-based ice pops (or popsicles). The paletas are arranged in a rainbow, with pink and red strawberry (including a halved strawberry embedded in the middle of the popsicle), golden-colored mango con chile, bright orange-hued cantaloupe, green cucumber con chile, bright alabaster coconut, copper-colored tamarind, and some more sweet-tooth-appeasing creations like chocolate dipped and shaved coconut dusted paletas to finish. It’s an amazing sight, and certainly appetizing on a warm summer day.

Best of all? Each paleta is just $2. TWO DOLLARS. An amazing deal especially for the sheer quantity and quality of fresh fruit that goes into making each paleta. They taste like the ripened fresh fruit is pureed, strained, poured into the molds, and frozen. No frills, no additives. On our first visit, I had the cucumber on chile. I love cucumber desserts, and this one was icy and refreshing with just a slightly salty kick from the chile powder. The main part of the paleta was almost too icy, with the high water content of the cucumber itself, but I definitely enjoyed the bits of diced fresh cucumber embedded throughout. Martin had a creamy, coffee-flavored bar that reminded me of a Fudgesicle in texture. Ahh nostalgia… we knew we were going to come back.

Sure enough, on our next visit I opted for the mango con chile which I enjoyed even more because of its natural sweetness, the soft chunks of ripe golden mango, and the toothsome texture, much less icy than the cucumber one. The chile powder, reminiscent of the packets sold alongside fresh cut fruit by the street vendors, was just spicy enough to feel a subtle kick. Definitely a summer favorite, I know I’ll be coming back specifically for this paleta over the next few months (and beyond — we all know how beautiful the weather is here year-round).

Martin saw the cantaloupe paleta in the display case, one of his all-time favorite fruits and a new addition for the summer season, and just had to have it. He shared only a small nibble, but I could taste how sweet yet refreshing it was. Like a frozen agua fresca, that paleta embodied the purest essence of cantaloupe. It was so freaking good.

Our only regret is not giving this place a try sooner, but now that we’re in the know, you can bet we’ll be coming back and telling all of our friends (starting with you dear readers!). Happy summer indeed.

Plenty of Paleta Love from NomNomCat!

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Check out Mateo’s Ice Cream and Fruit Bars: mateosicecream.com

4929 Sepulveda Blvd
Culver City, CA 90230

See their Yelp reviews here!

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5i Indochine Cuisine – Culver City, CA

Food Adventures, Los Angeles

We are proud to live in our beloved City of Angels, surrounded by amazing food from cuisines the world over. But despite the many ethnic enclaves that make up the Westside, it is darn near impossible to find good Vietnamese food here. Martin hails from the San Gabriel Valley and I was born and raised in Orange County, so those 24-hour pho restaurants with kitschy names just don’t do it for us. That is, until we found 5i. At first glance, the menu seemed a bit scattered with Singaporean noodles, har gow and shu mai dim sum dumplings, and pad thai. But after paging through, we noticed that the bulk of the menu was made of familiar dishes that encompass more than just the infamous beef noodle soup that everyone thinks of. For example…

Tau Hu Ky (Crispy Shrimp Patty)

Tau Hu Ky (Crispy Shrimp Patty)

SO GOOD. More on this later. 5i Indochine Cuisine just opened earlier this year. The restaurant is a tiny hole in the wall nestled in a Culver City strip mall, right between a karaoke bar and a dive bar. Fear not — once you slide into a parking space and navigate around the unsavory characters loitering about, entering 5i is like stepping into another world. A trendy-looking, IKEA-decorated world.

The Decor

The Decor

Our server quickly seated us and brought us the menus. While perusing our options, we overheard that they were giving a discount to the police officers sitting next to us as a small token of appreciation for the work they do. I thought it was a nice gesture. The expectations continued to rise when she came over to check in on us and discovered that we could communicate in Vietnamese. That definitely swayed me toward the Bún / Cơm (vermicelli rice noodles and rice plates, respectively) pages of the menu.

Plate of Herbs for Pho

Plate of Herbs for Pho

Martin had a huge craving for phở so he decided to go with that. Sadly, his favorite type of meat, the tripe (sách), was not available (it is on the menu but it seems they had run out that day). Instead, he selected the phở tái with rare slices of beef. First, of course, comes the plate of herbs — rau quê (Thai basil), bean sprouts, lime wedges, and jalapeno slices.

Pho Tai (beef noodle soup with rare steak slices)

Pho Tai (beef noodle soup with rare steak slices)

Despite the initial disappointment at the lack of tripe, Martin seemed to enjoy his steaming bowl of pho. The broth was actually pretty impressive in its fragrance and flavor. Not quite Pho 79, but definitely better than the others I’ve had in LA. Lots of beefy flavor, the aroma of star anise and charred onion, and plenty of fresh scallions and white onion. I would go into the nitty gritty details, but I only got one bite and a few sips of broth.

Charbroiled Pork with Vermicelli (Bún Thit Nướng)

Charbroiled Pork with Vermicelli (Bún Thit Nướng)

I am usually a fiend for noodle soup, but I could not pass up the opportunity for a big bowl of vermicelli so I got the bun thit nuong. Rice noodles, chopped lettuce, cucumber strips, and fresh bean sprouts form a refreshing bed for the hot-off-the-grill (or flat-top?) slices of juicy, smoky pork. Pour on the fish sauce and dig in. It’s like a warm salad, in the very best way imaginable. One of my favorite Vietnamese dishes, especially in the summertime… or this unusually warm winter.

Crispy Shrimp Patty (Tau Hu Ky)

Crispy Shrimp Patty (Tau Hu Ky)

I had a feeling I would be satisfied with my bowl of bún, but as I was closing up the menu, my eyes took notice of an item on the appetizers list. Crispy shrimp patty — ground shrimp patty wrapped in a crispy tofu skin. Wait… isn’t that tau hu ky (tàu hũ ky)? I had to ask our server but she confirmed my suspicion. It’s one of my all-time favorite add-ons for cold Vietnamese dishes, so I ordered a plate of these as well. These were hot hot hot, fresh from the fryer, and the layers of bean curd crunched satisfyingly with each bite. The center was well-seasoned minced shrimp, which was only accentuated by the sweet & sour dipping sauce (a bit unconventional, but still delicious). The tau hu ky at 5i rivaled that of our established favorites in the SGV and OC. Spectacular!

If you’re in or near the Westside and looking for pho (or to expand your Vietnamese food eating repertoire beyond it), cruise on over to 5i Indochine Cuisine. We can’t speak for the rest of the menu, but the Vietnamese dishes are pretty darn stellar.

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Check out 5i Indochine Cuisine: 5ipho.net

5407 Sepulveda Blvd
Culver City, CA 90230

See their Yelp reviews here – though to be honest, I disagree with many of the reviews. To address a few: 5i is NOT Asian fusion. Most of the menu features Vietnamese dishes, so don’t order the Thai food and expect it to outdo “authentic” places. Yes, the parking lot can be a bit shady but that’s no reason to penalize the restaurant. And lastly, sparse and curt customer service is just how it is at many Asian restaurants… don’t come here expecting Michelin star treatment (although when we went, we found the staff to be pretty friendly).

Meet in Paris – Culver City, CA

Food Adventures, Los Angeles

‘Twas the day after Thanksgiving and the weather was quite dreary. Raindrops fell from the sky, and the streets of LA were empty and eerie. We had intended to go out for a hearty Southern brunch, but the long lines and a fateful sign put us in the mood for lunch. “Moules frites, foie gras, escargots” was emblazoned over a doorway; we took our names off the waitlist in favor of something much more gourmet. Meet in Paris is a bistro with decor comforting yet chic. The service was friendly and the mussel options plentiful – c’est magnifique!

Moules Marinieres at Meet in Paris

Moules Marinieres at Meet in Paris

Perhaps all of my blog entries should rhyme. The intro was a bit of an homage to last week’s episode of How I Met Your Mother which was narrated entirely in rhyming couplets. But I digress. I had been wanting to try Meet in Paris for a very long time, but we did not realize where it was located until we strolled from our car to S&W Country Diner. A quick Yelp search reminded me that this bistro was the one with literally one dozen preparations of moules frites, a Belgian (or French, depending on who you ask) dish of steamed mussels served with fries. Moules frites is one of my all-time favorite pub dishes as it pairs excellently with beer, but having it for brunch was a special treat. But first…

Quaint and chic decor

Quaint and chic decor

The exposed brick and chalkboard menu made the bistro feel trendy yet casual. I loved the checked tablecloths and white flour sack towels for napkins. The ambiance really came together for me when La Vie En Rose played in the background. Martin and I love the French romantic-comedy Jeux d’enfants (Love Me If You Dare), so when that song played, an otherwise ordinary brunch transformed into a very cute date.

illy cappuccino

illy cappuccino

Having spotted that they serve illy coffee here, I could not resist ordering a cappuccino. The coffee was the perfect temperature underneath a thick cloud of foam… the whole experience was made even better by a special little treat — a small chocolate macaron resting delicately on the saucer. It was dense and almost brownie-like in flavor and texture, a great foil to the coffee’s intensity.

French onion soup

French onion soup

Rainy weather almost always means soup, so we decided to share a bowl of the French onion soup, served appropriately in the lion head’s bowl. The broth was rich and not overly salted, and the layer of bread just under the cheese soaked in the soup nicely.

So fun to eat!

So fun to eat!

And of course, the generous layer of melted gruyere made appealingly long strings as we dug in.

Croque Madame

Croque Madame

Martin was in the mood for breakfast so he selected his (and apparently one of the servers’) personal favorite — the croque madame. As our server took his order, she nodded with a knowing smile. The croque madame is actually never mentioned on the menu; there is only the croque monsieur with an option to add a sunny side up egg for a nominal fee. Referring to it by its proper name almost felt like passing a secret test of sorts. It arrived with a mountain of shoestring frites and a gravy boat of bechamel. The bread was buttery and tasted even better enveloped by the oozy egg yolk and garlicky (?) bechamel. Super filling!

Moules Marinieres

Moules Marinieres

I was overwhelmed by the many options of moules frites with bases ranging from Thai lemongrass curry to Spanish chorizo broth to lobster bisque. Other varieties included smoked salmon (the Alaska), tequila (the Baja), and crab (the namesake Meet in Paris). But I am a firm believer in the beauty of simplicity, and so I opted for the mariniere — garlic, shallots, chablis, and herbed croutons. I’ve had PEI (Prince Edward Island) mussels in the past, but the ones here were HUGE.

PEI mussel in its shell

PEI mussel in its shell

Seriously monstrous. And they were incredibly tender and juicy. The broth that rendered from the seafood (and butter) was absolutely decadent.

PEI mussel compared to the spoon

PEI mussel compared to the spoon

I had to take a picture or two just to demonstrate how big and meaty these mussels were. This order is the small and it was the Goldilocks portion for my lunch (just right).

Can't have moules frites without the frites!

Can’t have moules frites without the frites!

And the frites… super skinny shoestring fries, these were crispy and salted and reminiscent of Father’s Office frites. Though our server provided a basket of French baguette to sop up the mussel broth, I really enjoyed dipping the fries. By the way, they do give you the option to order a salad instead, but I say – you just can’t have moules frites without the frites.

I noticed many other delicious French offerings on their menu, including steak au poivre (pepper steak) and escargots à l’ail (sauteed in parsley butter), that I’d love to try soon. Like love at first sight, I think we were destined to have our brunch date here and you can bet I’ll be adding this to our list of go-to dinner outings. The perfect spot to rendezvous for your next date night!

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Check out Meet in Paris: meetrestaurantla.com

9727 Culver Blvd
Culver City, CA 90232

See their Yelp reviews here!

Tacomiendo – Culver City, CA

Food Adventures, Los Angeles

Los Angeles is home to arguably the largest Hispanic community in the US. With the immigration comes authentic culinary traditions and that means, dear readers, that we Angelenos are blessed to have some of the most incredible Mexican food in the country. The best taco in LA is a contentious topic, as is the best burger in LA, but many will agree that Tacomiendo, a humble little storefront in Del Rey / Mar Vista, serves up some of the best.

Carne Asada and Lengua Tacos al Carbon

Carne Asada and Lengua Tacos al Carbon

Situated right at the bustling intersection of Culver and Inglewood Boulevards, Tacomiendo blends into its ordinary strip mall; blink and you just might miss it. Parking is a free-for-all but if you manage to snag one of the coveted spaces (or park in the neighborhood streets and walk), enter the doors to find a shoebox-sized venue boasting about 8 or 9 tables. Turn right and you’ll find a large poster of the menu and just below it, a friendly cashier waiting to take your order.

A Trio of Tacos with Horchata

A Trio of Tacos with Horchata

If you’re lucky, look just past her and you might see someone making fresh corn tortillas by hand, one of Tacomiendo’s claims to fame. The menu can be overwhelming with options varying from plates to tortas to burritos to quesadillas to burgers and even smoothies. We, however, always stick to the tacos al carbon — street-style tacos with a corn tortilla base, piled high with meats, and served plain. You are left to your own devices in terms of toppings, which is great because Tacomiendo has an awesome salsa bar.

Tacos Pescado

Tacos Pescado

Martin is a big fan of tried-and-true, so he will order two or three tacos pescado, depending on how hungry he is. Fillets of white fish, grilled to order and generously flaked onto the corn tortillas, these are way better (in our humble opinions) than the battered and fried Baja style fish tacos ubiquitous in so-called California cuisine. The fish is always well seasoned with a smoky hint of char on the edges. Perfect for pairing with fresh pico de gallo, a squeeze of lime, and a sprinkling of chopped cilantro. Salsa verde is another good option.

Tacos. (From left to right: Carnitas, Lengua, and Pescado)

Tacos. (From left to right: Carnitas, Lengua, and Pescado)

I’ve bounced around my menu selections. The carnitas, succulent and meaty option with juicy cubes of braised pork, taste great topped with chopped onions, chopped cilantro, and roasted ancho chili salsa roja. The carne asada tacos are a safe choice with the grilled marinated beef lending itself well to a combination of pico de gallo and salsa roja.

Tacos - Lengua and Carne Asada

Tacos – Lengua and Carne Asada

My favorite, however, is the lengua (tongue). Slow cooked and braised until each bite is melt-in-your-mouth tender, I was in awe the first time I tried the lengua here. It was among the best preparation of lengua I’d ever had. It takes all of my willpower not to pick out each bit of lengua to eat on its own, no tortilla, no toppings, nothing. But, I must resist, because nestled in the corn tortilla and slathered with cilantro, lime, and salsa roja, the lengua taco becomes something absolutely magical.

Another trio of tacos, this time with cantaloupe agua fresca

Another trio of tacos, this time with cantaloupe agua fresca

Martin will splurge his daily caloric intake on the medio litro (half liter) of “Mexican coke” — Coca Cola produced with cane sugar and not a drop of high fructose corn syrup. Some people can’t taste the difference but we have a strong preference for the legit stuff. Meanwhile, I’ll be happily slurping down one of the many agua fresca options. Fresh cantaloupe juice and watermelon juice abound in the summertime, while horchata is a favorite that’s served year-round. Go for the large… it’s so good, you’ll still want more!

If you’re in the mood for Mexican, I recommend swinging by Tacomiendo. Some people say it doesn’t have the right ambiance for a date night (what with the plastic tablecloths and all), but I’d say it’s the perfect place for an adventurous, food-loving date to uncover a new hole-in-the-wall. Just remember to bring cash (they accept credit cards but I think it’s a $10 minimum and since the food is so cheap, you may not quite reach it!).

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Check out Tacomiendo: tacomiendo.net

4502 Inglewood Blvd
Culver City, CA 90230

See their Yelp reviews here!

Jackson Market – Culver City, CA

Food Adventures, Los Angeles

One of Culver City’s best kept secrets, in my opinion, is the neighborhood haunt Jackson Market. A quaint little market and deli in the heart of the residential area across from the Sony Studios, Jackson Market serves up custom, made-to-order sandwiches featuring Boar’s Head meats and cheeses. Call ahead to place your order or just swing by, grab a form, and browse the wares while you wait.

My usual spinach wrap

My usual spinach wrap

I usually get a spinach wrap with prosciutto, mozzarella, spinach, cucumber, sprouts, black pepper, and balsamic vinegar. The sandwich makers are always generous with the greens, making the wrap somehow light but satisfying at the same time. Martin gets the honey roasted turkey on toasted sourdough with lettuce, tomatoes, avocado, and mayo; he loves his usual so much that he always digs in before I have a chance to grab a photo.

Caprese Sandwich

Caprese Sandwich

Custom order forms aside, Jackson Market offers about a dozen pre-designed sandwiches and wraps available for the choosing. On one occasion, my hand decided that it would scribble only my name and one (I repeat, one!) check mark, so I selected the Caprese – Fresh Mozzarella, Basil, and Roma tomato on lightly toasted Sourdough with Pesto and Garlic-infused Olive Oil and Balsamic. The panini-pressed sourdough offered a crunchy contrast to the soft and creamy mozzarella in the center. Delizioso!

Red Velvet Cupcakes, baked on site

Red Velvet Cupcakes, baked on site

Right next to the register, like the impulse buy section at the grocery store, sits the glass display case filled with desserts. Some are brought in by local bakers and some are made right on site. Our favorites are the super moist red velvet cupcakes slathered in cream cheese frosting.

Red Velvet Cupcake

Red Velvet Cupcake

They are baked fresh daily, but nothing beats catching them when they have just barely come out of the oven and cooled just enough to frost. $3 well spent.

Red Velvet Pancakes

Red Velvet Pancakes

Jackson Market is good for more than just lunch – they do breakfast foods too! I rarely order breakfast here (mainly pancakes, crepes, and omelets) but one day, my eyes locked on the Specials menu — Red Velvet Pancakes.

Red Velvet Pancakes... serendipity

Red Velvet Pancakes… serendipity

Reminiscent of giant whoopie pies, my order arrived personally delivered by the chef himself – four 8-inch diameter pancakes sandwiched with cream cheese frosting. Fluffy and bright red, the pancakes were dusted with powdered sugar and surprisingly were not sweet at all. This worked well with the frosting, which was a bit sugary for my liking. The combination made me feel warm and fuzzy.

The next time you’re in the Culver City area and in the mood to check out a place off the beaten path, cruise on over to Jackson Market. Be sure to allow some extra time to admire their eclectic selection of drinks and snacks, including Leninade, Kinder chocolates, and Uncle Eddie’s vegan cookies. After making your purchase, wander past the wine racks to the back patio for plenty of outdoor seating.

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Check out Jackson Market: jacksonmarketanddeli.com

4065 Jackson Ave
Culver City, CA 90232

See their Yelp reviews here!

Tip: Don’t forget to check in on Foursquare or Yelp — they sometimes have “check-in offers” that provide discounts to frequent visitors.