Cocina Condesa For a Fine Meal in Studio City

Cocina Condesa dresses up street food for a delicious dining experience in a colorful, welcoming restaurant.

cocina condesa taco platter

photo courtesy of Cocina Condesa

As the weather warms up I find myself making more excursions east of the grade. Those adventures are made even better when I get to have wonderful meals at the end of them! Here’s a spot I’d like to recommend if you are going to Universal or anywhere in Hollywood. On the way home, hit Cocina Condesa for dinner. It’s a bustling Mexican restaurant and mezcaleria on the south side of Ventura just east of Colfax.

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You can’t miss Cocina Condesa, because its colorful exterior and welcoming patio tables stand out from the surrounding businesses on Ventura Blvd. The dining room and bar welcome you with the lively conversation of its many patrons, and the warm natural wood decor. Families, dates, business meetings, and girls’ nights out were all around us when my friend Suzanne and I recently dined there as the restaurant’s guests.

Cocina Condesa markets its food as “Mexican street food,” but it sure doesn’t come across that way. The dishes have roots in Oaxacan cuisine, and with chef Eddie Garcia and mixologist David Rubin’s influences, the blends of taste and texture are at times fully satisfying and also surprising.

Our server explained that Cocina Condesa is primarily a “small plates” restaurant, and by now Los Angeles is pretty accustomed to this sort of thing. Plus, we lucked into visiting on the restaurant’s Taco Tuesday, during which selected tacos are only $2.50 each. Bring on the plates! Pair that deal with $8 house margaritas, and you have one fine hora feliz.

To start, we tried a few of the new drinks on the menu along with the requisite (and satisfying) chips & salsa & guac.

cocina condesa chips and salsa

First course

In the mule mug is the Bronco: Whiskey, Fresh Ginger, Soda, Fresh Watermelon Juice, Fresh Lemon Juice. For a ginger-lover, this is a solid, refreshing beverage. The watermelon juice makes it taste like summer. I tried the pink one, the Paloma: Tequila Blanco, Pinch of Salt, Squirt, Fresh Grapefruit Juice, Fresh Lime Juice. It was delicious. The best margarita I ever had in my life was at a tiny streetside bar in Loreto, Baja California Sur. The Paloma is the first drink that reminded me of that!

Then we tried some of the tacos from the Taco Tuesday menu – the asada was our favorite with perfectly cooked steak and toppings, but the vegetarian entry, with squash, sweet corn, and mushrooms, was a surprisingly sweet counterpoint to the other items we tasted. Everything we tried was quite delicious but another taco, this one on the regular menu, was our hands-down favorite: the Cerveza Battered Camarones Tacos. Basically, shrimp tacos. Topped with papaya jicama slaw and avocado sauce, this taco was the perfect combo of flavors.

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Cerveza battered camarones tacos – photo courtesy of Cocina Condesa

Another favorite was STREET CORN, which I put in all caps because it is not to be missed. The chefs will take the corn off the cob for you but we opted to eat it the authentic, messy way. This corn is prepared with tapatio aioli, cotija cheese, chili and lime.

cocina condesa street corn

Street corn

Between the small plates and sampling a few of the bigger meals (meant to be shared), we had to try some mezcal. It’s a tequila-ish alcohol that Cocina Condesa serves with a wedge of orange with chili powder on it. The act of drinking it is meant to be similar to tequila: down the shot and then suck on the wedge of orange. But I decided to sip this, and really savor the flavor. Basically it tastes, to me, like liquid smoke, perfect for the barbecue lover!

cocina condesa shot of mezcal

We tried the short rib birria dish, which is braised beef short ribs, topped with grilled frisee tomato salad and sautéed shitake mushrooms and served over pureed potatoes. The beef was so tender and savory, this was a very close second to the shrimp tacos. There was nothing left over.

cocina condesa short ribs birria

Everything about this dish is good

We also had to try the mole. I mean, if there is mole on a menu, isn’t a requirement to eat some? So we chose the chocolate mole chicken enchiladas served with Mexican rice and a scene-stealer: refried white beans. First time I’ve ever seen that.

cocina condesa chicken mole enchiladas

Refried white beans, upper right

Like good researchers, we saved room for dessert. There are a few good options, but the most “street-foodie” seemed like the right choice, and boy were we happy with it.

cocina condesa mini churros

These are mini-churros served on a nest made out of a brown paper bag alongside a bowl of caramel dipping sauce which honestly, you can just eat by itself with a spoon. What a satisfying end to a delicious meal in a great place.

A few cool things about Cocina Condesa:

  • Easy to get to off the freeway – from here, take the 101 to Laurel Canyon, south to Moorpark, east to Colfax, south to Ventura, turn left. Roll on up to the brightly colored Cocina Condesa and if there’s no street parking just valet for $6. Make it easy on yourself.
  • All dishes are served on unique plates made of wood, like slices of trees preserved and shined up for admiration and use. This is a small detail but every dish that came out was served on these and I was delighted by them
  • There is a back room with its own bar that you can rent out for parties.
  • The location is studio-close, so the staff is beautiful and you might be dining or drinking alongside cast, crew, or executives from shows in production.

Cocina Condesa
11616 Ventura Blvd.
Studio City 91604
818-579-4264
Website

 

Win Free Sharky’s For a Year!

To celebrate its new Get It Naked and Power Plates menus, Sharky’s is giving away free food for a year to a lucky Instagram or Facebook user! Enter soon because the contest closes on January 31!

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Take a photo at Sharky’s Woodfired Mexican Grill between January 1, 2016-January 31, 2016 and tag #SharkysShare and @SharkysSocial via Facebook or Instagram for your photograph to be entered into the drawing. Here are the official rules.

The winner will get almost a thousand dollars worth of Sharky’s meal certificates for the year, for Power Plates or Get It Naked menu items. Both are nutritionally sound, lower fat, lower calorie and still highly flavorful meal options and a great way to incorporate healthier options into your lifestyle. Check these nutritional powerhouse items out at www.sharkys.com.

Great Places To Eat If You Get Stuck Over the Hill

Over the last six months I visited La Sandia, Natalee Thai, Cafe Mango Six, and the new Fresh Brothers Pizza in West Hollywood. These are my stories.

IMG_6996Sweet sticky rice with mango at Natalee Thai

Okay, I know not everybody just gets “stuck” over the hill. People also go there on purpose. I suppose one has to venture out to Los Angeles proper at some point in time, otherwise what’s the point of living here? You might as well pick an affordable mansion in Ohio.

Besides, very nice people live in places only accessible via the 405 or Sepulveda, or even PCH. If it’s your turn to go visit them and you’d like a tasty meeting place, or if indeed you had a meeting that ended at 4:30 and there’s no way in hell you’re getting on the freeway at that time, then here are some places I’ve visited and eaten in those parts over the last six months. Forgive me for the lack of detail in some places, but trust me that everything I ate at all of these places was delicious, otherwise I wouldn’t be recommending them.

La Sandia at Santa Monica Place
395 Santa Monica Place, 305 N
Santa Monica, CA 90401
Tel. 310.393.3300


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Sandia is Spanish for watermelon, and the watermelon agua fresca and its alcoholic counterpart are two of La Sandia’s featured drinks. The beverage pictured above is the Latin Light margarita, made with tequila, natural juices, and something called nectreese sugar which helps sweeten the taste and keep the drink under 150 calories. I don’t care what’s in it. It tastes great.

That’s how I felt about the rest of the Latin Light menu, which I and several fellow MomsLA bloggers had gathered to sample.  We started with shrimp flatbreads and mushroom taco platters  which disappeared in a hurry.

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The main courses came out on neat arrangements of meats and beans and rices with lettuce leaves to wrap them in. I’m going to speak for everyone there that night and say the flatbread steak was the favorite, not because they all said it, but because that’s the platter that was devoured the fastest and the one we requested an encore from. It is not picture below because we ate it that fast.

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What IS pictured below is Ben Affleck. See? 

ben affleck at la sandia

Ben was the primary reason that each one of us took a turn casually strolling to the back of the restaurant to use the ladies’ room. Instead of getting all up in his face, tourist style, I simply hid behind this shrubbery to snap a discreet photo.

To top off the evening – as if that wasn’t enough – we each got served a cone of freshly made churros with chocolate sauce, effectively negating the benefit of keeping our dinner menus at low calorie levels, but hey, we were there to do a job, dammit, and we were gonna to it right. The churros? I recommend.

La Sandia also has a children’s menu that also features Latin Light entrees. Each meal has an entree, a beverage, and a scoop of ice cream for only $5.95. The choices are presented on a placemat decorated with 6 Lotería cards from the traditional Mexican game of chance. One of them is, of course, the watermelon.

Natalee Thai
10101 Venice Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90230
(310) 202-7003

IMG_6991This dish is on fire.

Here is where my memory gets fuzzy. I just studied the menu and tried to match some dish names to these photos and my memory but I can’t. So here is the best record of what I ingested the night I drove all the way to Venice (east Venice, but still) to join my MomsLA pals at Natalee Thai:

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Mine was the one on the left. I have no idea what was in it or what it was called, because I told the bartender to make his specialty. I always say that if I can’t decide what kind of drink I want, and usually they just blink at me without knowing what to say, but this guy perked right up and got to work. Verdict: tasty.

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I don’t know what’s happening up there either, except that it’s fried and there’s a delicious sauce on the side. What could go wrong? I don’t remember what these dishes below are, either, but again, YUM.

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This (above) is Thai iced tea with a smoothie floating on top. Delicious. The vibe at Natalee Thai was energetic and the staff were all lovely. Plus they have great matchboxes. Don’t you grab boxes of matches at a restaurant if there’s a bowl sitting on the hostess desk, even if you don’t smoke?

Cafe Mango Six
8428 W 3rd Street
Los Angeles, CA 90048
323-966-5866

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I only have this one photo of the food I ate at Cafe Mango Six because a) I didn’t eat that much there, and b) the food was not the best thing about my visit there. The best thing was the chance to meet up with some wonderful friends who live on the other side of the hill. Cafe Mango Six is on third street right down the street from the Beverly Center. Parking is miserable so you just circle the block(s) and pray for a street spot to open up, which magically happened to me when I went. This cafe serves lighter fare including the boba smoothies that are their specialty. Pictured above is a mango shave ice just like you’d get at the mall in Honolulu. It really was melt-in-your-mouth delicious.

kim at mango sixSee? I liked it! (photo by Tee Burgess)

But the second best thing about that day at Mango Six was the discussion about peanut butter cookies (theirs was nothing to write home about) when a food writer divulged her favorite recipe and it was so simple it blew everyone’s minds so I decided to make it one morning and it really was so good and easy that I wrote about it on my other blog and slapped it up on Pinterest and almost 700 re-pins later it is the second most-visited post on that 9-year-old website. (The most-visited one is my simple explanation of what Twitter meant to me in 2009. I peaked a while ago, folks.) All because I fought through an hour and a half of the worst LA traffic to get to that cafe.

Fresh Brothers Pizza
8613 Santa Monica Blvd
West Hollywood, CA 90069 ‎
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There is a special place in my heart for Fresh Brothers because everyone knows you get to a woman’s heart through her stomach and pizza equals love. And now there are lots of those places because Fresh Brothers keeps opening new locations all over town. I mean, lucky for us  we have two Fresh Brothers locations – Calabasas and Westlake Village – within easy driving distance AND they deliver. But it’s great that they are expanding because I have already found that no matter where you go the food, service, and environment at any Fresh Brothers is the same: awesome.
The newest location that I visited recently with my kids is right smack on Santa Monica Blvd. in West Hollywood. So that means that you get the best people-watching to go with your balls. Your meatball sliders, I mean.
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The meatball sliders are a new addition to the FB menu and I highly recommend these. They are served on King’s Hawaiian buns, so they are just perfection all around.
Of course, pizza is still the main attraction here so the kids got to decorate their pizza boxes, make their own pizzas, and even get a visit to the kitchen.
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Apparently you can park on the top of the building where Fresh Brothers is located, right next to Trader Joe’s, so parking shouldn’t be a huge issue, but I haven’t been to West Hollywood in a long time and my kids were with me, so I just nabbed the first street spot I saw open. Being Conejo Valley kids, they wondered why I had to put money into the little stand next to the car and I explained that it was a parking meter and I had to pay for the time we had our car in the spot. Their little minds were blown. But it was okay because our spot was right across the street from an auto shop, where there was a McLaren just hanging out, totally cool with us walking around it and taking pictures.
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West Hollywood FTW. Bonus, my friend Heather lives right down the street so she joined us and we tried to induct her into the Fresh Brothers fan cult. I think we succeeded.
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We dined free at all these places to facilitate this feature, but you can’t pay the bills with churros so don’t be jealous.