1 glass of water
Mario’s Peruvian Seafood
1/4 order of arroz con mariscos (seafood-fried rice)
1/4 order of camarones de saltado (shrimp with potatoes, tomatoes and onions)
1 bread roll
1 20 oz. bottle of Diet Dr. Pepper
There are now more accomplished Peruvian restaurants than Mario’s in Los Angeles. Los Balcones del Peru, a mile north on Vine, is more sophisticated and Mo-chica is in another stratosphere. But Mario’s has been around since 1990 and was the reference point to Peruvian cuisine for many Angelenos. There were always a handful of Peruvian spots around LA, but Mario’s cooking is a bit more polished. Calamari and shrimps are rarely overcooked and always tender, which is an accomplishment in itself for restaurants in that price range. I always get the arroz con mariscos out of habit. It’s not the most exciting dish on the menu, but I find it highly satisfying and the best way to get a generous serving of seafood. Portions are also huge, even splitting dishes into two meals is daunting. Saltados, the popular Peruvian dish of meat stir-fried with tomatoes, onions and french fries, is probably the most popular dish here. I drove by Mario’s every day on my way to and from work so this was a regular take-out option for me. It’s a huge pain in the ass though. Mario’s is situated in a tiny mini-mall that has the most ill-conceived parking lot in LA. It’s narrow, so SUV drivers need nerves of steel to navigate through it, and the exit is labelled as the entrance, which often leads to standoffs between two cars, like two rams about to butt heads during mating season. Inside, Mario’s decor is bare, service is blunt and there are people hovering because there’s nowhere else to stand while waiting for tables. But over the past 20 years, we’ve come to accept those annoyances as part of the procedure for a reliably good Peruvian habit.
Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf
1 small mocha latte
Gobi Mongolian BBQ
1 plate of Mongolian BBQ
3 pieces of sesame bread
1 can of Siames Twin Ale
My only previous experience with Mongolian BBQ was Great Khan at the Santa Monica Mall. It was typical mall food, filling, extremely salty and not something that would displace Hot Dog On A Stick as my preferred mall option. So I was bemused when Gobi opened in Silver Lake with a sleek interior and a fancy beer/wine list in the middle of a hipster enclave. Sure enough, there’s a giant stone grill where a cook flips meat, noodles and vegetables around, and there is a giant buffet with frozen meat, vegetables, noodles and sauces for you to concoct a meal out of. Gobi is considerably better than mall food. There are better vegetable options like shiitake mushrooms, giant chunks of eggplants and green cauliflowers. You can also load a TON of garlic if one chooses. And they offer lamb, which should hold up well to the melange of flavors one piles on. Honestly, it doesn’t matter what meat you choose. They all end up tasting the same after you mix in 15 other ingredients. The fun of Mongolian BBQ is to see how much you can pile into a 24 oz. bowl, because whatever’s in the bowl ends up in your meal. If you’re geometrically adept, you can theoretically build a dish big enough for your entire dinner party. I figured that by putting the heavier vegetables on the bottom (eggplants, cauliflower), then the lighter ones like tomatoes, then leafy greens, then a pile of noodle to smoosh everything down was the best way to fill volume with food. The resulting plate was big enough for 2 1/2 meals. Being the slob that I am, I ate the whole damn thing, then took my friend Abigail’s leftovers home for tomorrow.
BTW, Mongolian BBQ isn’t actually Mongolian. It’s a product of Taiwan from the 1960’s, back when kitsch like Polynesian and teppanyaki cuisine caught on. Mongolian BBQ is actually a kitschier adaptation of Benihana, if that’s possible, and some genius decided to call it Mongolian because, well, that’s a good, racist way to symbolize brutish consumption of food. So no, Mongolian BBQ is not exactly a moment of culinary genius. But it can be fun playing Tetris with your food, and I don’t have to sit through yet another onion volcano.