4 Under-the-Radar LA Spots, From a Oaxacan Mole Menu to a Cuban Bakery

My last jaunt to LA yielded a few spots I thought you should know about:

OLD PLACE, Agoura Hills – Take to the winding roads of Agoura Hills where happening upon Old Place feels like a mirage in the wild West. The smell of BBQ lures you in, while a rustic wood porch makes you want to pull out a banjo and ‘set a spell’.

The Old Place in Agoura Hills

This restaurant is a surprise in any part of LA. Rustic yet current, it’s like stepping into another dimension, a Bonanza-like LA where Hoss or Little Jo might ride up any minute for beef stew or blue corn meal flapjacks yet the clientele is youthful and hip. As for the food, I can’t vouch yet (they are open for dinner and a popular brunch), as I lingered in the rustic chic wine bar next door. But I can say I was enchanted amidst the dry brush and quiet of winding Agoura Hills.

Mole Negro

MOLES LA TIA, East LA – Never mind the sketchy area when a slew of lovingly prepared Oaxacan moles await at the humbly wonderful Moles La Tia. The gracious staff brought me a few additional moles to taste as I couldn’t possibly eat all the dishes I wanted to.

Moles la Tia

Passion fruit mole is brightly piquant without being sweet. Coffee mole is earthy and lush. Get blissfully lost in the mole menu, but if you haven’t had Chef Rocio Camacho’s Mole Negro, or Oaxacan Ancestran Black Mole over quail ($15), do not delay.  Dark as the night, layered and complex, you’ll taste something different in every bite, all the while singing Camacho’s praises.
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El Tepayec

EL TEPAYEC, East LA – The famed Hollenbeck Burrito is something you should try once in your life, giant enough to feed a few, overflowing with rice, beans, tons of pork and what feels like an entire avocado. But the real appeal at El Tepayec is the world worn, charming 1970’s diner, the adorable, elderly doorman (yes, even on a weekday this place has a line), and the Mexican curios lining the walls. Locals swarm the brown-toned dining room. At the take-out window (with side patio ideal for a quick bite), I’ve heard men order two Hollenbeck burritos… each.

PORTO BAKERY, Burbank – This swarming Burbank bakery operates like a massive, chandelier-laced cafeteria doling out Cubano sandwiches and box-upon-box of cakes and sweets to go. Cuban families and nearby film and TV studio workers pack the place out for lunch. Understandable, considering most sandwiches were under $5.

Porto’s baked goods

I filled a box with pastries from Porto’s, impressed that unlike most gourmet bakeries these days, most items are under $1. That’s right: for the same sized pastry I pay $3-4 for elsewhere, I paid 75 cents. The owners’ heritage is Cuban so I avoided the French or Americanized pastries and went for unusual items like Guava & Cheese Strudel, Mango Empanadas, or Chorizo Pie. Fruity, tart, flaky… each was a delight. And less than $5 for a number of them.