We started at Mama's Hot Tamales in MacArthur Park. It is not just a tamale restaurant, although we did order nearly all of the tamales on the menu (one each) to try. (My personal favorite was the tamale with spinach and mushrooms.) Mama's Hot Tamales is also an innovative example of community and economic development: the cafe is also a business and job-training restaurant which teaches people how to build on their skills from the informal economy of street food vending into more stable careers in the formal food service industry.
Mama's Hot Tamales is also a fine example of how a community economic development initiative can also act as a catalyst of local cultural tourism, as demonstrated by its ability to attract Angelenos from around the city, like us, to sojourn by transit no less.
We were served by none other than Mama herself, Sandi Romero. She was so sweet, knowledgeable, and nice. The food was delicious. My tamarindo drink was made from scratch, which I never had before. The decor was colorful and welcoming. I look forward to coming back.
Lost Soul Cafe
We took the Red Line to the Civic Center station, which was a few blocks from Lost Soul Cafe, a coffee and sandwich shop located off an obscure alley in the Old Bank District. The aesthetic of Lost Soul Cafe: Dark, unfinished ceilings, open mike space, very hipster-ish. Juan and I shared an Island Fresh smoothie, which was delicious. Ian and his wife got first an oreo shake, which turned out to be an accident. They also got their Ube shake, which was good, except for the fact that they'd had the Oreo shake first and well, there is sometimes too much of a good thing.
After visiting Lost Soul Cafe, we actually walked all of the way to Philippe's for French Dipped Sandwiches, which is several blocks north of Union Station and just below the hill from my family's regular Chinese restaurant, CBS Seafood Restaurant. (It is worth noting the proximity between Philippe's and CBS... I find it fascinating to see how swiftly neighborhoods change, from Chinatown to ... well, not Chinatown.) Anyway, Philippe's has been around since 1908 and moved to its current location in 1951 following the construction of the 101 freeway.
Philippe's "Frenched Dipped Sandwich" is the specialty of the house and consists of either roast beef, roast pork, leg of lamb, turkey or ham served on a lightly textured, freshly baked French roll which has been dipped in the gravy of the roasts. This was a hit with the group.
Finally, we went back on the train at Union Station - which is wonderfully iconic and beautiful - to visit Mel-Hel, the new hipster zone by LA City College. We got off at Vermont/Santa Monica and walked half a mile to eat gelato at Scoops. Scoops has gotten major press for its homemade gelato. You can get gelato with flavors that include ingredients like bacon. I don't really get that part. But hey, these kinds of amenties didn't exist when I was a kid growing up nearby before we decamped to the SFV.
Transit: $5 day pass; we used Google Transit to figure out our itinerary (www.maps.google.com). Ian, Justine, and I started our journey by walking or driving to the North Hollywood subway station while Juan, Hoi Ning, and Ryan rode the 720 Wilshire bus to MacArthur Park.
Mama's Hot Tamales, 2122 West Seventh Street (a half a block west of Alvarado St., and directly across the southern border of MacArthur Park), Los Angeles, CA 90057. Tel. 213.487.7474 - Fax (213) 487-8475. Open: 11 am - 3:30 pm seven days a week. Metro Red Line: Westlake/MacArthur Park.
Lost Soul Cafe - Old Bank District - Harlem Place Alley 124 W. 4th Street Los Angeles, CA 90001, 213.617.7000. On Twitter (twitter.com/lostsoulscafe); Facebook (facebook.com/lostsoulscafe); MySpace (myspace.com/lostsoulscafe); and the web (www.lostsouls.com). Metro Red Line: Civic Center.
Philippe's. 1001 N. Alameda Ave, Los Angeles, 90012, 213.628.3781. www.philippes.com. Metro Red Line: Union Station.
Scoop's, 712 N. Heliotrope Dr., Los Angeles, 90029, (323) 906-2649, Hours:Mon-Sat. 12:00 p.m. - 10:00 p.m., Sun. 2:00 p.m. - 6:00 p.m. Metro Red Line: Vermont/Santa Monica.