Taking a bite out of L.A.


“Is THIS my turn?” Bill asks from the driver’s seat. “No…ummm…na, not yet. But you’re in a good lane, the next right is gonna be you.” We stay idled at the red light as vehicles quickly fill the lanes on all sides of us before I realize I’m completely wrong. “Damnit man, it IS this right turn!” I exclaim before apologizing, “sorry dude, you want me to re-route you?” “No I’ll make it work” he says with a level head. I roll down the front passenger’s side window to our giant van (with trailer attached of course) and lean my head out, signaling to the truck behind us in the lane over that we’re gonna make a maneuver to get in front of him once the light turns green. He’s not having it. We’re not in the Southern “drive friendly” states anymore. Regardless, Bill angles his way into the lane and we make our right turn. A barrage of car horns ring out as we enter the on-ramp for Highway 1, just to be swallowed up by the sea of traffic and the sea of sights that is Los Angeles.

We were leaving LAX airport after picking up Sam Kuslan (aka KRU$H MONEY aka lil Papa), an extraordinary vocalist, pianist, and friend who we’re lucky to have joining us on two stretches of our expansive Western tour. After a long drive day from Santa Cruz, it was time to get to the hotel and get some sleep. Upon arising I had the urge to check out the natural environment of my surroundings. I did a google search for the closest trailhead to the hotel and got on my way. It was a beautiful walk that led my up the foothills above the San Gabriel valley and the views were magnificent. On one side the far-reaching suburbs faded into the Angeles National Forest, on the other you could see the skyscrapers of downtown L.A. and barely make out the figure of the Pacific Ocean through the smog and haze.

On this trail I met a native to the area (“I grew up on the other side of that foothill there” he pointed out to me on our hike) who came to be known as “trail friend” to the rest of the band very shortly. We continued on the hike together and he showed me some of the coolest overlooks on the trail and gave me great information about the ecosystem of the surrounding area. I asked him about some of his favorite places to eat near our hotel, and being that the town is called Hacienda Heights and my trail friend had told me that his family is of Mexican descent, my mouth was watering in expectation of homemade tamales, al pastor, and other exciting Mexican delicacies. To my surprise he told me, “around here you GOTTA eat the Chinese and Taiwanese food. It’s amazing. There is a higher population and concentration of native Chinese here than in Chinatown in L.A.” I asked him if he had any specific recommendations. His response, “Pick a province, it’s all there.”

Being that Los Angeles had already swallowed me whole with it’s traffic, I figured it was time to take a bite back. And a spicy bite at that. Sichuan Province was my weapon of choice, a province known for a number spicy delicacies including boiling hot-oils, “numbing” peppercorns, and combinations of fresh and dried pepper medleys. KRU$H MONEY, Wild Bill, and myself were on a mission. We started with breakfast at 85C, a Taiwanese bakery that featured a variety of sweet and savory breads and pastries made so that they were fluffy without being airy and had a wonderful mass without being dense. We sipped a variety of teas and enjoyed sharing a variety of baked goods before we were on to lunch shortly thereafter. As we walked around a neighborhood with far more Chinese characters than English, we picked a small restaurant that translated to “Spicy Home,” a place that resonates powerfully at the core of exactly what I set out to find. Bill and I split a meal that combined hot oils with mung bean noodles and previously raw meats (before hitting the boiling hot-oil), as well as a beautifully named dish that translated to “when peppers fell in love with chicken.” All of it was incredible. It absolutely floored me. So divinely spicy, but still so balanced and flavorful within that spice, never compromising the integrity of the dish they were cooking.

Shortly thereafter we traveled to the Hsi Lai Buddhist temple, a massive and beautiful structure atop a foothill where gardens of tranquility and shrines of solace helped us feel like we had stepped out of the metropolis that was engulfing us. One of my favorite things about getting to know major cities is beginning to understand the series of small communities and pockets of different cultural norms that allow you to step into a new world of perspectives. After about 8 hours in Hollywood and 24 hours exploring the area, I have only barely begun to scratch the surface of getting to know the City of Angels. But with this trip only whetting my appetite, I can’t wait to get another taste.

– Sam