When we drove into East Hollywood for our breakfast at Sqirl, I thought to myself, what a dump. East Hollywood is not pretty, people. We walked by a sketchy Chinese take-out restaurant and other sorry storefronts before we spotted a line of hipsters across the street. The food at Sqirl must be amazing to draw a crowd so early in the morning in such a janky part of town.
Don’t be intimidated by the neighborhood. We spotted Kiernan Shipka, the actress who plays Sally Draper on Mad Men, waiting in line with her friends. If it’s safe enough for sweet little Sally, it’s definitely safe enough for you. And the wait isn’t as bad at people say, the line actually moves pretty quickly. We were there at 10 am on a Saturday, and the wait was about 30 minutes for the four of us. The food also comes out pretty fast, since the limited but well edited menu lets the kitchen crank out orders pretty efficiently.
The brioche toast is as good as everyone says. The slice of toast is massive, but most of that volume is a light and buttery pastry base that dissolves in your mouth. The toast is technically burnt, and the black marks might look suspicious, but the end result is more of a caramelized char rather than burnt scraps. But enough about the toast, let’s talk about the jam. These artisanal jams are unlike anything I’ve ever had. You feel like you’re eating real pieces of soft fruit, not sugary pectin packed into a jar. You can taste each part of the blackberry and every one of the seeds in the strawberry, and when paired with the buttery toast, it’s the perfect match.
The rice bowls here are also famous, and almost every table seemed to order one. I personally found them a bit too dense and heavy for breakfast–having a bunch of rice sitting at the bottom of your gut is not the way to start the morning. The flavors were very interesting and vibrant, though, with a lot of bright citrus flavors coming to the forefront. I preferred the black eyed peas and poached eggs special, which tasted like a bowl of warm bean chili. Savory and filling, but in a more balanced sort of way.
Afterwards, since we were so taken by the jams, we bought a bottle of the blueberry & rhubarb jam as a souvenir. I don’t think I’ll find a brioche toast quite like the one at Sqirl in New York, but a jam this good goes well on almost anything.
Later in the day, we had dinner at POT, a Korean fusion restaurant in Koreatown run by bad-ass Korean American chef Roy Choi. I can’t believe I used the word Korean so many times in one sentence. POT looks and feels like a cafeteria for acolytes of street culture. People roll in wearing their Bathing Ape hats and Supreme shirts, ordering dishes with racy names like Roger Wants Moore Octopussy while a DJ plays hip hop beats in the background. I was surprised by how such a trendy place felt like a food court, it reminded me of the seating area of Hannam Chain, which I spent much of my childhood in, eating big bowls of kal gooksoo. If you traded in the hipster Asian line cooks for Korean ajoomas, the transition would be seamless.
While most of the dishes are Korean-inspired, there’s an ambiguous pan asian quality in the flavors that makes it taste like a little bit of everything. Our Kay Man Doo dumplings had the mouth-feel of a wonton and contained a glut of ginger and chives that was unmistakably Chinese, but the spicy sauce it arrived in was reminiscent of a Korean maeoon tang. The tuna Poke Me lacked the sesame oil marinade in Hawaiian versions and instead was dressed in a light soy, rice vinegar dressing that is common in Korean salads.
The Beep Beep Uni Dynamite Rice bowl was a hot mess of excess, in which grilled uni was laid on top of rice krispy like kernels slathered in spicy mayo sauce. This wasn’t a product of Korea or Asia, it was the love child of Roy Choi’s pot-induced imagination. Which is probably why it doesn’t taste all that great when you’re sober. I do have to admit it was a unique dish, but not one I particularly enjoyed, as the ratio of mayo to rice was off the charts too high.
My favorite dish was one that was more traditional in nature, the Steam Room, which featured steamed tofu in a spicy soy sauce, kimchee, and huge slices of steamed pork belly. It looked and tasted like the makings of a bo ssam except there were no lettuce leaves or rice. You really didn’t need them, because the tofu and pork were mild enough to absorb the pickled nature of the kimchee. The kimchee was shockingly good, this coming from someone who truly hates it, and I found myself eating it plain.
For dessert, we ordered the sweet potato cheesecake, which arrived looking very over the top like a quinceanera in Texas. It tasted amazing, like one of the taro cheesecakes that won over my heart in Hawaii. Whether you were high or not, this was definitely a crowd favorite.
Afterwards, you can have some drinks outside and mingle with the scenesters of Koreatown, or you can be like me and make jet lag an excuse for calling it an early night. Roy Choi’s Korean fusion food is creative and interesting, but I would never choose this over really good traditional Korean BBQ or Momofuku pork buns. But then again, I never tried the food stoned. That might be a whole different story.
720 N. Virgil Ave, Ste 4
Los Angeles, CA 90029
3515 Wilshire Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90010