LA Street Food Fest 2012 Preview

July 17, 2012

I know I keep saying it but you can try a swath of Los Angeles’ enviable and locationally diverse restaurants with one VIP ticket to LA Street Food Fest this Saturday. They shrink hundreds of miles of Southern California food marathon territory down to one single location outside the Rose Bowl. More importantly, they bring Tijuana’s thriving (and Anthony Bourdain-approved) food scene together in one outstanding row of Mexican food brilliance.

Three tips:

1. Some places serve portions that are too big for an event like this. Share those with a friend or ask that they cut them in half- don’t just eat half and throw the rest away.

2. Pepper in dessert every third course so you don’t overload on savory then get burned out of sweets.

3. Find the Baja chefs first.

This is what you’re day will look like:

Last night I sampled some of the great dishes that will be served Saturday. The Park’s Finest BBQ stood out as my favorite. Hailing from the neighborhood where Training Day was filmed, Oscar and John Eric grew up avoiding drama by cooking great barbecue. They came up from house parties to catering to a brick and mortar location in Echo Park. Saturday they’re bringing their famous Cornbread Bibingka (which stays moist with the inclusion of coconut milk) and Coco Beef.

Mama Leah’s Coconut Beef is 16 Hour Smoked Chuck Steak, sliced into cubed beef stew like pieces, pan roasted with garlic, stewed for 2 hours in a coconut cream, vinegar, and yellow chilis, then reintroduced into the smoker to hold and absorb smoke flavor in to the coconut oil.

Dog Haus Biergarten played host to the event, serving beer, hot dogs and sliders. Their Sooo Cali (mixed greens, diced tomato, tempura fried onions, spicy basil aioli, avocado) served on a Hawaiian Bread bun was fantastic. They just opened their third location in Alhambra.

The Peking Duck Truck will be making their debut. Chef Michael Brown (Red O, Wolfgang Puck Patina) brings years of experience and recipe trials to a truck focusing on traditional and contemporary takes on the famous Chinese dish. He manages an equally crispy and moist rendition that you should try Saturday.

The Hansik Truck was there serving Korean BBQ and milk tea from Moo Dae Po, Iota and Haus. The highlight was their “Papa Chokbal” (marinated pig’s feet with green onions and fermented bean paste).

All that salt needs something sweet. Coba Aguas Frescas are bringing the beloved drink to the masses with Horchata, Guayaba, Jamaica, Mango and Tamarindo.

Speculoos is the greatest single jarred import besides Marie Sharps Hot Sauce. Waffles de Liege serves waffles topped with speculoos so that’s more than enough reason to try them at the event. I just wish someone would make crunchy speculoos!

The Market on Holly is Pasadena’s Joan’s on Third. Their brown butter rice krispie treats go toe to toe with any you’ve had before.

Last but certainly not least was Mother Moo Creamery‘s salted dark chocolate ice cream. They are the real deal with hand made ice cream from Straus Family Farms’ organic dairy.

Here’s the full list. Study it:


Border Grill:  Mini Green Corn Tamal Cone

Cambalaches Gourmet: Menu TBA

El Pan-Americano: Pernil Sandwich

Fox Pizza Bus: Farmers Market Salad + Wood Burning Pork Crostini

Frysmith: Menu TBA

Fuji Foods (Debuts at the Fest!):  Rice ‘n Roll Onigiri

Gravy Train Poutinerie: Traditional Poutine + Deep Fried Cheese Curds

Hansik Truck: LA Galbi

Kogi BBQ: Black Jack Quesadilla, Sweet Chili Chicken Quesadilla

La Dolce Vita: Gourmet PB&J

Nonna’s Kitchenette (As seen on Food Network’s Great Truck Race):  Maple Glazed French Toast Crostini

The Grilled Cheese Truck: Cheesy Mac & Rib

The Mighty Boba Truck:  Buttermilk Popcorn Chicken + Boba Milk Tea

The Peking Duck Truck: Peking Duck Sliders

Vintage Kitchen: Patatas Bravas

Waffles de Liege: Original Liege Waffle

Wake N Bake Wagon: Pulled Pork Slider

WTF Pizza: Five Cheese Pizza

Yalla Truck: Pita Sandwiches


Antojitos mi Abuelita: Green Mole + Black Mole

Mariscos Jalisco: Tacos Dorado de Camaron

Mariscos Los Lechugas: Menu TBA



Antojitos Carmen: Menu TBA

Antojitos Sofy | Sponsored by Street Gourmet LA (As seen on Bizarre Foods): Corundas (Mexican mini tamales)

bling bling dumpling:  Cheeseburger Dumplings + Ginger Pork Dumplings

Jaliscos Mobile Taco Grill:  Tacos de Asada + Al Pastor + Pollo

Mexicali Taco & Co.: Cachetada  (The classic tostada reinvented)

Sabor da Bahia: Moqueca Taste (Brazilian fish stew with rice)

Seoul Sausage Company (As seen on Food Network’s Great Truck Race):  Flaming Fried Balls

World Empanadas:  Cricket, Bacon and Potato Empanada (VIP Hour+) + Chicken Empanadas



Ayara Thai: Spicy Grilled Thai Clams with Lime Sauce

Dog Haus: Sliders + Scott Baioli Dog

Fat Spoon: Seasonal Vegetable Curry

HAUS: Spicy Chicken Dukboki + “Papa Chokbal” (Marinated trotter with green onions and fermented bean paste)

Haven Gastropub:  Cola-glazed Berkshire Pork +  Pig Ears

Isla Cocina Pilipina: Menu TBA

Kings Row Gastropub: Curried Al Pastor Pork Belly with Fresh Naan

La Flor de Yucatan: Cochinita Pibil Tacos

La Monarca Bakery:  Guava & Cheese Puff Pastry Taquitos + Poblano Chicken Mole

Lazy Ox Canteen | Chef Perfecto Rocher: Paella

Moo Dae Po II: LA Galbi

Playa | Chef John Sedlar: Cielo Verde Cornet

Short Order | Chef Christian Page: Pretzel Pups

Simpang Asia:  Nasi Bungkus (Indonesian curry combination rice wrap)

Starry Kitchen: Menu TBA

Sushi Roku: Menu TBA

Tiara Café:  Slow Smoked Balls of Lust (Ham brined pork belly encased in roasted poblano)

The Park’s Finest: Menu TBA

Yxta Cocina Mexicana and Mercado:  Shrimp Taquitos + Rajas Tamales



Chef Neal Fraser | Grace + Vibiana + BLD



Chef Ricardo Zarate | Mo-chica + Picca (Food & Wine Best New Chef 2011)

Chef Bryant Ng | Spice Table (Food & Wine Best New Chef 2012)

Chefs Steve Samson & Zach Pollack | Sotto  (Los Angeles Magazine’s #1 Best New Restaurant) (VIP Hour+)



Ori Menashe | Bestia (Preview at the Fest!)



Aqui es Texcoco: Menu TBA

Benito Molina | Manzanilla Restaurant: Menu TBA

Javier Plascencia | Mision 19:  Tamal de Barbacoa (Pork shoulder, fig leaf, pickled veggies, coleslaw, heirloom beans)

Mariscos el Mazateño:  Taco de Camaron Enchilado

Mariscos “La Guerrerense”:  Sea Snail Tostada + Tostada Campechana

TACOS KOKOPELLI (US debut at the Fest!):  Black Harder + Kracken



Beachy Cream:  Ice Cream Sandwiches

CoolHaus: Menu TBA

Dragons Whisker Candy: Chinese Honey Candy

Ice Ice Shavie: Menu TBA

IOTA: Pat Bing Soo + Fruit Chips + Ice Coffee + Milk Tea

Longboards Ice Cream:  The Big O + The Barfight

Market on Holly: Wonder Bar + Brown Butter Rice Crispy Treats

Mother Moo Creamery:  Salty Chocolate + Cinnamon Ice Cream

Secret Squirrel Cold Brew: Menu TBA

Sinners & Saints Desserts:  Salted Caramel + Honey Granache Tart

Short Cake: Brunettes + Snickerdoodles + Nancy’s Favorite Chocolate Chip Cookie

Sweet Lucie’s:  Organic Strawberry Mint Lemonade + Cookies & Cream Ice Cream

Sweet Wheels: Beignets + GF Churros with Caramel Dipping Sauce

The Churro Borough of Los Angeles: Churro Ice Cream Sandwiches


Restaurants and Their Names

July 11, 2012

Bow & Truss, Post & Beam, Tar & Roses, Milo and Olive. Besides the construction/architecture references the wider trend is to include an ampersand or “and.” I realize naming a restaurant is probably as difficult as getting health inspection approval. It’s actually more important. Maybe all the “and’s” are so people feel like they’re getting more bang for the buck, like two for one….

I like names that are unique: Freddy Smalls, Son of a Gun, Father’s Office, The Lazy OxWolvesmouth.. My favorite was the pop up at Señor Fish called Molonay Tubilderborst.

The worst names have Boulevard or Blvd in some incarnation (The Blvd in Beverly Hills, Blvd 16 in Westwood, BLVD Bar and Lounge in Studio City). Boulevard- like a wide, congested, smoggy, dirty road with parked cars, ugly signs and traffic. What about that is appetizing?

What I’m really hoping to see is someone who takes the “&/and” thing to the next level and uses BOTH:

Brick & Mortar and Pestle

Meat & Greet and Potatoes

The Boulder Food Marathon

July 3, 2012

The fires in Colorado reminded me that I needed to post the Boulder Food Marathon that I did last November. Although it skewed towards burgers it also covered some of the town’s favorites.

In total we walked 11 miles and hit 9 restaurants.

Our first stop was Rueben’s Burger Bistro. They have Kwak on tap, served in a glass in a wooden holder. There’s some discussion online as to whether you’re supposed to leave the glass in the holder when drinking or remove it. I held the wooden handle out of sheer laziness.

The Spoke burger was covered in onion rings, bleu cheese and bacon. It was as rich as the Pike’s Peak Gold Rush prospectors that stormed the city in the late 1850’s. (Learning is fun.)

We made a quick stop at a Colorado fast casual chain called Noodles & Company. We really stopped there because Colorado is where fast casual was born. Have you heard of a little unstoppable virus called Chipotle? They’re based in Denver. Forbes’ 2011 Most Promising Company, Smashburger? Denver as well. Noodles, Mad Greens, there are too many restaurants to count. They’re a response to Fast Food Nation and the obesity problem plaguing America. But does Noodle & Co’s 800 calorie Pad Thai with an entire day’s worth of sodium help? No. Does everyone feel better calling it Fast Casual instead of Fast Food? Yes. Marketing department 1, fat Americans 0. (Learning is scary.)

Next up was Illegal Pete’s. This drunken burrito and taco specialist (the patrons are drunk, not the burritos) serves up many meats and vegetables in small or large tortilla vessels.

We had a platter of tacos: chicken, shredded beef, steak and pork carnitas. Doesn’t compete with LA but served as another non-burger stop on the marathon.

Mountain Sun Pub and Brewery was the beer stop on the tour.

They have a fine selection including some nitrogenated beers. That’s beer brewed with nitrogen to allow a better mouthfeel and dense, creamy head… We sampled many, but this place deserves a full afternoon of drinking. Not just a stop on a marathon.

Next was a sub shop called Snarf’s. They make damn good sandwiches and probably will be my first stop when we return to Boulder this Christmas.

We split the artichoke, feta and provolone sub because we’re weak. We wanted to save room for more burgers and I’m getting too old to properly do food marathons. For a non-meat sandwich it was still excellent.

Larkburger was the next stop. This place falls back into the Fast Casual department but with truffle oil.

It’s definitely a good burger and their design/aesthetic is great. I look forward to watching their progress on

The burger bonanza continued at Dark Horse Bar and Grill. It’s a big, fake-ID-driven sports bar that has the same A.D.D. decor and underage crowd as Barney’s Beanery, but more pioneer.

Dark Horse’s burgers aren’t made with care, but they are made on a well-seasoned griddle. Years of alternatingly drunk/hungover/drunk cooks have slaved over this griddle flipping burgers.

Their deep fryers have had as many basket dunks as LeBron, yielding great onion rings.

Before our last burger we tried Ben and Jerry’s Schweddy Balls. Because we couldn’t not. No picture or review is necessary.

Pearl Street Pub provided an excellent burger finale. Bordering on rare and with enough salt to force two extra rounds of beers, Pearl Street makes a simple, solid bar burger.

For dessert, we got cookies from Boulder Baked. And because I’ve made it this whole post without making the easiest Boulder joke you can make, I’ll leave the mental state of their clientele to your imagination. (It’s all in the name). They bake your cookies to order, which is an exercise in patience that can only yield sweet rewards.

For a city supporting a college, Boulder has a lot of the food you’d expect students would like/can afford. This marathon proves that they’re a well-fed bunch.

All’Angolo is Great Italian in Koreatown

June 29, 2012

Tony reminded me that I’ve been meaning to write really nice things about All’Angolo. When I went last October I took some blurry pictures and proceeded to not blog again for almost a year.

Well here is my ringing endorsement. All’Angolo is a fantastic Italian restaurant in Koreatown. Giuseppe Musso was the chef at Amarone Kitchen and Wine when it opened back in 2008. He impressed me then and I was happy to see him move to the eastside. The place is really small but the pastas travel well, so you can take them to go.

Definitely get at least one pizza and one pasta.

The lasagna in particular was notable.

LA Street Food Fest 2012

June 28, 2012
Be sure to buy one of the $65 VIP Hour+ early admission tickets for LA Street Food Fest this year. They’re doing it at the Rose Bowl again with Baja’s best curated by Bill Esparza (Street Gourmet LA)- that’s Javier Plascencia, La Guerrerense, and new this year, Tacos Kokopelli. Don’t miss past years’ favorites like Mariscos Jalisco, Antojitos Carmen and Mexicali Tacos. This time BigMista’s BBQ will be there, as well as Lazy Ox Canteen and Mo-Chica.
LA Street Food Fest

The Six Taste Food Marathon

September 15, 2011

Six Taste Food Tours has got it down. They are an organized food marathon company who, in a very short time, have established themselves as the preeminent food tour group in LA. Their restaurant walks are guided by pros who specialize in the neighborhoods that they traverse daily. They do a dumpling marathon that includes J.J. Bakery, Din Tai Fung, Sinbala and more. Their Santa Monica marathon covers Rockenwagner Bakery, Tudor House, Bar Pintxo and other stops. They also do Hollywood, Downtown, Thai Town, Little Tokyo and New Chinatown (the SGV).

I gave them the task of creating a food marathon of off the beaten path places that they don’t typically feature on their tours. This lead to Las Tunas Drive in San Gabriel, where I met Jeff and Mike. Jeff owns Six Taste and embodies the food marathon spirit.

The first stop was Taiwanese breakfast at Si Hai RestaurantThis place is a locals favorite without a letter of English on the front window.

A common breakfast item in China is hot soy milk. While most people drink it out of a cup, in Taiwan it’s served in a bowl. The sweet version starts off plain and you add sugar until it satiates your diabetes tooth. The savory version sounds scary, with vinegar that curdles the milk, pork and mustard greens.

Pork belly buns are very popular right now, with Flying Pig making them their featured item. As a kid Mike called these pacman, as the dough looks like an open mouth chomping on pork belly, They’re much bigger than anything I’ve seen on a food truck. Mustard greens are a staple of Taiwanese cuisine and would reappear throughout the marathon. They add tang, crunch and a rare dose of vegetables to the starchy, meaty dishes.

There are a number of breakfast burrito-style scallion omelets. They are wrapped around fried dough, which seems like a hangover cure to me. Nothing wrong with that.

In the same strip mall, Cathy’s Bakery is packed with sweet and savory buns, rolls, tarts, cakes and cookies.

I couldn’t bring myself to do it that early in the marathon, but the potato salad roll looked like the perfect football tailgate heartstopper.

Next up was Shanghai cuisine from Southern Mini Town. Yes, the name is a fantastic example of humorous direct translation from Chinese to English. They probably meant Southern Village, but I would have gone for Sparsely Populated Rural Municipality. Maybe it wouldn’t fit on the sign…

As we sat surveying the menu Mike explained that the waitresses were speaking a different dialect than the table next to us, and they were speaking a different dialect than the table next to them. The cultural melting pot of LA extends to all parts of the city.

May favorite dish of the whole marathon was the seaweed fried fish. It’s like Chinese fish and chips without the chips. The batter has seaweed in it giving it a green hue and salty crunch.

The dumplings were sweeter than Mama’s Lu, Dean Sin World and Din Tai Fung. I still like Dean Sin World’s best.

The Shanghai rice cakes fall short of Mama’s Lu’s, BUT Southern Mini Town has a different style that we didn’t order. It’s not a good idea to order two of anything on a food marathon especially not sticky, dense rice cakes.

The boiled chicken was bland and no amount of sauce could save it.

Moving on to the spiciest stop of the marathon, we got Szechwan cuisine at New Chong Qing.

Their house specialty broiled chili fish comes bathed in a cauldron of spice.

I liked it but always get lazy about picking through fish bones. Maybe I’m spoiled. Any struggle with bones was curtailed by enthusiasm with how many peppers could be applied to each bite.

The dan dan noodles were excellent. It lead to a discussion about Dai Ho and the noodle nazi. Rumor is that the owner was such a tyrant behind the counter that one of his customers beat him up. Since then he’s a bit nicer, but not exactly welcoming. I can’t wait to try it.

Just for good measure we ordered some pork belly which was good.

I didn’t tell Jeff and Mike but on the way home I stopped at Tasty Noodle House.

I love their pork bao and couldn’t leave the neighborhood without them.

The other suggestions for next time were the egg rolls from Golden Deli and Lu Gi, the hot pot place next to Si Hai. So as one marathon ends another one is created.

Six Taste is achieving innovative food exploration via food tours. They’re going to expand to other events as well. One such event is a Chinese Market Tour with Chef Sara Johannes from WP24. It’s a great way to learn about Asian cooking, ingredients and more importantly brands that are reputable. 99 Ranch can be intimidating but Sara breaks it down very eloquently.

I’m thrilled that Jeff and Six Taste are working so hard to further the food marathoning mentality.

The Second Fancy Burger Food Marathon

July 25, 2011

This is the third burger marathon to date- the second to focus specifically on gourmet burgers. It’s because it’s easy to split burgers and there’s no end to the debate over who serves the best one.

Sinosoul and I chose four west side locations, three of which served burgers that cost more than $15 each.

First up was Petrossian. I haven’t been back since they first opened in may 2009. The house of fine caviar doesn’t mess around when it comes to burgers. The menu looks like it’s covered in caviar so I naturally assumed the burger would be as well.

At $18 there was a chance…

Setting the bar high, this rich, juicy burger was sweet and oniony with a perfectly light bun.

Although it wasn’t covered with caviar it still was awesome.

The thin, crisp fries were a salty compliment to the sweet burger. The caviar tin of ketchup was only a tease.

Our second stop served a $15 burger. Villa Blanca in Beverly Hills is famous because the woman that owns it is on The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. While this makes it a more recognizable restaurant, it certainly doesn’t make for a more flavorful meal.

The best part about Villa Blanca was the diagonal crosswalk outside and the second best thing was the blue Ferrari next to said crosswalk.

The worst part of Villa Blanca was the fries with the burger coming in a close second.

Overcooked, with little flavor, the burger came smothered in oil cheese with a side of limp onions. Although the bun looks the same as Petrossian’s, it was less buttery.

The third stop was Miru 8691, a Korean burger fish bar that is located at 9162 Olympic Blvd. Yes, that’s not the number in the name…

It’s as mashed up as it sounds, with colorful Louis Vuitton print booths and more signage than a picket line.

According to someone, they have the best burger in LA.

The O.G. burger is a sloppy chili burger with seven spice aoli and a house glaze.

It was smaller than the previous burgers but definitely packed in a lot of flavor. Coming in at half the price of Petrossian’s burger, I wasn’t mad at it. If I was drunk it would have been brilliant, but sober I’d give it a solid “good” rating.

For a food marathon, I wasn’t full at all at this point. We split the first three burgers four ways and I didn’t waste a lot of space on fries. I did this knowing we were gonna end at Rustic Canyon.

Not too far from the original burger list-topper, Father’s Office, Rustic Canyon has unleashed their beast of a burger to the top of a lot of people’s gourmet burger lists.

I ordered an entire $22 burger for myself (with bacon, which was more like thick sliced pork belly).

With a burger looking that good you really need another picture.

Note the buttery sheen on top of the bun (and that all four burgers had the same kind of bun). I’m not sure if it makes me weak but after one big bite I had to switch to a knife and fork for this one. It was more important to get a perfectly even swath of beef, pork, bun, cheese, pickle then maintain any semblance of manliness. It was fantastic. It’s such a different burger that it’s hard to say if it’s better or worse than Petrossian’s. It’s more traditional in flavor profile, and definitely messier.

To wash down all the meat we ended with two salads: the beet, farro and feta, and the peaches and burrata.

For dessert we had sardines, because no four-burger meal is complete without them.

I anticipate many more burger marathons this year and next. There are just too many too try and not nearly enough time. Suggestions are welcome.

LA Street Food Fest 2011 Review

July 17, 2011

So carmageddon turned out to be a ploy by mass media to get ratings and scare the public into watching more television. Sucks for anyone that fell for it because they missed LA Street Food Fest. Compared to past years the lines were non-existent (except, of course, for the Grilled Cheese Truck and Cool Haus).

There was too much food to try it all, even for a professional food marathoner.

One of my favorite parts of food events is to watch the chefs barter with each other.

The highlights were the Baja chefs who brought Mexico’s finest including:

La Guerrerense:  Sea Urchin Tostada

They have a line of salsas including a habanero, peanut blend that started the day off with a kick.

Mision 19:  Pacific Oyster Asada w/ Chicharron Short Rib, Serrano Ponzu Butter, Lemongrass Foam

For Cinco de Mayo a Mexican director and producer made us a delicious dinner. Their friend, chef Javier Plascencia, has a stellar restaurant in Tijuana that my business partner and client visited last weekend. They came back raving about it so I was thrilled to try the oyster.

Manzanilla Restaurante: lengua, beef cheek and abalone

Some of my favorites were actually LA’s Mexican street food.

Mariscos Jalisco:  Tacos Dorado de Camaron

Mexicali Taco & Co:  Vampiros (garlic infused quesadilla)

Antojitos Carmen:  Alambre Taco + Mini Pambaso + Mini Squash Blossom Quesadilla

They have one of the best spicy sauces in LA. It doesn’t look menacing as it’s creamy, but don’t be fooled. It’s vicious and delicious. So good, in fact, that we took a cup home.

The spice required an antidote. It came in the form of Ice Ice Shavie’s sublime Hammer Thyme shaved ice. You know I’m a sucker for 90’s music references so I was happy that the product lived up to the marketing.

Ice Ice Shavie: Shaved Ice: Hammer Thyme (strawberry, thyme, lemon, ginger) + Mojito (mint, lime)

I’ve never heard as many ball jokes as I did yesterday. It seems restaurants have realized balls are the easiest thing to serve at events like Street Food Fest, so Tiara Cafe, The Mighty Boba Truck and:

Starry Kitchen:  Pandan Donut Holes + Double Fried Sweet Ginger Chicken Wings

Great Balls on Tires:  Ballywood  (Indian meatball on rice)

Picca continues its reign over July. Besides the Food & Wine Best New Chef title for Chef Ricardo Zarate
and the successful opening of Picca on Pico, add serving one of the best dishes at Street Food Fest to the list.

Mo-Chica + Picca:  Peruvian Cau Cau (tripe stew)

America loves corn. It’s no wonder Peruvian food is making big strides- they have the biggest corn kernels….

Moo Dae Po II:

Yxta Cocina Mexicana:  Shrimp Taquitos

GuelaguetzaMole Tamales

Cacao Mexicatessen: Venison Chorizo Verde, Tortilla de Jicama, Serrano Relish, Goat Cheese Crema Mexicana

The Frysmith: Bacon & Port Poutine + Habanero Chicken Chili Fries

Glowfish:  Okonomiyaki

Maggie’s Meat & Bread:  Choripan w/ Tortilla Espanola, Chimichurri + Carbonada Criolla Tacos (Beef Shank, Pumpkin Aioli, Argentine Queso)

Streets of Thailand:  Legendary Thai Iced Tea + Sailor Jerry Rum Mashup

Seoul Sausage Co:  Kalbi Sausage + Spicy Kimchi Pork Sausage

I Love LA. This is Stupid.

July 15, 2011

I took this picture last night. It’s appropriate for many reasons.

First, I love LA because you can see Elvis, Chong (of “Cheech and …” fame) and a tranny sitting together at a bus stop.
Second, because they’re sitting next to a poster that boldly says This is Stupid.
Third, it’s even more appropriate tonight because of Carmageddon.
Have a good weekend.

The College World Series Food Marathon

July 7, 2011

Every summer the best teams in college baseball meet in the middle. Literally. In Omaha, Nebraska (the middle of America) on summer solstice (the middle of the year) eight teams compete for the national championship. It’s not nearly as popular as the NCAA basketball tournament (on which there’s $2B bet every year). Yet it has sentimental value for me, as I’ve always loved baseball and wanted to go to the CWS since I was a kid.

The games I watched as a kid were played at Rosenblatt Stadium. This year a brand new stadium debuted, Omaha’s TD Ameritrade Park. Same friendly people, considerably more comfortable seats.

While I’m sure some of the character couldn’t be replaced, the new stadium was beautiful, with the same dimensions on the field and good views from every seat.

The thing about college baseball is that it’s really about the team winning. Individual players and performances are only secondary to the win. The national champions, South Carolina, actually made it to the final game without hitting a home run and still went undefeated in Omaha. College baseball is like simple, purist sushi versus the spicy tuna crunch roll of Major League Baseball.

Fine, enough about baseball. The first thing I ate in Omaha was a steak, of course.

This baseball bat sized tomahawk from Sullivan’s was dry aged and enormous. We sat next to Nomar Garciappara and stuffed ourselves with Omaha steaks, blue cheese covered wedges and a side of creamed corn. It wasn’t the best steak I’ve ever had, but damn good.

They’re not known for their barbecue, but in a city famous for steaks you still can get decent brisket, ribs and pork. These were from the fan fest outside the stadium.

The best meal of the trip was at Bohemian Cafe. They serve Czechoslovakian cuisine. Food that requires sitting for 3 hours afterward. Coincidentally that’s the only thing we planned on doing.

The decor and staff are from another a time. A happier time when one didn’t feel guilty eating 4,900 calories for lunch.

This gravy covered brilliance is their special $8 lunch combo. After the liver dumpling soup (not pictured, but imagine delicious liver flavored matzo balls denser than freshly poured concrete) we were served a plate of gravy. Under the gravy was tender Svickova (Czech style sauerbraten), sweet and sour cabbage and Czech dumplings. We also had their Polish sausage and sauerkraut, because we couldn’t not have them.

Next to Bohemian Cafe sits another CWS staple. The little stand called Ethnic Sandwich Shop makes a range of best-in-Omaha sandwiches, with daily specials that include Hot Roast Beef, Lasagna and Mac and Cheese. I kept it simple with the Sparky (a hoagie with hard salami, capicola ham, lettuce, tomato, red onions and Italian dressing).

The highlight of the trip was an off the beaten path dive, aptly called Happy Bar.

Tall boys of PBR for $3. Air Conditioning set to 68 degrees (it was a humid 88 outside). A welcoming, staff and patrons. Happiness defined.

We took a short drive to Wahoo, Nebraska to try a couple of local favorites. Wahoo Locker is a cured meat champion. They win awards for their summer sausage. The lingering smoky aroma of their award winning jalapeno and cheddar beef sticks made the most lasting impression of the trip.

Before we left we got butterburgers and frozen custard from Culver’s. My affinity for Culver’s stems from many post-disc-golf burgers during college. As I introduce it to new people, who are totally underwhelmed and disappointed I realize it’s simply a point of nostalgia as opposed to a great fast food spot.

It’s worth mentioning the crazy storm that blew through at the end of one of the games. We drove straight towards this insanely menacing cloud, before a tree blew across the street. We turned into the first building we could find, which happened to be a hospital, and waited it out. The saying holds true, “if you don’t like the weather, just wait ten minutes.”

After many days without a vegetable I was ready to return to the arid Los Angeles basin. I can happily check the CWS off the bucket list.