hippo

I love discovering tasty, new-to-me places in my (or a close by) neighborhood. Hippo in Highland Park had been on my radar for a while now- multiple friends had raved about it, and I couldn’t help but drool over their Instagram. So when we had good friends in town staying with us recently, I knew just the spot for dinner. Nestled off the busy street, just behind Triple Beam Pizza (another fave!), Hippo’s rustic, Italian-American vibes make it seem very New York to me. Perhaps that’s why I liked it so much from the moment we walked in, but once we tasted the food, it truly won me over. The bread basket of housemade focaccia was perfectly crusty and chewy, and I strongly suggest you start with the burrata di bufala (imported from Lazio-Italy!), served with even more delicious, carby goodness. I was a huge fan of the veggie starters- from the cool haricot verts with serrano chili toasted hazelnuts & Frenchie vinaigrette, to the griddled cauliflower with cauliflower “tahini” & walnut raisin caper relish, the flavors were truly unique. Of course, several housemade pastas are on the menu (and worth an order!), including the semolina spaghetti with guanciale, tomato & spicy pickled peppers, as well as the winter squash cappellacci with browned butter, sage & amaretti! Carefully handmade pasta, perfectly cooked to al dente, truly makes all the difference. Be sure to check out the rest of our meal in the slideshow above- there were honestly so many noteworthy dishes! We actually already had plans for ice cream after dinner, so I didn’t get a chance to try Hippo’s desserts- but there’s always next time! Post-baby, I’d like to go back for “Hippo Hour”, their version of happy hour, for some tasty small plates and a cool cocktail as well!


felix trattoria

Pasta, pasta, pasta! I had been told by many a pasta-finatic that if you’re on the hunt for delicious Italian food in Los Angeles, you head straight to Felix Trattoria. Being that it’s in Venice, it’s not the quickest dinner venture for us (not to mention reservations are hard to come by), but when I was planning a recent date night with friends, I made Felix a top priority. Chef Evan Funke’s take on traditional, regional Italian cuisine enriched with local Cali ingredients is nothing short of spectacular. Pasta and bread are the true standouts, and you can even watch them get made right before your eyes! The pizza bianca (with melt-in-your-mouth buffalo mozzarella) and the classic focaccia sfincione are not to be missed. You really can’t go wrong with anything from the handmade pasta menu, which offers various regional specialties from all around Italy. I love an orecchiette, and this one served with sausage, broccoli, peperoncino, and canestrato was delectable down to the last bite! Even the veggies at Felix were memorable: I loved the mint and pesto Siciliano coating the green beans in the fagiolini verdi dish! Also impressive were the branded ice cubes in my negroni- how fancy! Even though we were pretty stuffed by this point, you know I don’t skip dessert. The torta della nonna (a perfectly moist olive oil cake) really hit the spot, and allowed us to finish our meal on a not-too-sweet, but totally satisfied note. Scroll through the slideshow to check out the rest of our meal, and trust me when I say- get there soon! Felix (Latin for “happy” or “lucky”) easily gets my vote for best Italian in LA, and I already cannot wait to return in the new year!


lodge bread co.

I'll just come right out and say it- I'm obsessed with Lodge Bread Company. This bakery and café in west LA focuses on whole grain sourdough bread baking, freshly milled flours, and wood-fired pizzas, and truly impresses in all ways, if you ask me. Every day, Lodge Bread churns out some seriously delish and hearty bread, unique pastries, and both Neapolitan & pan pizzas, not to mention some tasty wood-fired veggie dishes as well. It's truly everything I want in a meal- carbs and sweets! I'd been eyeing the (gigantic!) sourdough cinnamon roll ever since I first saw it on Instagram, and finally indulged on my most recent visit. It's not overly sweet, thanks to a lighter, whipped frosting and that hearty whole grain sourdough, but utterly delicious with the perfect amount of cinnamon flavor! Next on my must-try list is the babka!

I've now gotten to try a good variety of things from the menu, and have yet to be disappointed. Upon first entering the bakery, after checking out the bakers handling the dough with such care , you'll find the beautiful array of pastries baked fresh that day. I highly recommend trying a couple (or five). Other than the cinnamon roll, the pine nut blondie and the carrot olive oil cake are to die for! The wood-fired cauliflower with pickled raisins & chermoula is just bursting with flavor, as are the roasted beets with chicories, cara cara oranges, labne & pepitas. You can't come to Lodge without ordering pizza. Trust me, just do it. My pan pizza was thick and chewy, almost like a slightly crusty sourdough focaccia, piled high with roasted veggies. Our sweet pea pie was the perfect seasonal treat, topped with snap peas, pea tendrils, green garlic & ricotta! I'm now drooling again just thinking about this meal, so looks like a return trip is in my very near future!


loring place

 
 

Loring Place had been on my must-visit list before it even opened, and I’m actually embarrassed how long it took me to get there. Alas, my parents were coming to town, and in my opinion, that’s the best excuse to make a reservation at the new hotspot in town. Chef Dan Kluger, who previously ran the kitchens at the highly successful ABC Kitchen and ABC Cocina, branched off on his own to open his own place where seasonal, local, American cuisine shines. Loring Place truly is a celebration of all things local- you’ll find ingredients from New York all over the menu. Kluger has built relationships with many farms and farmers over the years at the Union Square Greenmarket, and it’s so great to see their bounty on offer at the restaurant.

I really enjoyed the wide range of market-driven dishes, just bursting with flavor and creativity. Fruits and veggies at their peak ripeness really stood front and center to me- I love that they’re such a focal part of the menu! The grilled strawberry salad with sungold tomatoes, and carrot-hazelnut romesco with roasted eggplant and pita really impressed, as did the roasted corn with shishitos and basil. The wood-fired grill and oven lend themselves to some freshly baked bread and pizzas (all the grains are milled in-house!), as well as some tender, juicy cuts of meat. The savory duck was perfectly balanced by sweet & tart cherries and crunchy pistachios. We ordered plenty, but obviously still finished with dessert- a trio of deliciousness that I won’t soon forget. A fancy take on a DQ Blizzard?! Yes please! Click through the slideshow for more details on our meal. My husband and I are already planning a return trip specifically for pizza, because we just couldn’t fit it in this time! Too many tempting dishes, which is a great problem to have- well done, Chef!


tiny boxwoods

I love that my hometown of Houston, Texas has such a great restaurant scene. Living in NYC can sometimes spoil a person, but I'm lucky that I still get to eat plenty of delicious food when I'm back home as well. Tiny Boxwoods is one of my go-to spots, as both the cuisine and atmosphere are right up my alley. Their mission is to "create an experiential bond between food and environment that's contagious to all and forgotten by no one... to prepare good food from good places. Not just from its origins, but from our kitchen". The food here truly speaks to that idea, and the fresh, seasonal ingredients really do make for a memorable meal. Click through the photos for more details about each of our vibrant and flavorful dishes. I'm bummed I missed a photo of our wood-fired pizza, but I can assure you it's perfectly delish! If you do happen to stop by, try to snag one of the beautiful outdoor garden tables, and don't forget to grab a freshly baked cookie to-go on your way out!

16 oz. espresso rubbed dry-aged rib eye // oven roasted yucca, baby heirloom tomatoes, house chimichurri 


lilia

 
 

Ever since Lilia joined the New York dining scene, I'd been trying to find the perfect time to go indulge in a what I'd heard was a fantastic Italian meal. Chef Missy Robbins is bringing the best of Italy, think handmade pastas and wood-fired seafood, to Williamsburg, Brooklyn (in a converted auto shop, no less!). Reservations are almost impossible to attain, but my husband and I figured we'd test our luck right when they opened one rainy holiday weekend. No dice. The restaurant was already packed, but they have a lovely caffè with aperitivi and snacks to wait until your table is ready. We were seated pretty quickly, and soon began an Italian feast to remember. My husband got the opportunity to speak to Chef Robbins, as the vast, beautiful kitchen is open and on full display to diners. Her passion and creativity are truly evident in not only her words, but in each and every dish presented. Everything was so fresh and well balanced, not to mention cooked perfectly. As a starter, the cacio e pepe frittelle (think cacio e pepe pasta in a light & flaky beignet-type dough) were literally melt-in-your-mouth delicious. The handmade pastas, specifically the popular & uniquely shaped mafaldini, which is served simply with pink peppercorns and Parmigiano Reggiano, are some of the best I've ever had. Lilia has an amazing wood-fired oven, so it would behoove you to order a meat or fish dish cooked in this way. The grilled swordfish and veal flank steak were both cooked to perfection, with that slightly crisp, charred finish you can't get from other methods. As always, dessert was a must, and I loved the playful, yet sophisticated version of a build-your-own soft serve gelato bowl! We went with vanilla gelato, topped with lemony walnuts and amaretti cookies, however, I can imagine chocolate gelato with salted hazelnuts, chocolate stracci, and candied citrus would be to die for as well. Keep in mind that the caffè is open all day, so stop by for a cappuccino and pastry in the morning, or a sandwich and gelato in the afternoon! The fact that Lilia garnered three stars from Pete Wells, the New York Times food critic, is no surprise to me. I'm thrilled to add another highly impressive spot to my list of neighborhood regulars.