The AltaMed Food & Wine Festival, known as ‘California’s prime Hispanic food and wine festival,’ celebrated with a weekend of south of the border flavor and fine wine that spanned across both LA and Orange County. The LA festival, held in downtown’s iconic LA Live, was a sight to see and be seen.
The otherwise-packed streets adjacent to the Staples Center and Microsoft Theater closed to traffic in order to make way for a seemingly endless path of tents doling our bottomless tastes and pours. The city lights shined down on a jovial crowd, with live music from the Spanish Harlem Orchestra igniting the mood.
The festival’s ‘East LA meets Napa’ theme was true to its word, with a smattering of Angelino culinary icons cooking up classic renditions and novel twists on Central and South American favorites. Likewise, an array of wineries ensured that a perfect pairing was always close by. Margaritas and sangrias were free flowing as well.
With a largely Latino focus, it’s safe to say there were no shortage of tacos at AltaMed. From King Taco’s signature al pastor to Maestro’s pork belly tacos, the festival had just about anything that could go into a squid ink, hatch green chile, or just plain ol’ corn tortilla. Tostadas from El Portal and Zapien’s Salsa Grill and Taqueria added to the mix, as did Chago’s tortas.
Pez Cantina went all in with a red argentine shrimp a la diablo with scallion slaw, dried shrimp and chili oil. Equally, Honduras’ Kitchen paid homage to its homeland favorites, such as baleadas with refried beans, cream and cheese, and San Pedro sula, or ground beef in fried plantains. La Fonda’s chicken mole and La Huasteca’s tamales, ceviche and chile en nogada were just a few more of the festival’s worldly items.
For a fun play on Latin fusion, Yamashiro and Bike Brewery each served up some great poke wonton nachos. The Chicken Koop’s (extremely) hot chicken easily matched any chile pepper of the evening, and Otium’s meatballs were melt-in-your-mouth. But of all the places to take the cake for most extravagant dish, the award goes to Sysco—yes, the food supplier—who wowed patrons with lobster claws covered in caviar and edible gold leaf.
Desserts were in full force and naturally picked up steam as the evening drew on. Sweet Flour’s tres leches cake, panna cotta and assorted cookies and Gourmeletas hand-dipped ice cream pops were among the festival’s sweet indulgences. Porto’s Bakery certainly came to play as well, with towers of oh-so-good pastries to be had.
Festival proceeds benefit AltaMed, a full-service medical provider to more than 300,000 people in Los Angeles and Orange County. Founded in 1969, AltaMed was established as a free clinic and remains committed to providing “quality care without exception.” 96 cents of every dollar raised go directly to AltaMed patient care. For more information on the AltaMed Food & Wine Festival, visit AltaMedFoodWine.org.
To commemorate the peak of summer, Farmer Boys has brought back its signature smokehouse bacon cheeseburger. Rich, hearty and decadent, this burger piles sweet and spicy bbq sauce and crispy onion straws onto 100% USDA beef and American cheese, in a locally-baked onion bun. Patrons can choose to indulge in the standard burger, or really get the full experience with a smokehouse bacon double cheeseburger.
This special item is available at all Farmer Boys locations through September 2 (Labor Day).
Of course, Farmer Boys continues to serve evergreen favorites such as the Farmer’s Burger, with a double whammy of bacon and smashed avocado, and the southwest chicken salad, with crispy tortilla strips and black beans. Their recent initiative of ‘always crispy’ fries is as strong as ever, along with massive crispy zucchini and gigantic onion rings—perhaps those comical photos of oversized-vegetables lining the walls aren’t as touched up as they seem. Breakfast, as always, is served all day.
A quick-service chain that spans throughout California and Nevada, Farmer Boys backs its claim of “Farm Fresh” by using fresh, locally sourced ingredients across its locations. Suppliers include Duda Farm Fresh Foods, which delivers lettuce within days of harvest, and Galasso’s, which delivers buns to Farmer Boys five days a week.
Farmer Boys takes quick service to yet another level by making its salad dressings in-house and mixing milkshakes individually. For more information, visit FarmerBoys.com.
Pikoh, pronounced in the same manner as the Pico Blvd. on which it resides, transports patrons into a whole new type of ambiance. A living divider of hanging plants separate the bar from the main dining room, with another arboretum of sorts just past the entryway. Servers and bartenders hustle frantically across the otherwise minimalist interior and cute front patio, beautifully crafted dishes and cocktails in hand.
Pikoh’s small plates are ‘inspired by the melting pot that is Los Angeles’ and absolutely embody the ‘sharing’ trend that’s ravaged the contemporary dining scene—namely in dishes offering but a few bites per person. Chef Partner Ricardo Zarate, known as a ‘godfather of Peruvian Cuisine,’ has expanded his culinary range at Pikoh to include a myriad of dishes that reflect more Italian, Asian and Mediterranean influence than anything else. This is aptly demonstrated in his vegetable risotto, a decadent, creamy indulgence covered in a snowfall of delicately shaved Parmesan.
Zarate’s salmon miso shines with a gochujang miso that gives this perfectly-cooked fish an addictive, oh-so-buttery finish, and ventures a step further into Peruvian territory with the addition of red and white quinoa alongside. But Zarate’s roots truly shine in his lomo saltado, a Peruvian staple, with tender hanger steak that soaks up a slightly sweet but boldly earthy spice profile, with rich onions, tomatoes, fries and seasoned rice.
Pikoh’s cocktail program is equally exotic and worldly, with entire sections devoted to reinventing gin and tonics, old fashioned’s, spritzers and rum punches respectively. Then there’s the core cocktails, such as the buck bunny, which combines gin, carrot juice, lemon, honey and ginger into something strangely enticing and curiously smooth.
Dessert keeps with Pikoh’s melting pot theme with specialties such as panna cotta and tres leches cake sporting equally precise execution and subtle novelty in their own right. But it’s the pavlova, a rarely attempted Russian meringue, finished in this case with stone fruit compote and avocado mousse, that takes the cake for the finish.
Pikoh is located at 11940 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90064. Open 7a – 10p Mon – Fri, 10a – 10p Sat, 10a – 3p Sun. Dinner service 5 – 10p Mon – Sat. Avg. out-the-door price for 3 plates and 1 – 2 drinks is ~$95/person. For more information, visit PikohLA.com.
Benjamin Brown is a seasoned restaurant writer and hospitality consultant, serving up SoCal's hottest food news and reviews.