Sonny’s Hideaway in Highland Park: York Boulevard Just Came Up!

Crispy grilled octopus at Sonny's Hideaway
Crispy grilled octopus at Sonny’s Hideaway

*Originally published on Pasadena Magazine

York Boulevard in Highland Park is quickly becoming a haven for serious dining in Northeast Los Angeles. Walk into the newest addition, Sonny’s Hideaway, and see for yourself. From the outside, it’s just another virtually signless establishment along the strip, but the inside is an elegant surprise. Dimly lit vintage chandeliers reflect golden light off the small dining room’s crimson leather booths and dark wood-paneled walls, setting a mood that’s appropriate for the place’s offerings. The menu takes a slightly Mediterranean approach to dishes that are deeper than they seem.

The chef is Jimmy Everett, an unassuming 28-year-old veteran of the New York fine dining scene. He’s worked in some of America’s most respected restaurants, including wd-50, Eleven Madison Park and Marea. What this means is that your platter of Manila clams will be sustainable and steamed with smoked grape broth instead of white wine, and a seemingly simple dish of ricotta dumpling pasta just might make you a regular. And thanks to the Highland Park rent, no dish will be over $20.

There’s more: Your cocktail will be just as carefully tended to as the food, with libations such as bar manager J. Kelly O’Hare’s overproof punch, made with East India Sherry, cognac and freshly grated nutmeg. For dessert, there will be spiced pear cobbler with buttermilk ice cream and bourbon caramel, or orange custard with dark chocolate sorbet and cocoa soil. The restaurant is a joint project by Derek Lyons and his partner Ryan Ballinger, the owner of the successful York bar, just down the street, so expect to be dining side-by-side with cool locals. This neighborhood wouldn’t have it any other way.

Mexican Snack Foods – My latest for Saveur Magazine is out now! (The Mexico Issue: August 2012. Issue #149)

Saveur’s “The Mexico Issue” is here and guess who has a featured story on it? Yup, I’m sharing them glossy ‘ol food pages with Gustavo Arellano, Rick Bayless, Patricia Quintana, Diana Kennedy, etc.

This time, I write about Mexican snack food culture and how each and every candy, chip and caramel “is rooted in the spicy, sour, salty, and sweet flavors of the country’s cuisine.” Whether it’s in interbred history of those crunchy Cacahuates Japoneses or the ultra-tary flavor of a Limon 7 powder candy packet — they’re all here. Obleas, Cocadas, tamarind-paste-baed Pulparindos, all that glorious stuff.

So, go to your local newsstand now, whatever that means. Or just click on this link and read the whole thing online. But no matter what, make sure you have a corner liquor store or Mexican grocery market nearby!

Thanks to my girlfriend that was born and raised in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico (who also has an awesome foodblog linking food with ethnography) for being my insider source.

*Header photo by Todd Coleman of Saveur

Check out my profile on Alice Bag for LA Weekly’s People Issue 2012, out today!

Photo: Kevin Scanlon

Never in my life would I have imagined the day where I wrote a 500 word profile on someone that I grew up listening to. A couple of years ago, I only knew Alice Bag through my brother’s milk crates filled with vinyl compilations where she was featured in, in particular Dangerhouse, Vol. 1., played over and over, and over again.

It is now with great honor that I present to all of you, my profile of her for this year’s LA Weekly People Issue!

Alice Bag: She Was a Punk Before You Were a Punk.

I would like to thank Nancy Marie Arteaga and Lalo Alcaraz for having me as a semi-regular guest on KPFK’s Pocho Hour of Power and making our friendship possible!

The Five Best East L.A. Backyard Punk Bands: Bonus Story on LA Weekly Music!

Growing up in the East L.A., it seemed like everyone tried to form a punk band. Even I did. The scene goes through bands quickly, as kids graduate high school and get into metal, thrash or New York style hardcore. But there are a proud few that have evolved musically without forgetting their roots.

Here is my personal list of the top five East Los Angeles punk bands that play backyards. It wasn’t easy to compile; after all, lots of groups claim East L.A. for street cred, but aren’t even from the ‘hood! Disgusting right? So, I did my research. (On Monday look for my top five East L.A. punk bands of all time.)

To find out the bands, check out my bonus article on the LA Weekly Music Blog!


“Anarchy in East L.A.” My First Print Feature For LA Weekly Out Today!

(photo credit: Jennie Warren)

Well ladies and gentlemen, here it it. It’s still a trip for me to be honest that I managed to pull this off. First of all, this was the hardest piece I have written to date. If it wasn’t as hard as my cover story for Saveur, “Mexico Feeds Me”, it was damn near close.

I don’t know if any of you know this but music was actually my first love, yes, before food and booze even! Thank god I took an A.P. Music Theory class to diffuse that one, huh? Haha. No, but seriously…to write this piece was like writing a piece of my life. Who would had thought that all that teenage angst and boozed-up neuroticism would come in handy one day?

This piece is dedicated to my old punk band, Bad Influence , RIP! Also, to my older brother Rojelio Cabral for supporting me through the years and feeding my punk-embers with his six milk crates of vintage 80’s punk vinyl. To Jimmy Alvarado for documenting the scene since then, to all my true homies, TRDK, Kiki and Josh for getting me drunk as fuck with two King Kobra’s for the first time on a school night when I was thirteen….and all the rest of you East L.A. drunk punks for making the scene what it is today.

Cheers, drink beer and fuck you…stay punk!

East L.A. Backyard Punk Scene Rages On As uninhibited and intoxicated as ever

By 10 p.m. there are 300 of them, mostly second- and third-generation Mexican-Americans, some with 4-inch-high bleached and spiked hair and some with skinned heads, not to mention piercings everywhere: septum, lips, cheeks. The girls’ faces are thick with makeup. They wear fishnets and band tees for Vice Squad, the Expelled or any other influential punk band from the late-’80s U.K. scene, altered to flaunt bra straps. Their pink Doc Martens have steel toes.

It’s Labor Day and they’ve come to see punk at a house in East L.A., near the City Terrace neighborhood between the territory of the Lopez and Lott gangs.

The three-story house — owned by a couple of dudes hoping to make a few bucks toward their rent — is full, more than full. It’s got a patio on the second floor and a small yard in the back, which is about to burst.

The mostly underage kids have paid $3 to get in, the ones who aren’t friends with the guys running the party anyway. But that doesn’t include refreshments, which explains why their backpacks are heavy with 40-ounce bottles of King Cobra and Miller High Life. They’re also smoking skunky weed from portable glass pipes and puffing grape-flavored Swisher Sweets blunts. Cocaine is trendy again, too, snorted off of CD cases or from the tips of car keys.

Word of the event was sent out to the faithful via mass text shortly before showtime. The best part is that most of the bands advertised have actually shown up; they tend to flake if they lack functional equipment or can’t get gas money. On the second floor, the Stomp Outz perform their British-working-class Oi! songs, uncomplicated repetitions of two-finger power chords at upbeat tempos. Then the frontmen of Corrupted Youth screech their throats out to “The Beer for Breakfast” and “Confusion.” The guitarist and rhythm section are playing so fast they can’t always keep up with each other.

To be honest, though, the sound doesn’t really matter, just so long as it’s danceable. A mosh pit erupts right in front of the Stomp Outz, causing the guitarist to nearly topple over his guitar amp. A small coed group goes around in circles, its members pushing everyone out of their way, using all their might. If someone falls out, someone else picks them up and throws them right back into the pit. It’s usually very friendly, believe it or not.

Unfortunately, just after 1 a.m., a couple of inebriated kids let their ghetto egos take over and start a fistfight out on the front lawn. Others quickly jump in and throw punches to impress their friends. The full-blown ruckus likely causes one of the neighbors to call the cops, and L.A.’s finest quickly roll up. (They always seem to make it to these get-togethers, sometimes wearing riot gear and shooting powder balls.) This time they give the members of one of the evening’s bands, Who Gives a Fuck, a $400 ticket for loud and unreasonable noise.

Making lemonade, party organizer Ignacio “Nacho Corrupted” Rodriguera immediately suggests throwing a fundraiser backyard party for the group, to be held the following week.

Every Friday and Saturday night in East Los Angeles, whether the weather is decent or not, you can usually find three or four backyard punk gigs, populated by the angrier demographic of Chicano adolescents who are too young to legally get fucked up at bars but harbor an innate passion for desmadre (chaos!).

There are no promoters, no contracts, no set times and no set lists, just an informal network of eager young artists ready to play at a moment’s notice. They tend not to care if they get paid, so long as they get to show off their stuff and score a few beers.

I grew up on the Eastside and discovered these DIY parties as a prepubescent. Despite its reputation, my end of town is not all bald dudes and gang warfare; being into punk rock, metal or skateboarding can help you escape that life. After all, as I discovered, if you have long hair or tight pants, you are considered a “rocker” and usually left alone.

“In backyards, it feels more at home. It’s way wilder and has bigger pits than at bars or venues,” says Edgar Fernandez, the drummer and lead singer for popular local band the Zoo, who play backyard shows every weekend. (Their members hail from Garfield High School, made famous by Stand and Deliver.)

The scene has been strong for decades. In the 1970s, Los Lobos made a name for themselves at residential ghetto venues. In the early ’80s, a faster and more raw sound was born, highlighted by bands like the Brat, Thee UndertakUers and the Stains. In the ’90s, Boyle Heights’ own Union 13 were signed to Epitaph.

Their sounds often reflected the angst and frustrations of Mexican-American residents, struggling with identity crises. (There are Guatemalans and Salvadorans in the mix as well.) As an L.A. native whose parents were born in Mexico, I can sympathize. In Mexico I’m sometimes called a Pocho — a derogatory term referring to American-born kids. Here in L.A. I’ve gotten plenty of strange looks in fancy Westside restaurants.

But back to punk: In recent years it has fragmented into multiple subgenres. There’s street punk, which is faster and more relentless than the traditional hardcore of groups like Black Flag. (You may have heard it in Larry Clark’s 2005 film Wassup Rockers, which is actually pretty decent.) Ska-core is a ska/punk hybrid, while grindcore and krust are probably the heaviest and most ear-damaging — something like a rusty car’s engine about to break down. DJ parties also have become very popular. But no matter the genre, the themes remain the same: anti-authoritarianism and teen angst.

In 2011 it’s fair to say the backyard scene is as strong as it’s ever been. “It waxes and wanes, but it never really dies out,” says Jimmy Alvarado, an East L.A. punk historian who is preparing a full-length documentary titled Eastside Punks.

The guy best known for keeping the movement vital nowadays is Rodriguera, who threw the Labor Day party and is also a singer in Corrupted Youth. “I love punk, there is a lot of unity, we treat each other like family,” he says. Born in L.A. and raised in Culiacan, Mexico, Rodriguera is tall and pale; he wears tight pants and porcupine-like spiked hair. He’s the type of guy who will call you in the middle of the night to ask if he can move the gig to your house.

He’s tried doing that with me — a couple of times, actually. But I’m finished as a host, ever since the bash I threw in my parents’ apartment parking lot for my 21st birthday party last year. Sure, it was a good time. About 200 friends showed up, including some I hadn’t seen in years. They brought weeks’ worth of booze.

Unfortunately I ended up gashing my head, due to the actions of some local gangbangers who didn’t understand the concept of friendly slamdancing. Instead, they used the opportunity to beat up on drunken kids (namely me).

But, to be honest, even though I found myself in the pit with blood dripping down my face and all over my shirt, I really didn’t care. It was fun. It was punk.

For an awesome slide-show of the backyard show I talk about on the story, check out the complete article on the LA Weekly Music website.

Mole Props: Gold Shouts me Out on L.A Weekly

Jonathan Gold has been my unbeknown long time guru of gastronomy. He unknowingly took me in back when I was in the 11th grade, the first time I read the weekly other than to see what local punk shows were coming up–I was mesmerized.

Every single Thursday morning I would eagerly walk to the nearest distributor of the Weekly–this coffee place that was 5 blocks the other direction from campus–and stumble my way back to school, late, reading his newest find and slowly walking. Many times, walking by a lot of those places.

This, in combination with a growing obsession with food and a less than social High School experience…was the birth of Teenage Glutster.

I’ve actually met him a few times already and was rather blissful to find out that he knew I was even alive. But when I found out that he recently gave me props on this Weeks review of Moles la Tia, I was euphoric.

“Word got around about La Tia almost the moment it opened, from a WIDELY NOTICED post on the Teenage Glutster Blog…”(28 Gold)

Mundane Mexican No More was one of my most passionate pieces ever, just one of those moments, I remember I couldn’t rest until I was done with it.

Thank you Food Shifu, thank you.