"It's not much but it's ours"

Sunday, October 26, 2008


In the 1920’s and 1930’s Downtown Los Angeles was where it was at, ritzy hotels and movie theatres lined the streets and the Art Deco offices were filled with workers speeding towards the American Dream.

Move on the best part of a century and Downtown L.A is a very different place indeed. Still filled with office drones by day at night they flee the centre for more fashionable areas leaving the heart of the city to the poor, homeless and confused. The stunning buildings too remain more of less intact but many are empty and for the most part Downtown is not a place where you would want to spend any great amount of time.

For some people, however, Downtown is home and more than that, a district they are determined to revive to its former glories. One such person is Monica May, chef and restaurant owner whose simple new establishment The Nickel Diner, run with her partner Kristen, is already giving people a reason to stay local for lunch and dinner.

Close to Skid Row, The Nickel Diner was converted with considerable effort from a run down Mexican taqueria and the renovations revealed the wall decorations of the original diner, which have been restored to charming affect.

I am in awe of great American Short order cooking and cooks, often overlooked as a talent and, as Monica explained to myself, Sybil and our new chum, Susan, it is increasingly hard to find people willing to fill the posts given that most young cooks have had their eyes filled with T.V chefs and the glitter of Michelin stars.

At The Nickel Diner, they seems to have done well and while the menu may be filled with solid diner staples, Monica’s chef’s background means the ingredients are a notch above what you anticipate from such places and the execution likewise. Sybil’s Tuna burger was a perfect example with a meaty steak cooked to medium and served with perfect shoestring fries. A hamburger for Susan came with terrific onion rings and my own BLT was as good an example as you are likely to get. With soft drinks including fresh lemonade, the bill came to $15 a pop including tip. Excellent value.

As the diner was beginning to empty of its lunchtime crowd, we then spent the next two hours chatting happily with Monica and Kristen who fed us one of their desserts, a cupcake with a difference, a “hidden” layer of Space Dust ( or Pop rocks as the yanks call them) that Susan rather took a fancy too.

When we finally walked out into the afternoon heat, Sybil gave me a tour of downtown to walk off some of the excellent lunch including the Walt Disney Concert Hall, and The Bradbury Building where many scenes from Bladerunner were shot and best of all, The Grand Central Market where, despite her declaration that Mexican food in L.A is and I quote, “sucky” she let me try a carnitas taco. By local standards it may have only be ordinary, but I would love to have a place that made anything close to this quality in my neighbourhood.

A fun day and with places like The Nickel Diner, Downtown, L.A, it would seem is on the up again.

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