This week, we traveled. Not very far, but still. The 605 Freeway does not look like an Tuscan country road or a two-lane highway winding over the hills of Burgundy. But our goal was the L.A. version of something you’d look for in those more exotic locales halfway around the world: someone with an idea to make the best food he could think of, and who then turned that into a career. Jim Nakano is such a man. Since 1974, he has been making donuts in a non-descript little place on an absolutely forgettable stretch of Route 66 in Glendora, about half hours’ drive east of Downtown L.A. At some point, he made a deal with a local strawberry farmer and began to produce strawberry donuts: tasty doughballs overstuffed with fresh strawberries. Nakano’s store, the Donut Man by now is a part of local folklore, and was featured in an episode of California Gold, hosted by the late, irrepressible Huell Howser and, more recently, in a little video by our favorite food critic, Jonathan Gold. In fact, he has become so popular that recently, some I-don’t-get-all-the-hype detractors have appeared on the scene. The three of us do get the hype. Not far into the first bite, we agreed that the strawberry donuts alone had been worth the hour-or-so drive out to Glendora. The strawberries were firm and juicy, with light glaze, the donut was fresh and fluffy and the glaze here too was restrained, so that the tastes of fruit and fried dough were not crowded out.
Our next stop today was Claremont. Christine lived in this town for a while and she loves coming back here, it is easy to understand why. Most houses have a lot of charm, there are old, towering trees that provide shade, and they come in all shapes and sizes, and the colleges lend the place a great amount of flair.
We strolled the main drag through town, peeked into a few of the unique stores such as the Folk Music Center and Rhino Records, and finally walked into the Cheese Cave, the second purveyor of delicacies of the day. In my post about cheese shops in LA, there is more about this place – for now it suffices to say that we left after spending 30 minutes and a few bucks north of $80 with cheese and a host of other items, both edible and non-edible, that surely would make our lives better. Yes, it is that kind of a store.
After carefully storing our precious purchases in the cooler bag (on the house from the nice Cheese Cave people!) under a seat in the car, we went for a walk through the colleges and we ended up spending a lot of time deciphering the graduation graffiti of every class since 1931 on what has been dubbed Graffiti Wall at Scripps College.
More food was on the program in El Monte, where we had dined a few years ago in a small hole in the wall restaurant that had spectacular Mexican food. We found the address with only one wrong turn, but alas, it had new owners and we immediately felt guilt for not returning sooner. We were sure we could have kept the restaurant from going out of business, and if they had left for a better location, we would have known where they were. Regrets, bitter regrets. Undaunted, we still sat down at the new placed, Teresia’s Mexican Grill (careful, the website starts playing happy Mexican music) and ordered from the new menu; Christine had Aguachiles (supposed to cure hangovers), a dish made with shrimp sprinkled with lots of lime juice, onions, cucumber, and avocado. We shared some Queso Fundido, melted cheese with Chorizo, I had chicken in mole, Charlie ate shrimp tacos and we all shared a ridiculously large Buñuelo, a fried pancake, in essence, with cinnamon, sugar and topped with chocolate sauce.
Even if it wasn’t exactly what we had dreamed of for the last few years, it was fresh, surprising and pleasing and altogether much too much so we left content and in the knowledge that the Champions League Final between Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid had just gone into overtime. We watched the final minutes tick away with the chef – the restaurant was empty except for us, so he was able to tend to the important matters in life. By the time we came home we had spent considerable time on the ugly (if efficient, on a Saturday) Southland freeways, but all three of us agreed that we should consider ourselves lucky to live in the ethnic patchwork of LA, where new food adventures are just waiting to be discovered everywhere, as long as you take the right exit.