Ralph Saltsman and Steve Solomon on the best cheap eats in LA
Original Article published in Super Lawyers Magazine – January 2019
For the last eight years, Ralph Saltsman and Stephen Solomon have been running around town and gobbling up food as co-creators and co-hosts of the Emmy® Award-winning cable show Cheap Eats. They recently sat down with the show’s director of communication, Erica Jamieson, to talk food in LA.
So how did you two leap from the law to food?
SOLOMON: I always jump where my stomach leads! Being the first to try the untried and untested has always been my goal—in law and in food.
SALTSMAN: Steve and I have truly enjoyed practicing law together since the ’70s. But for something different, we started with a live legal call-in radio show in 2000.
SOLOMON: This was before podcasts; it was radio. It had its limitations.
SALTSMAN: Live radio morphed into taped TV, but we were still focusing on legal issues. We wanted something separate from law, and we wanted to have fun. We had been lunching together for decades. It just made sense to follow our hunger.
And what is more fun than food?
SOLOMON: Los Angeles has always been an ethnic gold mine for great food. What you find changes from street to street, and there are some hidden gems out there.
SALTSMAN: Our passion for food led us to discover not just good eats but great stories behind many of these local neighborhood gems.
SOLOMON: And we got to really connect with Los Angelenos on a totally different level than law.
SALTSMAN: Steve and I seek out delicious family-run restaurants in their various neighborhoods. We try to shine a light on the true origins of the LA food scene.
SOLOMON: Eat like a local and you’ll never go hungry! And the neighborhoods are filled with an eclectic array of good eats. Within a short walk or drive, we would discover the best Korean BBQ with recipes and styles Grandpa brought over from the old country.
SALTSMAN: A few blocks later, there’s a great ramen joint to enjoy, or Oaxacan treats to taste.
And the “cheap” in Cheap Eats?
SOLOMON: There’s an advantage to family-run: Grandma’s in the kitchen cooking her grandma’s recipes, and the kids are prepping and serving. There’s tradition and passion for the food. It doesn’t have to be expensive.
So what do you recommend?
At Normandie Bakery in the West Adams district, accessible off the Expo line, everything is house-made. Make sure to say hello to Chef Josette, who brought her expertise from Normandy, France. Chef is truly a baking artist … from bread to pastries. Try a croissant for us.
In DTLA, try Nick’s. A longtime standard for the LAPD, Nick’s was started by two detectives. It’s a small-counter venue where the food is always delicious. Walk through the doors and you can almost hear the Dragnet theme song playing.
For a morning meet-up in EAHO, we like Bolt. Think nuts and bolts of breakfast, a newer venue where the variety of baked goods is mouthwatering. Started and run by three cuisine-talented friends, because there wasn’t a muffin and coffee hangout nearby. Stop in for a breakfast sandwich or burrito, great coffee and a hip space to start your day. Or you can just move into this fast-developing neighborhood and live near Bolt.
You can’t be a real LA lawyer until you try sandwich-dipping. For lunch on the West Side, it’s Johnnie’s Pastrami for soul-satisfying French dip. In DTLA, go to the iconic Original Philippe’s, where everything is made on site by hand, from their roast beef to the pickled eggs. Not too much has changed at Philippe’s since it opened in 1908. And, yes, it’s all still inexpensive.
No lunchtime list of suggestions would be complete without pizza. We recently filmed at Pizzanista in the rocking Arts District, a great place to go for Italian. Great pizza by the slice and craft beer.
Ever try Afghani cuisine? Head to Beverly Hills and Afghani Kabob House, stashed between an old movie theater and a dry cleaner, hidden from the street but for the large sign on Wilshire Boulevard. The recipes are original to the owner’s mother; everything is cooked on a tiny grill with meats marinated for days. Their butternut squash dish melts in your mouth; the house special rice will sweeten even the most persnickety lawyer.
Westsiders know that Stan’s Doughnuts is so good, the calories simply don’t count. Seemingly in Westwood forever, Stan’s is famous for its chocolate peanut butter doughnut. All their doughnuts are so generous, you may want to use two hands.
On Sawtelle near Olympic, where there is a great Japanese restaurant or shop every few feet, try Coffee Tomo, offering hand-dripped coffees that are varied in flavor and hit the spot when you need that midday pick-me-up. Coffee Tomo also offers a great meeting spot.
AND THE REST
Best place to go after a win when your clients are paying? Melisse in Santa Monica; Providence in West Hollywood; Osteria Mozza in the Greater Wilshire area; or the newest, hottest place that just opened. (There’s always one in Los Angeles.) Cheap? No. But some of the best LA has to offer.
Best place to go after a loss? Hinano Café at the ocean’s edge in Venice. Beers and burgers and pool tables. It’ll wash your sorrows away. The sawdust and peanut shells on the floor just might be from when we started practicing together. Just remember to take an Uber home!
There is no end to best Mexican eats in Los Angeles. A good place to start is El Abajeno: a Mexican cafeteria with huge portions and homemade traditional fare.
Best place to get your sweet on? Head back to Sawtelle and B Sweet for fudge and brownies, with live music outdoors on weekend nights. In Hollywood, it’s Mashti.