Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Things I Love About California: Mendocino Farms

You know when you go to a restaurant three times in eight days, it has to be pretty damn good.

I recently discovered a great local chain in LA called Mendocino Farms.  I had driven past one of the stores and as cheesy at it sounds, just the design and visual appeal of the restaurant made me want to go.  Then I read the reviews on Yelp.  997 reviews with a 4.5 star average?  For a sandwich shop?  It's hard to get that much better on Yelp.  That was it.  I had to try it.

My first visit was to the store on 3rd and Fairfax, right near the Grove.  There was a quite a line (another good sign in LA), but we were greeted by a very friendly and knowledgeable young man who was more than prepared to guide us through our first ever trip to the establishment.  He explained that the schtick about "Mendo" is that everything is locally grown and gathered from the area.  In fact, as you looked around, the place had advertisements for the days and times of the local farmer's markets.  This place is all about supporting the local economy.  In fact, the name comes from a county in NorCal that is known for spearheading farm-to-table eating and sustainable dining.

After talking us through the options (some of them being safer while others are more unique and risky), I went with the Korobuta Pork Belly Bahn Mi.  Basically, pork belly with carrots, daikon, cilantro, cucumbers, jalapenos and chili aioli on grilled ciabatta bread.  Not something I would normally order, but it was recommended as one of the most popular selections.  And the employee told me that if I didn't like he, he would make sure to order me a different sandwich on the house.  A deal with a guarantee like that can't be passed up!

Next we were instructed to try some of the salads and sides in the deli counter.  You could sample anything that you wanted before buying (which I think is a fantastic selling point).  I tried two side dishes... the basil pesto pasta salad an the sirachia smashed potatoes.  From the first taste, they were both so good, I had to order a side of each!  I was very impressed.  I could have tried others, but I was so impressed at that point I decided to stop.

After paying, I went to get a drink of the soda machine to discover that Mendo has Boylan handcrafted sodas on tap.  I hadn't heard of the brand (and was initially disapointed there was no Diet Coke... hahaha), but then I saw a diet black cherry soda option and got excited.  It, too, was super delicious!  And its made with natural flavors and cane sugar!  Score!

The sandwich arrived and I was blown away with the flavor!  I've recently been foraying a bit more into spicier foods, and this sandwich has the perfect level of heat.  Enough to add a punch of flavor without burning you from the inside out.  I did take off about half of the jalapenos that came on it, but it was pretty freakin' fantastic.

Fast forward 6 days later and my friend Shanyn is in town visiting.  I was so excited to take her to Mendo!  We found one in Marina Del Ray and decided to head there.  I tried a different sandwich this time (the new seasonal Spicy Steak on Pretzel Bread) and it was just as good as my first trip!

The next day, I find myself in West Hollywood around lunch time, and decided to head to the Mendo on Santa Monica.  It isn't possible that I could try a different sandwich at yet another different location and still be successful, could I?  I COULD!  I got "A Sandwich Study of Heat" which was a hand-carved turkey sandwich with spicy smashed avocado sauce, gouda cheese and jalapeno relish on rustic white bread.  It was INNNNNNCREDIBLE.

So... with three separate trips to three different locations, I came up successful every single time.  I think I have found a new favorite place in LA.  And... I haven't even been to the location closest to where I live!  I can't wait to try that one.  Fourth time is a charm.