Trans-Global Junk Food


For a while in my late teens, long before I could have told you the difference between a quesadilla and a quenelle , I ate at Oki Dog more often than I did at home. About 1 in the afternoon, when the conceptual artist I worked for took the first of his habitual breaks for Rainier Ale and contemplation, I’d sneak out of his studio and walk to the Pico Boulevard Oki Dog, which was about two blocks away. About 2 in the morning, after an evening of slam-dancing to the Germs or the Dead Kennedys or whatever at the old Starwood, I’d end up at the Oki Dog in West Hollywood, which was the closest thing there was to a punk-rock after-hours club.

The West Hollywood Oki was always the famous one, a magnet for punks and hustlers, groupies and teen-age runaways, for everybody who was happy that a split $1.69 order of burrito-and-fries was enough to fill three bellies for a day. (Now the price is up a buck or so.) TV shows featured it, hip magazines touted it, a thousand and one members of the purple-mohawk brigade sang its praises on beer-soaked stages. Pumped-up countermen, crazy as the clientele, shouted back at you in a pidgin version of the gruff Japanese the family who owned the place spoke behind the grill.

But that Oki Dog was too colorful for its own good. The city of West Hollywood finally managed to close it down this year after a decade of neighbor complaints.


If the West Hollywood Oki was the place to go for a perpetual food fight and continuous blasting rock ‘n’ roll, the Pico operation served better, fresher Oki food . . . a relentlessly trans-global blend of junk cuisines that was more or less the fast-food equivalent of what they were doing at joints like Chaya and St. Estephe across town. (Though Oki customers were far more likely to chuck a half-eaten triple-chili-cheeseburger at your head.) Where St. Estephe’s John Sedlar brought the chile relleno up to date by stuffing it with duxelles, Oki filled burritos with stir-fried cabbage; where Wolfgang Puck put smoked salmon on his pizzas, Oki put pastrami on his hot dogs.

The guys at the Pico place were friendlier, to the extent that one of them kept asking after my college girlfriend three years after she’d moved to New England to marry an IBM rep. They were the same people who worked late at the other location, and they were two hours into their shift instead of 15. (There actually is an Oki, a friendly middle-aged guy from Okinawa, and his idiosyncratic cooking has been widely copied in the Southland.) When I made my semi-annual trip to the Pico Oki the other day, I almost got miffed when they forgot my usual order: pastrami burrito, no cabbage. It had never happened before.

The most famous Oki creation was--is--the eponymous Oki Dog, a couple of hot dogs wrapped in a tortilla with chili, pickles, mustard, a slice of fried pastrami and a torrent of goopy American cheese--a cross-cultural burrito that’s pretty hard to stomach unless you’ve got the tum of a 16-year-old, but strangely delicious nonetheless.

A teriyaki steak sandwich must contain half a pound of sweet, grilled beef, thinly sliced and plopped into a torta roll with lettuce and mayo. French fries--you get something like two pounds--are freshly cut, fried to order, and usually overcooked. Pepsi comes by the quart. Four bucks will get enough lunch for two, with a quarter left over to play a game on the Bad Dudes vs. Ninja Warriors or the Altered Beasts machines.

And the best of the Oki creations, a Chinese-American-Jewish-Mexican thing made by Japanese cooks for a mostly African-American clientele, is the pastrami burrito, a foil-wrapped grease bomb the size and weight of a building brick, bursting with fried pastrami, sauteed cabbage, onions and peppers, mustard and pickles, and a healthy dose of Oki chili, enough food to feed a medium-size family for a week. Oki Dog, 5056 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles, (213) 938-4369. Open 9 a.m.-10 p.m., Monday-Saturday. Cash only. Lot parking. Dinner for two, food only, $3.50-$7.