Forget Trader Joe’s Jamaican patties, this L.A. restaurant serves the real thing
A taste-off between the social-media-hyped Trader Joe’s Jamaican patties vs. the ones from Simply Wholesome in View Park-Windsor Hills. Also in this week’s recommendations from Jenn Harris, cochinita pibil at a lucha libre-themed restaurant in Orange County and Filipino food in Hollywood.
Jamaican patties from Simply Wholesome
My social media feeds have been flooded with video and images of the new Jamaican-style patties at Trader Joe’s. The grocery store now sells its own version of the meat-filled pastries commonly found in the Caribbean. I instantly thought of the Jamaican patties from Simply Wholesome, the restaurant and health-food store in View Park-Windsor Hills that’s been serving the filled pies since the 1980s.
There was only one thing to do: Stage a Jamaican patty taste-off at home. (I need to preface this by telling you that I am not a Trader Joe’s prepared-food hater. I frequent the store for produce, cheese and various crunchy snacks, and most weeks, you’ll find a package of Buffalo chicken dip and some caramelized onion dip in my fridge along with a Tarte d’Alsace in my freezer.)
From the colorful box in the Trader Joe’s freezer aisle, the “spicy turnovers in flaky pastry” looked similar enough to the restaurant version — yellow-tinged, elongated semicircles with crimped edges. At home, I preheated my oven to 350 degrees and waited the recommended 35 minutes.
The patties were filled with what’s listed on the box as ground beef, but the filling more resembled a smooth meat paste with no discernible flavor and a mild heat. The pale yellow pastry crisps up in the oven and is flaky but overly dry. It was a serviceable imitation Hot Pocket that might provide after-school sustenance in a pinch.
Craving the real thing more than ever, I drove to Simply Wholesome and secured patties with three different fillings: jerk chicken, curry chicken and spinach. The patties are made using a recipe from co-owner Ayanna Keeling’s mother’s family in Trinidad.
The jerk and curry chicken patties start with the same base of shredded chicken, a tangy pepper condiment called Calypso sauce, salt, pepper and chiles. The jerk chicken gets an extra helping of a hot Jamaican pepper, which the Keelings import from the Caribbean. The flavors are focused, vibrant and distinct, with a slap of heat in the jerk and a thread of turmeric, coriander and ginger in the curry. But the spinach may be my favorite, with a stewed spinach filling that resembles the best chopped spinach dip with a few kernels of corn strewn throughout.
The pastry dough is laced with curry powder, olive oil, garlic, thyme and turmeric. It’s a savory, buttery flaky pie dough that’s structurally sound but ready to crumble if you squeeze just a little too tightly. I eat them straight out of the slim paper sleeves they’re served in, with the filling scalding hot and the pastry breaking away into fragments of crisp crust. They make for an excellent snack while driving. Three, eaten along with one of the restaurant’s many fruit smoothies, make a satisfying meal.
“I don’t think the Trader Joe’s patties will take away from the fact that we serve them. … We’re still very much community-based,” Keeling says on a recent call. “I’m excited to see how interested people will be and if they will want to check out other spots that serve them.”
Try the patties from Trader Joe’s if you must, but if you want a superior version, I’ll see you in line at Simply Wholesome.
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Lucenachon and hiramasa collar from Kuya Lord
The rolled work of pork art known as lucenachon at the new Filipino-style Kuya Lord from chef Lord Maynard Llera is a seven-day process that incorporates more than 25 ingredients. It honors Lucena, the port town in the Philippines where Llera is from, and the lechon, or suckling pig, the chef grew up eating. It’s also a glorious display of Llera’s culinary prowess, showcasing a technique that renders the pork tender and supple, with a brittle, crisp skin.
“This dish is really special for me because you see my origin and who I am, but also using the techniques that I know now,” he says. “This is my version of Filipino lechon and Italian porchetta and the way I want it to be eaten.”
Lord Maynard Llera serves some of L.A.'s best Filipino food from his La Cañada Flintridge pop-up
Llera starts by brining the pork then air drying it before stuffing and rolling the meat like porchetta. He air dries it again then cooks it in the oven until the fat capitulates and seeps into the meat and the vegetable stuffing. The skin is chip-like, a crisp shard you can crunch on with or without the rest of the dish. Everything benefits from a couple of drops of Llera’s vinegar. It’s startlingly sour in the best way, barreling through the fat and the meat with a sharp tang.
Equally addictive is the grilled hiramasa collar. Llera makes the daing or dried fish marinade with soy, garlic and calamansi and lets the fish collar sit in the sauce for a week. If Llera had his way, he would sun-dry the hiramasa like he did in the Philippines. At his Hollywood restaurant, he lets them air-dry for four hours then cooks them on the grill.
The fish falls effortlessly off the collar, buttery and concentrated with citrus and soy. He serves it with his version of chile oil, a sandy paste full of chiles and fried garlic. Fermented anchovies give the condiment an umami backbone. It’s good on the fish, in a burrito, on eggs, a spoon or on your finger. He sells jars of the stuff at the register. If you’re a close friend, you’ll be getting one for the holidays.
Cochinita pibil tacos from La Lucha Mexican Kitchen
There is no shortage of things to look at in the dining room at Edgar Bernal’s Santa Ana restaurant La Lucha Mexican Kitchen. A fierce-looking luchador is painted on the wall, and there are posters for wrestling matches and colorful paintings of luchadores peering out through their masks. Multiple televisions play lucha libre wrestling and a series of masks sit atop the drinks cooler near the register.
This is not a Yucatecan restaurant, but the dish I’m going to recommend above all else is the cochinita pibil tacos. It’s a recipe from Bernal’s mother’s hometown of Cuernavaca in Morelos, in a style Bernal says is traditional to the area.
“They would sell them in the center of the city, where she learned how to make them,” he says. “When she started making them for family and friends at home, everyone would eat like 10 tacos each. When I opened the restaurant, I knew we had to put them on the menu.”
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The pork is cooked low and slow for six hours with achiote, orange and onions in addition to a slew of other “secret” spices. Corn tortillas are dragged through the cooking liquid and stained a deep orange before hitting the grill. Each one is crowded with shredded pork and slivers of onion saturated in the earthy, rust-colored juice.
The tortillas are bubbly and crisp but still chewy and the juice leaks through your fingers, staining everything it touches.
The more I ate, the more 10 seemed like the correct number to order.
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