Biking and dining the Santa Monica scene can be fun and diverse, but not necessarily ambitious. While the bounty of restaurants in this city could keep a food writer’s plate full for years, the cycling dynamic falls flat in the process. There is only so much one can write about the Main Street bike lane, the hill on Ocean Park Boulevard or the pathway along the beach.
Venturing outside Santa Monica on two wheels opens up a brave new world into the culinary abyss. Biking Los Angeles can be daunting, and the summer heat indeed compounds matters further. Throw chili into the mix and that is when things start to get greasy. The assignment: three chili-featured restaurants, on two wheels, throughout the course of one day. A citywide, dusk till dawn, L.A. chili expose — yeehaw!
Embarking from the Santa Monica Pier and heading eastward bound, the ride is relatively smooth with a good portion of the commute paved with bike lanes. The road gets rough once you merge onto Beverly due to crumbling streets, congested intersections and zero bike lanes. But the light at the end of the tunnel is situated at the corner of Beverly and Rampart. There lays home to L.A.’s chili Mecca — The Original Tommy’s.
Famous for the chili and infamous for its messiness, The Original Tommy’s has been a favorite pig out to Angelenos for over 65 years. Tommy’s serves up a condiment style chili, which has a smoother consistency and is intended to be slathered over burgers, dogs, and as of recent, their breakfast burritos.
The burrito is pretty standard on all accounts with the exception to a healthy injection of their time honored chili. To my surprise, upon presentation, the burrito was tidy and sealed tight like a capped oil well. Instead of being the star of the show, this chili played part to an ensemble cast, acting cohesively with the other breakfast innards. Despite the harmony, I would not endorse eating such a goodie before activities like karate practice, or yoga in the park. While the dance of meats, cheeses, and chili starts in burrito, the after party occurs in your stomach. It is a good special occasion burrito which was certainly warranted after the morning ride from the Santa Monica Pier. That being said, I devoured the burrito and set a course to my next chili destination in Burbank.
Trekking up Vermont Avenue through Los Feliz, then Griffith Park, will spit you out into the San Fernando Valley. The good news is there is flat land as far as the eye could see. The bad news is it is always 10 degrees hotter in the Valley than anywhere else in L.A. News to be determined good or bad: I have been, and will be eating more chili.
Despite all of my literal and figurative belly aching, Chili John’s in Burbank proved to be a perfect chili oasis amid the summer heat. Like Tommy’s, Chili John’s has been around for 50 plus years. Unlike Tommy’s, their chili is not condiment style but rather the main course. I ordered the bowl of the half-spicy half-mild and softened the blow by getting it on a bed of spaghetti. The chili was meaty, rich, garlicky, and rendered some serious grease. While some may consider grease a four letter word, Chili John’s has no bones about making their chili with plenty of the shiny stuff. This is real stick to your ribs (and whatever else it comes in contact with) kind of chili.
Fully chili-charged, I was geared up to head into West Hollywood for my last stop on the chili excursion. Just past Warner Bros. Studios heading up the Barham Pass some of my loose camera gear got stuck in the spokes of my bike vaulting me over the handle bars. Grimacing in pain but carrying on down the hill I suffered a series of flat tires, sending me to an impromptu stop to the bike shop for some repairs. As for my injuries, I found solace in chili. Battered and bruised, I limped through the doors of Chili Addiction on La Cienega Boulevard.
Unlike my previous stops, Chili Addiction is new on the restaurant scene. In a city where gourmet burgers have received recent popularity and acclaim in places like Umami, one may ask what about the high-end hot dog? Aside from over 70 varieties of chili, and some of the city’s most under-rated ice cream, Chili Addiction prides itself on making fine quality homemade sausages and frankfurters.
At first glance you may think that the price is steep for a chili dog ($4), but at first bite you will realize you get what you pay for. I went the way of the chipotle and cheddar sausage with chili, accompanied by truffle fries, homemade ketchup, and truffle aioli. The sausage was succulent, the chili was not overpowering yet exquisite, and the truffle aioli was pure luxury.
Biking across the city generates quite the appetite. Eating hungry tends to make food taste better, subsequently making myself susceptible to lax critiquing. However, hungry or not, it is easy to realize that Chili Addiction is something special.
The final ride home was not overtly harrowing, nor totally pleasant. I was just relieved to make it back to the friendly confines of Santa Monica intact. While chili may not necessarily be the breakfast, lunch, and dinner of champions, ultimately it was my driving force. When you add up three chili laden meals, deduct around 60 miles of biking through the city, it all balances out — give or take a few thousand calories. As always, I am just thankful to bike and eat another day in L.A.
Michael can be seen riding around town on his bike. To reach him visit his Twitter at twitter.com/greaseweek or his website at tourdefeast.net