Monday, November 23, 2015

And Where Do You “Where To?”: 5th Annual Thanksgiving Edition

In usual fashion as I do every fall, I'm stepping down as the main writer of my blog and turning it over to other tastemakers, to share where they "eat, drink and are merry" throughout Los Angeles.

I love doing this, because by reading their selections, I'm always inspired to try somewhere new or, I get affirmation that I'm going to all the right places.

For this time around, I spoke with several friends, folks I've met this year and professionals who are part of a phenomenal networking group that I'm in, called We Are The Industry. The group has been around since 2007 and was formed to "encourage, promote, and support young, diverse, creative minds behind TV & film primarily in Los Angeles."

Read on to hear what everyone's top picks are, and of course, have a fantastic Thanksgiving holiday.

“I live in Koreatown and there's no shortage of good places and hidden gems, from the chic to the unassuming. I recently discovered the brick and mortar store of the Chinese/Korean fusion food truck The Bun Shop (151 N. Western Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90004). Choose a bun (or 3) and a topping of your choice (the Kalbi -- which is beef, tempura onion, mixed greens and a spicy aioli -- is hands down the best). My personal favorite sides are the Ba'Corn Cheese (a shareable heaping of corn, bacon, mozarella cheese, jalapenos and scallions), Citrus Edamame or the fries (garlic/rosemary Shop Fries or brown sugar/paprika Sweet Potato fries with a honey cream sauce). Don't be cute and try to pass on dessert. You MUST save room for the Deep Fried Oreos with green tea ice cream, whipped cream, and a caramel drizzle. There's 4 there, so you can split your shame. Chill vibe, not too crowded, golden-era hip-hop playlist complimented by a great staff make this a must stop for a chic but cost-friendly beer/wine happy hour, date night, meeting spot, or pre-game for a night out.”

“My favorite social destination(s) would have to be: Bossa Nova, Swingers and Jazz Night at the W Hollywood Hotel. I've always enjoyed eating at both Bossa Nova and Swingers because they hold sentimental value for me and no matter what, the food never disappoints. Although, I rarely ever experience a new dish! At Bossa Nova my favorite dish is the Blacken Chicken and at Swingers I love their Peach Cobbler a la mode.”

“Sweet Serenity is what comes to mind every time I make it to the top of Runyon Canyon. The canyon is one of my favorite places in LA. People and pets from all walks of life enjoy the beauty of nature, the camaraderie of other fellow hikers, and the nearly 360-degree view of all of Los Angeles County. It is a delightful scene that everyone should experience.”

“My favorite place to have a great time is District 13 in Hollywood. I not only love this secret hideout because it makes me feel like Katniss Everdeen, but I also love it for the gastro atmosphere. If you are a fan of beer, this place is definitely for you as they have a giant selection! And even if you don't like beer, you'll want to just hang out there for the décor, vibes and feel.”

“My favorite place in LA to eat is Palms Thai on Hollywood. It's my favorite spot because it's always good. They always deliver. The vibe is not super trendy or catering to any specific young demographic. It actually has a real family vibe, like a Thai Golden Corral. But their food is bomb, I can eat there every day of the week.”

“One of my favorite places in LA is the Hollywood Walk of Fame because it gives me hope that one day I can be a legend. Every star that is on the ground is known for GREATNESS and that’s what I’m striving for. It inspires people from different walks of life to keep the faith, to keep working hard and to see that any race can make it in Hollywood. Whether that is a writer, director, actress or producer, there is a star on the ground waiting for your name to be on it. You just have to reach out for it, grab it and claim what's yours!”

*LWOO = Lauren Ward Overcoming Obstacles & Loving Women Openly and Optimistically

“One of my favorite LA places is Perch in Downtown L.A. I like this because of their great cocktails and roof top bar. This is a great place to unwind with friends.”

“As an Advocate and Public Speaker, I like to clear my mind with an occasional hike. One of the coolest spots to hike is the Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook, located at 6300 Hetzler Rd., Culver City, CA 90232. I like to come here, because its steep staircase hike and winded dirt trail give you just the right amount of challenge to break a sweat, but are easy enough to complete with friends, family and even kids. As a bonus, once you reach the Scenic Overlook, there is a small Nature and Culture Heritage center open free of charge to the public.”

Monday, November 16, 2015

Where to Be Merry: Bruno Mars @ A Private T-Mobile Concert

Last Tuesday, Nov. 10, T-Mobile took over The Shrine in downtown L.A. to throw a free concert featuring Bruno Mars, in celebration of their newest launch: Un-carrier X, which offers the ability to stream 24 services — including HBO, Hulu and Netflix — without using high-speed data.

Aesthetically speaking, for the event, T-Mobile decked the iconic L.A. venue in pink, inside and out. Outdoors, near the entrance, instead of an infamous red carpet, a pink carpet stretched down the length of the building, with the backdrop of a never-ending T-Mobile step-and-repeat. Once inside, multiple Un-carrier X ads featuring millennials graced the hallways and several no-host bars were strategically placed on the first and second floors.

On our way to our General Admission seats on the second floor balcony, my friend and I somehow ended up in a very snazzy VIP section. There were a ton of fun people to chat with, including a lot of T-Mobile staffers, access to view the concert from a prime spot on the balcony and a hosted bar that also made an amazing cocktail — the vodka-based Magenta Collins with lavender syrup, club soda, lemon juice and lavender sprig, pictured below.

Around 9 p.m., recording artist Zedd took the stage for a pretty epic DJ set. His DJ booth featured screens behind and below him, creating a surreal, 3D experience of moving backgrounds that were synchronized to change with the different beats of each song. There were fireworks, streamers, lasers, flashing lights. The whole nine yards. Zedd himself was beyond hyped, jumping up and down and getting really into each song. And the crowd went wild. At one point, I forgot where I was and thought I was in a legit rave, in a downtown warehouse.

Next up were simultaneous DJ sets by Lil Jon and DJ Vice. Strategically positioned in second-floor balconies on opposite ends of the venue, high above the crowd, the two spun hip-hop and EDM records. Sometimes they took turns, taking their time to flex their skills on the turntables. Other times, they effortlessly blended into each other’s tracks, rapidly going back and forth. At one point, Lil Jon reminded us just how many club-bangers he’s produced, playing many of his No. 1 singles, including “Turn Down for What,” “Get Low,” “Shots,” “Yeah!” and so many more.

And finally around 10:30 p.m., it was time for the man of the hour, Bruno Mars. He and his eight-member band burst onto the stage, bubbles of fiery energy, for the first song of the night, “Treasure.” He then went through hit after hit: “Billionaire,” “Marry You,” “Nothin’ on You,” “Dancing with Another Man” and “Grenade.” He even performed a cover of Sister Nancy’s “Bam Bam” and what he said was a never-before-recorded song, “Top of the World.” And while the crowd cheered and sang along to pretty much every song, they gave a few extra cheers when Bruno Mars did a '90s R&B mash-up of Ginuwine’s “Pony,” Ghost Town DJ’s “My Boo,” Soul For Real’s “Candy Rain” and R. Kelly’s “Ignition.” He saved “Just the Way You Are” for the encore. Or, so we thought. After running off stage when the song was over, he and his band came back to perform “Locked Out Of Heaven.” And even then, it wasn’t over! They started to play what appeared to be only a few jazzy runs, but a few minutes in, the runs morphed into “Uptown Funk.” It was only after that song that the night was officially over.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Where to Travel: Houston

Recently, for the first time ever, I headed to the hometown of Beyoncé. The city that Drake shows copious amounts of love for. Home of the Rockets. Space City. The one and only H-town.

I visited Houston.

My good friend “S” and I had needed a break from L.A., so we took an extended weekend to stay with our other good friend “J,” who’s also from L.A. but has been living in Houston for several years.

To our utter delight and surprise, J had extensively prepared for our arrival. Stocked with a wealth of activities for us to do, she whipped us around town, from neighborhood to neighborhood, attraction to attraction. She showed us her favorite spots, and also revealed some of the most popular and best places Houston has to offer.

Thanks to J’s outstanding tour guide capabilities, I had a blast in Houston. And that in turn, inspired me to write my #WilsonsGuide Top 12 List of Houston.

From BBQ to paddleboarding, Pappadeux and frozen sangrias, here’s my favorite highlights from my trip. I can’t wait to get back, and experience even more.

Check out the list below, and don’t forget to leave your favorite Houston destinations in the comments below!

the breakfast klub is a casual dining spot in Midtown where the atmosphere is relaxed, the servers are down-to-earth and the portions are monstrously large. It’s a chill, no-frills kind of place, where you order at the cashier, pick your own table and wait until your food is brought to you. I ordered one of the two most popular dishes, recommended by our hostess, the katfish & grits: a catfish fillet with potatoes, two eggs and a side of Texas toast (pictured below). I also tried their grits, which aren’t to be missed. I don’t even like grits and I couldn’t stop eating these. They’re absolutely delicious – buttery, creamy and all kinds of goodness. Come here when you’re famished, want to eat well and don’t want to be hungry for the next five days. I also have to show some love, as owner Marcus Davis is a member of the Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc. #SkeeYo


11) Where to Be Merry: Outdoor Activities @ Discovery Green

Discovery Green is a massive urban park, sprawling 12+ acres, right in the heart of downtown Houston. There’s a ton of activities to get into here, for all ages, budgets and fitness levels. Free concerts, community exercise groups, dog parks, art installations and water activities are just the tip of the iceberg of things to do. But best of all, the park’s Kinder Lake offers “kayaking” and “paddleboarding.” For $5 (cash only), select your water transport of preference and take a leisurely ride (or a wildly competitive one) in the lake for about an hour. Note: you will get extremely wet and may even fall into the water if you’re paddle boarding, so pack a change of clothes or a towel. Or if you don’t, just be prepared to have a very uncomfortable post-lake experience, like we did.


10) Where to Drink: 50 Beers and 3 Frozen Drinks @ D&T Drive Inn

Located on a quiet residential street in The Heights, D&T Drive Inn is a neighborhood bar, with a very cool, understated look. The earthy, minimalist décor is accented by blonde wood throughout the indoor and outdoor spaces, which effortlessly flow into each another. According to its website, D&T has previously been everything from a convenience store to an ice house. Now, it’s just a local hangout spot. No hard alcohol here — just 50+ beers — and an intriguing specialty: spiked frozen drinks. Choose from the Frozen Shandy (beer and lemonade), the Frozen Sangria (pictured below) or The Half and Half, which is exactly what it sounds like: half sangria, half shandy. D&T has an even more curiously intriguing food menu, with items such as pulled pork nachos and a Frito Pie. We didn’t order any food, though, because we were all about getting our drank on. Next time, I’ll try that Frito Pie.


When you think of Texas BBQ, Jackson Street BBQ is exactly what you should think of. Let me tell you exactly how good this downtown BBQ joint is. I was supposed to only order a “small snack,” to hold me over until dinnertime. Well, this “small snack” turned into a meal, and then some. Three baby back ribs, potato salad, a taste of pulled pork and countless slices of buttery white bread to sop it all up. And I can’t forget to mention that I literally had cups of the BBQ sauce — it’s amazing. It has a faint kick of spice and is served warm! Jackson's atmosphere is very laidback, with a pool table, concrete floors and a large, open floor plan. There’s also an onsite smoker, pictured below.


I’m a slight sushi snob and in my ignorance, assumed that Houston had nothing to offer in this category, especially when compared to California’s superior sushi options. Fortunately, my friend J convinced me to leave all of my ill-conceived assumptions on the plane, and to instead venture out to try some rolls at Midtown’s Kata Robata. Tucked in a busy strip mall, this Japanese restaurant has a modest exterior and an urbanely sleek lounge-like interior filled with naturalistic hues of browns, olive greens, oranges and beiges. The restaurant’s extensive wine list compliments an assortment of creatively constructed signature sushi rolls, such as the Rising Sun (pictured above), with yellowtail, avocado, tuna and truffle vinaigrette. While typically on the higher price point spectrum, Kabata Robata offers a killer happy hour where prices are slashed tremendously. You can’t beat getting top grade quality sushi and wines at such a steal.


7.) Where to Be Merry: Clubbing @ The Hudson

Looking to hit the club during the weekend? Try The Hudson, in the downtown region, on a Saturday night. What I liked most about this lounge/nightclub is that there’s literally something for everyone. It’s spread out over three spaces that include an outdoor patio, that’s wedged in between two indoor bar/dance floor areas. There’s ample seating to relax and sit, to hold a conversation, sip a cocktail or smoke hookah, and then there’s also areas to let loose on the dance floor. R&B, rap and hip-hop hits that span a range of decades blast through the speakers, all night long.

6.) Where to Drink: Happy Hour @ benjy's

Heading to benjy’s for happy hour is a must. This high end, stylishly mod restaurant in Rice Village dramatically drops its prices on fare and libations every day, 4 – 7 p.m., offering up $3 craft beers, $5 wines, $6 cocktails and $6 - $8 appetizers. Another big selling point: you can make your own cocktails with a respectable selection of spirits, including Jack Daniels, vanilla vodka, Don Q rum, El Jimador Tequila and more. I was highly impressed with benjy’s bar selections, such as the Jasmine Sour with whiskey, sweet & sour and jasmine; and the Elderflower Elixir with champagne, elderflower and pineapple, was also a delight. Ingredients are tastefully and seasonally fresh and there’s enough variance — from light and sweet to bold and distinct — on the menu to please most palates. And to top it off, the 1960s retro chic décor here is just so fun and well done.


While downtown’s Tout Suite offers a plethora of food options, coffees and teas, we specifically came here for one thing and one thing alone: the sweets. My mouth literally dropped to the floor when I walked into this industrial café, awestruck by the sight of so many delectable desserts. Towers of colorful macaroons, glossy tarts and cupcake selections including vanilla, strawberry and lemon blueberry are on proud display behind glass bakery displays. And, Tout Suite even serves up macaroon ice cream sandwiches(!). But most importantly, these confections taste as good as they look. My lemon blueberry cupcake was so buttery and fluffy, and the frosting literally melted in my mouth. Take your goodies to go, or enjoy them in the cozy, split-level space.


On a bright, bustling Monday around lunchtime, Common Bond seemed to be quite the destination. For my friend J and I, it was the perfect place to fight our hangovers with bold, aromatic coffee and tantalizing pastries. For the rest of the patrons who clearly seemed to be doing more productive things with their lives, Common Bond appeared to be a popular spot to grab eclectic sandwiches and mile high salads during the workday lunch break. Regardless of why you go, Common Bond has the beverages, fare and ambience that invite you to linger and unwind. Soaring ceilings and ceiling-to-floor windows create an open, inviting space where time seems to simply slip by. Attention to detail is in everything, from the dapper uniform of the baristas to the intricate designs on the coffees and the touching quotes on the napkins. If available, try the lavender coffee. With subtle hints of its namesake, it’s not too sweet and is subtly fragrant. You also can’t skip out on a croissant. Buttery, and simultaneously flaky and doughy. Dare I say, it’s one of the best croissants I’ve tried in my entire life.


Owned by the Pappas family, Pappadeaux is part of a conglomerate of eight chain restaurants located in several states and Mexico. Pappadeaux is actually based in Houston and has numerous locations scattered throughout the city. Serving up seafood and Louisiana-inspired classics, it has a respectable evening happy hour that features exceptional options, including Crispy Orange Chicken, Catfish Beignets and a Mini Fondeaux with blackened shrimp, crawfish and layers upon layers upon layers of oozing cheese (pictured below). I can’t fail to mention that the Petite Po Boy, also pictured below, is a great menu selection. Astronomically proportioned, there’s nothing “petite” about it. A good option for those with a very large appetite. If you have the time during your stay, try some of the other “Pappas” restaurants, too, including Pappasito’s Cantina for Mexican food and Pappas Bar-B-Q for BBQ.


**BONUS: Where to Be Merry: The Waterwall @ Gerald D. Hines Waterwall Park**

As a native Angeleno who’s home state of California is currently experiencing one of the worst droughts ever, I can’t lie — I slightly cringed at the sight of 11,000 gallons of water per minute rushing down not one but two sides of a 64-foot wall. However, The Waterwall at Gerald Hines Waterwall Park is truly a sight worth seeing for the sheer incredulousness of it all. It’s loud, it’s wet and it’s breathtaking. Plus, it’s adjacent to The Galleria, a mall so big that it even has an ice skating rink (pictured below) and not one but two hotels located in it.

The Flat in Montrose is probably my second favorite bar in Houston, even in spite of me being attacked on its patio by the largest flying bugs (tree cockroaches) I’ve ever seen in my life. The Flat has this amazing feeling of familiarity and comfort, as if you’ve just stepped into an old friend’s house party in his basement. Lovingly worn furniture, a DJ spinning killer old school R&B and hip-hop hits and films of the Black Diaspora — like Orfeu Negro (Black Orpheus) — projected onto the side of a brick wall are elements that all nicely complement one another, making a pleasingly soulful ambiance. And the best part: an all-day happy hour on Monday, featuring rum-based cocktails, such as the Frozen Piña Colada, pictured below.


I leave my favorite Houston haunt of my trip for last: Marfreless. I’m not sure which I love more – the bar itself, or its very mysterious, slightly controversial rumored history. Apparently, it used to be a place where people went to have a rendezvous. Originally opening in the 1970s, it was allegedly a make-out bar that had beds, for those who didn't want to wait to take the action back to their own respective bedrooms. But now, Marfreless has been under new management for several years. Still in the same location, it's in a suburban retail area and marked by a mere blue door underneath a stairwell and no other sign. While we didn’t find any beds or swinging couples, what we did find was even better. Marfreless is an amazing two-level space drenched in darkness, with muted burgundy reds and rich wooden fixtures. It has a backlit bar that provides light for the space, save for a few candles on tables. There are tons of shadowy nooks and crannies to hold a private conversation, although a seat right at the bar works well, too. There’s a great selection of hand-crafted libations, including incredible Old Fashions. Marfreless' rumored past and hard-to-find location adds to its character. Definitely a must for a proper bar experience!