California Dreamin: Lunch at Mendocino Farms

I recently accompanied my husband on a work trip to Southern California – my old stomping grounds! Though he couldn’t get over the right turns on red lights (yay!) or the lack of plastic bags in grocery stores (boo!), I managed to show him the fun side of LA in between meetings and talks. 

And by that, I mean the delicious side – like relative newcomer Mendocino Farms.

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This Beverly Hills location is unpretentious and casual – the idea is local, sustainable food offered at great prices in a fast/casual setting. You order from the hostess, pay at the counter, then find a seat and get your food in about 15 minutes.

This place is VERY Californian. The food is light and based on really fresh produce…

20140929_145017 the soda is artisanal and free of artificial flavors and colors (though, ironically, is produced right in my own backyard),

20140929_145142 And the outdoor seating area has picnic tables with benches covered in Astroturf. If you don’t like that, then you are missing out on life’s whimsy!

20140929_150001 Chinese chicken salad

Is it just me or is it impossible to get a good Chinese chicken salad East of the Mississipi? I simply haven’t had one that compares to the ones out West, and this is no exception. Crunchy Napa cabbage, slivers of scallions and bean sprouts, crispy wontons, and tender roasted chicken breast all in a tangy sesame vinaigrette. The vinaigrette also has miso, which adds to the savory profile of the salad, anchoring it so it doesn’t seem too light for lunch. The vegetables are chopped so finely that you get a little bite of everything in each bite. The wonton strips are a little sparsely applied, but that could be because fried wontons are my kryptonite and I can never get enough.

20140929_150008 Not so fried chicken

Next time, I would SO get this! That same roasted chicken rolled in rice cereal and put on a dense but not too crispy ciabatta bread with tangy mustard slaw, pickled onions, and herb aioli. It’s served with BBQ sauce on the side, but I prefer this au naturel. This hits all of my favorite points in a sandwich – hearty, vibrant, sour, crunchy, a little spicy, and properly saucy. The rice cereal is an inspired touch – it adds textural interest without taking over the other sandwich components. Don’t forget to ask for some mustard pickle remoulade on the side if you liek yours a little more wet – like I said, the BBQ sauce tends to overpower the sandwich, but the remoulade works better.

Mendocino Farms is the kind of place that I yearn for when I’m back in cold, dark NYC. I long for the airy, bright restaurant, with tons of space in between tables. I lament over the lack of well priced, inventive sandwich spots here that aren’t based on any cuisine, just amazing produce. I wish there was one of these here – I would eat here constantly.

At least we have plastic bags in Duane Reade.

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