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Sunday, May 15, 2011

Foodie Sunday: Local Favorites

By Tom

There are many local places I've covered on Foodie Sundays: Pinkberry, the Village Cafe, and Paulette come to mind. Los Angeles is of course home to eateries raging from Spago to In 'n Out. Today is about the rise, fall and rise of Koo Koo Roo.

Koo Koo Roo first opened on Beverly Blvd in West Hollywood (about a block or so from where ScentBar is today) in a small strip mall in 1988. It was to be the healthy alternative to places like KFC, featuring a marinated skinless chicken that clocked in at less than 200 calories, served with equally healthy sides that were just as low calorie. The radical thing was that it was all really tasty: you could have a filling, delicious dinner that was not going to end up clogging your arteries or expanding your waistline.

In the early 90's the place was bought out by an investor, who expanded the comcept from its original idea of take-out with a few tables to more of a real restaurant: while you still ordered at the counter and got your own drinks, the food was brought to your table on real plates with real flatware. The original place on Beverly closed in favor of a far larger one on Santa Monica which had its own parking lot and was cleverly next to two of the most popular gyms in Boys Town.

More locations followed: Larchmont Village, Santa Monica, two in Beverly Hills topping out at 15 before financial hiccups forced some closures and a slight revamp of the menu. Over the years they added coffee bars, hand-carved turkey, salmon dinner, salads various rice bowls to the mix. Some of these were not as healthy as one would think: for instance some of the dishes could top 1000 calories with the simple addition of the sauce.

The company went through a few restructurings and a few owners, adding and deleting menu items. They were no longer the darling of the film-people and outlets started closing. The last time I went to the one on South Beverly I was served a bird so small I honestly wondered at the lack of pigeons I was seeing in the area.

Long about 2007 the company decided to radically cut back. All but three stores closed: West Hollywood, Santa Monica and Larchmont. The net effect seems to have strengthened the chain- I went to the Boys Town branch this weekend and while I can't say the portions were lucullan, they were very satisfying, and healthy to boot.

What are your favorite local institutions?

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Blogger Flora said...

I must confess my weakness for our Northwest chain Burgerville - best darn fast food around. They have monthly and seasonal specials such as sweet potato fries, tempura battered asparagus and Portobello mushroom burgers, which you can wash down with a smoothie or shake in such locally inspired flavors as fresh strawberry(going on now) or chocolate hazelnut. I go about once a month or so - more often is not good for my jeans size - and it's a real treat. I have not been inside a McDonald's or Burger King for many years. Burgerville uses fresh and natural ingredients ( believe me,Tillamook cheddar is way better than the mystery cheese at most burger joints) and recycles almost everything they produce to boot. If you're gonna eat fast food, you might as well make it worth the trip!

12:29 AM EDT  
Anonymous lady jane grey said...

I've been on the healthy road for ages and I rarely touch anything fried and greasy. I'm an enthusiastic home cook myself and my travels often end up as foody trips (cooking course with Yotham Ottolenghi in London, etc., etc.). My favourite place in Vienna is a tiny Japanese eatery called Kuishimbo. It merely sits 8 people, plus a few more outside if the weather is warm enough, but you can have take-away as well. The place is so tiny that all food has to be very easy and fast to prepare, everything's fresh and tasty. I love their marinated raw/fermented vegetables (kimchi!)and tofu dishes. Their simple food makes me happy and never gives that heavy, filled up feeling.
It's my kind of "fast food" and I take it as the reward after the torture from my Pilates trainer twice a week...

4:22 AM EDT  
Blogger tmp00 said...


There's a burger place called Penny's in Highland Park (near Pasadena) that's about a 40 mile round-trip. I've made a few times even when I have no intention of visiting friends that live there. It's that good. Really simple stuff: patty melts, burgers and fries, but the fries are just perfectly cooked and seasoned.

If I ever get up to the area, I'll need to check out yours.

11:58 PM EDT  
Blogger tmp00 said...


I'd love to try those places!

I am all about the healthy food these days. I just cannot stand the bloaty feeling when I eat crap.

I mean, there's only a finite amount of meals I have left in life, why eat garbage?

12:05 AM EDT  

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