Lunch is a curious event in this town. It’s either two hours or its twenty minutes. Twenty minutes, of course, are those occassions of cramming down taco stand / roach coach / food truck deliciousnesses. And two hours for that decadent meal and hour of lunch time traffic you have to crawl through.
Crammed into three locations (Bunker Hill, the Downtown library, and Marina Del Rey), Mendocino Farms somehow manages to ride both of these waves of lunch enthusiasts. It has the power lunch crowd but deprives them of their martini or espresso. It has the speed eater but deprives them of a “combo meal.” Despite lacking those conventions, this place is hardly a secret. The locations are hard to get to if you aren’t a walker in downtown LA (I dare you to find 30 minutes of free parking in downtown at noon) and are easily overlooked. The line can be stifling no matter how fast it moves. And it certainly ain’t cheap. Yet people keep coming back, addicted to the opportunity to have a meal that could turn any work day from “meh” to “bearable” in only a few minutes. It seems like almost everyone Downtown goes here, including me. A lot.
Mendocino Farms seems to embody the classic parts of California cuisine without going too far down the health food route. Using local farms and butchers, the concept of sustainability is at practice here. And there are vegan and vegetarian options. The portions are of a modest size. Dairy and lean meats are everywhere. Salads are offered with almost all native Californian ingredients. I don’t think there is a single item on the menu that is fried.
But, if anything, there is a gluttonous nature to this lunch pit stop. The food demands to be relished and cherished. For all my talk of healthy choices, this is a sandwich place where going big is seemingly the only option. For example, the Kurobuta Pork Belly Banh Mi is maybe the most addictive and levelling thing I’ve ever eaten. Slowly braised, carmelized pork belly topped with typical banh mi toppings (daikon, carrots, jalapenos) make this the best combination of savory and spicy I have ever had in a sandwich. This is a sandwich that gobbles up minutes of your day. Upon ingesting, I suggest getting any form of caffeine in your system as soon as possible. Unless you can take a nap, the preferred follow up to any pork belly experience.
That is just one of the great sandwiches on the menu. For purposes of this article, I tried a seasonal sandwich: The Spicy Chipotle Turkey Meatball. I am a known lover of meatballs and meatloaf and albondigas and koftas so this wasn’t too much of a stretch for me. The spiciness of the chiptole was negated by a healthy smothering Drake’s Farm goat cheese and chimichurri sauce. The photo can’t do justice to this lunchtime Godzilla except reveal an overwhelming nature. It simply crushes half the city and burns it under its untouchable flavor rays. And it put me in a near coma by the time I made it back to work, unable to tie my shoes or raise my eyelids.
There is more here than just two sandwiches. The Drunk’n Goat in Paris is a sugar blast of chutney and carmelized onions with brie and goat cheese. The steak BLT just kicks ass with roasted tomatoes, applewood bacon, and thinly sliced steak. I like it with blue cheese to complete the flavor explosion. One of my friends, a New Jersey native who proudly said “I love a good Italian sandwich” before he walked in here, said the Italian here was no joke. And the November to Remember (roast turkey, cranberry sauce, and stuffing on a cranberry roll) was ordered by one of my coworkers three times in one week. It’s hard to find something here that isn’t a home run.
That being said, the sides and the drinks here are great. The curried orzo and Korean potato salad are some of my favorite incarnations of both dishes. Eight different types of Boylans soda are available from a machine. BEWARE THE FROTH. This is some sugary, delicious stuff from one of my favorite soda makers. But to have it in a soda machine, and to mix flavors… It might just be the elixir of life. There’s also ice tea and lemonade but I would stick with the Boylan’s Black Cherry any day of the week.
When it comes to a good lunch in Downtown there are plenty of options. But a great one? Look no further.