Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Philippe - Los Angeles

I used to think that L.A. is a far and distant land. A visit to this enchanted place of swanky, buzzed-about eateries, and age old landmarks required a lot of effort, particularly with the driving. First, there's the 5 freeway to contend with, especially that section around La Mirada, which always moves slower than molasses. Second is trying to find parking in L.A. without paying a fortune. And third, the gas, which now tops out $3.50 per gallon in my 'hood.

But a few Saturdays ago (May 12th, to be exact) we discovered that there's a solution. We didn't have to gas-up, drive to or park in L.A. to enjoy it! And the answer was right here under our noses all along: The Metrolink.

It has a convenient route that zips from Tustin to L.A. and back, and as an added bonus, weekend tickets are discounted by half.

Using their handy-dandy schedule, we planned our outing and lunch at one of our favorite L.A. haunts: Philippe the Original for French Dipped Sandwiches.

What follows is a detailed account of our escape from Orange County via the Metrolink.

9:00 We drive from our home in Irvine to the Tustin Metrolink Station. It takes all of five minutes.

9:20 We buy two roundtrip tickets from the automated kiosk. Total for us: $15.50.

9:41 The train arrives and glides to a stop to the smell of grinding brakes.

9:50 We take seats in a car that is virtually empty.

10:00 After making stops at Santa Ana, Old Towne Orange, the train stops in Anaheim Stadium, where I see a large wave of red-t-shirt-wearing marchers descending upon the parking lot for AIDS Walk Orange County.

10:06 We take a nap as the train leaves the Fullerton station and speeds by office parks, warehouses, walls scribbled with graffiti, en route to L.A.

10:45 The train arrives at L.A. Union Station.

We stop for a minute to marvel at the beauty of its cavernous waiting room. Then, it's a short walk to Philippe.

10:50 We arrive at Philippe and find that there's hardly a line. Since it's only two persons deep, we get our food immediately. We pat ourselves on the back for beating the rush and also, since we brought our own soda, we save a few bucks.

11:00 We take our food, which weighed heavily on the well-worn tray, to one of the many open booths. The floor, by the way, is covered in sawdust and a bit slippery, but this is just the way it has been for decades.

My lamb sandwich is just as good as I remember: thick hunks of slightly gamy meat inside a roll soaked in jus. But no Philippe French Dip is complete without a few drips of that incendiary hot mustard, which sit idle inside plastic containers and waiting on every table until you decide to empower it. This is the stuff of legend, and in other incarnations, conceivable as a chemical weapon.

We finish off the meal with a classic banana cream pie, which true to its name, consists of only banana, whipped cream, and pie crust.

11:25 Stuffed, we set out to walk off our lunch around Chinatown, which starts literally two steps from Philippe's doorstep.

Just as we walk by a shop that butchers live chickens to order, my camera battery dies. But no camera can capture the stench, which is detectable within a few hundred yards of the place. It is an unmistakable barnyard smell of feathers and chicken poop -- something that is foreign to someone like me who lives in an Orange County masterplanned community.

Once we get closer, we hear the clucking and a few stray feathers that float by, suspended in the air. I take a peek inside and see that there's a concrete floor that has a drain in the middle. There's also a marquee with prices for all kinds of poultry. I consider bringing back a freshly-killed chicken with me on the Metrolink. But ultimately, I decide against it.

11:30 We continue our stroll through Chinatown and walk into the labyrinth that is Dynasty Plaza. Quickly we realize, we're lost -- lost in a maze of fabric, garments, and other oddities. Trapped inside this firetrap are hundreds of vendors, all selling what seems to be the same items. There's skirts, suits, blouses, t-shirts, pants, jeans and Chinese dresses. It's mind-boggling how much merchandise can be crammed inside a space no larger than a single car garage.

I notice that most of the shop owners are Vietnamese since they speak with that distinctive staccato accent. But whether Vietnamese or Cantonese, all seem to pronounce "dollar" as "dah-lah," and all are masters of negotiation. We manage to haggle a skirt down from $12 to $10 (but not $9), and were ready to buy, but had to walk away when we couldn't find one that didn't already have a stain on it.

11:45 We finally manage to find ourselves an exit and get back onto the street.

12:40 After a good hour of walking, our legs crap out -- a result of years from atrophy and door-to-door commuting.

12:50 We decide to head back to catch the 1:30 train. But first, a restroom stop at Philippe. Once inside, we see that the line to get food is now all the way to the back wall. Insane! Thank goodness we got here early, we thought.

1:00 On the way to the station, we stop by Olvera Street. We are somewhat disappointed to discover that there are more white tourists than there are Mexicans. They pack the restaurant patios, sipping margaritas and munching on chips.

One thing this area has going for it is a more photogenic atmosphere. But the stuff sold in the equally cramped shops are a little more frivolous. There are maracas, ponchos, oversized sombreros and toys that I guess are all made in China. Ah the irony!

1:21 We make it back to the train station with plenty of time to spare.

1:30 I start this journal as the train leaves southbound to Orange County.
To read Kirk of Mmm-yoso's post on his trip to Philippe:
--->>> CLICK HERE <<<---

Philippe the Original
1001 N Alameda St
Los Angeles, CA 90012
(213) 628-3781


At 10:54 PM, Blogger ChristianZ said...

Been there numerous times throughout my life. They used to sell Clove Life Savers there. Not anymore but you can still see the slot for them on the candy rack.

At 6:05 AM, Blogger Julian Hsu said...

That was awesome. I used to live just down the street in Little Tokyo. I remember running in for Philippe's when my wife was out at school. I always got the beef, though.

At 6:50 AM, Blogger Wandering Chopsticks said...

You should have kept walking to Little Tokyo and eaten at Daikokuya. :) Wander through the shops or the Japanese American National Museum until you were hungry again.

At 8:32 AM, Blogger KirkK said...

Hi Elmo - These days with gas and prices, and the aggravation of the parking lot that is called the I-5 and 101, rail is not a bad choice. It's quite relaxing! You sure did make quite a trek for your Philippe's fix!

At 10:42 AM, Blogger Bill said...

I think I might stop by this weekend. The train ride ain't a bad idea, but the downside is when you shop the convenience of a trunk would be nice.

At 11:47 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great alternative to driving there, Elmo! I didn't realize how close/convenient Chinatown would be.

At 1:08 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

especially love the fact that their coffee costs less than a dime. oh man, i am totally craving their lamb dip now. must...head...up... this...weekend.

another stellar post! :)

At 4:56 PM, Blogger Daily Gluttony said...

mmm, phillipes!!!

good idea w/ the metrolink. i know what you mean about that la mirada crawl...i drive it 5 days a week! =P

oh and btw, LOL re: "dah-la"!

At 5:40 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...


That candy booth is a trip. And Clove Life Savers?! That's even more trippy!


I used to get the beef too...until I tried the lamb! Now it's all lamb. Always.


Aya! Is Daikokuya in Little Tokyo? Geez. Why did I think it was in Torrance. OK. That's it. I'm getting back on the train. I hope I don't have to walk through Skid Row.


You got that right. AAA estimates that the trip from Irvine to L.A. in a car is something in the order of $30.

I calculate the gas cost to be around $10.00 round trip (assuming $3.50/gal for gas, 77.6 miles roundtrip, and a car that does 25 miles/gal). I'd rather take the train and relax!


True. Trunk space would be nice. But that's assuming you can bargain those vendors down to make it worth your while.


Such a convenient thing. And as WC mentioned, Little Tokyo isn't that far off either. But imagine. You can have dim sum at Empress Pavillion without the fuss of driving there. The trip is a relaxing one too.


Their lemonade is pretty great too! 60 cents if I recall correctly.


If I ever do need to go to L.A. by car, I bypass that crummy section of the 5, by taking the 5 North to the 91 West to the 605 North and back to the 5 North. I guarantee, you'll save at least 15 minutes during rush hour.

At 7:23 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

California's Gold had a show about Philippe's several months ago... I had forgotten about the restaurant until I read your post! I'll have to try the metrolink, I didn't realize how affordable it is on the weekends.

At 11:03 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi there!
I'm from Holland and planning to visit LA in fall...your entry comes handy cos I'm looking around for places to visit [or should I say hunting for places with good food (^-^) ]


At 11:31 PM, Blogger Wandering Chopsticks said...

From Union Station, it's maybe a 10 minute walk to Little Tokyo? When I have visitors, I used to just park in one spot and do all three neighborhoods at once. :) And Daikokuya's new hours, they're continuously open so you don't have to try and time it anymore.

At 12:02 AM, Blogger Rasa Malaysia said...

This seems like a great way to go to Chinatown. I have to check out the train soon!

At 9:22 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...


I think, from now on, I'll always be taking the Metrolink to Chinatown (and Philippe). Next, I'll take it to go to Little Tokyo!


Be sure to check out my Blogger friends who are in L.A. They have a wealth of knowledge on L.A. restaurants. Let me know if you have specific questions on Orange County eats, etc.


Daikokuya, here I come!

Rasa Malaysia,

It truly is the best way to get there. Best part is, when I got back home, I wasn't tired or grumpy from driving. I am positive you'll feel the same way.

At 1:49 PM, Blogger karin0704 said...

great blog ( = i came across it last night. have you been to java spice at rowland? i'm just wondering how the food is there...

At 7:42 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Elmo,

Way to go on making that trip. Of course, your next big mission is to go to West Hollywood or the valley for those sushi joints. Did you checked out any good Chinatown eating joints that you might put up for your next review?


At 1:30 AM, Blogger joanh said...

wow! Tustin to OC... I will have to try that sometime. If only they would make a train to LAX. That would be awesome.

mm lamb dip.. haven't been downtown in ages

At 4:00 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...


Java Spice is good. I like it. Not as much as I like Pondok Kaki Lima in Duarte. But it's decent for a quick meal when I'm in the area.


Absolutely. I want to explore Sawtelle if it is possible to do it without driving and via Metrolink (although I doubt it). I didn't check out any Chinatown eats this time since I was too full from Philippes. But next time, for sure!


It's a great trip. Cheap. Clean. Relaxing. I encourage everyone to try it.

At 5:05 AM, Blogger Juliet said...

Hey. It's been awhile. Sorry. As y ou can tell from my blog, though, life has been crazy and eventful lately.
Seems like you had a wondeful day! The sandwiches wound yummy, and you're trip to Chinatown makes me think of only a handful of things I miss about the Chicago area.

At 3:24 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

Just wanted to say that I think you should try out Savoy Kitchen Savoy Kitchen 138 E Valley Blvd, Alhambra, CA if you haven't already....since you haven't mentioned it anywhere

At 8:59 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...


Congrats on your new baby! Hey, you got more important things to attend to than read this little blog. I'll be checking your blog often to see Xander's homecoming.


I love Savoy. Hainan chicken there is better than I've had anywhere. And the escargots are very good too. It's been a while for me though. Time to go back soon.

At 4:55 AM, Blogger melissac. said...

love taking the metrolink, except i'm always terrified i'll miss the last train. last time i tripped on the steps up to the platform and fell all over the place. what a hot mess!!

mm, philippe's, haven't been in forever!

used to hit up little tokyo, olvera st., and philippe's all in the same day as a kid. now, i try and do the same, except instead of philippe's i usually end up going to that great MOCA spin-off right in the middle of little tokyo. :)

At 4:26 PM, Blogger Kathy YL Chan said...

man, now I feel like I missed out! I used to catch the metrolink into LA quite often, but never stopped into Philippe's for fear that I would find something better in little tokyo! Bah, and now you tell me they also have banana cream pie - I just might have to make a trip back to LA in the future! :)

At 6:40 PM, Blogger Dancing Munchkin said...

haha I didn't mean that they make better milk buns than my mom, my mom's are the best! (cuz she stuffs them so full they're practically exploding ;D) it's just that the bakery sells a new improved milk bun, cuz it also has real taro paste in it.. hahaha, i gotta first convince my mom to start making them again (or at least give me the recipe so i can make it, and I'll spiff mine up with real taro paste too! and then it will be the best ever! MWAHAHAHAHAHAHA! ^____^

At 8:34 PM, Blogger BoLA said...

You are my role model. I heart your green heart! ;)

Will definitely think about taking the Metro down to the OC for some good eats too!

At 10:54 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...


You had me at MoCA. I've been dying to see MoCA, but again, didn't realize it was there, near Union Station. This Orange County yokel has a lot to learn and a lot to see when he takes the Metrolink back to L.A.


It's good banana cream pie. Banana. Cream. Pie crust. It's all it is. Oh yeah, some slivered almonds on top. Also worth the trip is the custard cups, which they dust with just the lightest sprinkle of nutmeg. Yuuuummy! It's dirt cheap too, IIRC.

Dancing Munchkin,

Aah, now I'm looking forward to the secret recipe for those milk buns! First, though, I have to taste one from JJ's. You make them sound so irresistable!


Aw shucks. T'weren't nothin'. I love the Metrolink just because I'm a cheapskate. But it does make me feel good that I'm not contributing to carbon dioxide emissions just because I want a French Dip Sandwich!

At 8:58 PM, Blogger Nguyen Duong said...

just discovered your blog. awesome. thank you for providing such thoughtful and honest reviews. and btw, your pictures are really good too. especially the one of the busy commuters in union station.

At 5:10 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...


Thanks! I'm glad you found me. That photo of the commuters was a lucky shot. I normally can't get shots that good.

At 2:24 PM, Blogger Melting Wok said...

I keep forgetting..I should have done this. Thx, elmo :)

At 9:47 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...

melting wok,

It took me a while to realize that the Metrolink is a valuable resource. Next, I'm taking it down to Oceanside!

At 12:24 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I take the Metrolink from Oceanside to Irvine every day and although I'm not condoning this I have never been asked for proof of ticket. Just an FYI.

At 10:56 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...

True. They didn't check our tickets on the way up from L.A. either, but on the way back an LAPD officer went through each car and checked tickets. He had a gun too.


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