They call it the Uptown Whittier Promenade — three blocks on Greenleaf Avenue that have been closed to traffic so that the many restaurants can expand into the street. So that strollers can happily move up and down, pushing baby buggies, and snuggling close. And so that live music can come from the park in the middle of the block, drawing a large crowd of dancers, dawdlers and face-masked celebrants, happy to be outside for a safe spell.
On a recent night, there were also religious services at two spots along Greenleaf. Praise the Lord — and pass the bread basket!
The dining choices are many, as befits the Greenleaf Restaurant Row. Uptown Whittier has outdoor dining down pat at eateries like Supermex (6554 Greenleaf Ave., Whittier; 562-399-5000, www.supermex.com), Pho & Roll (7007 Greenleaf Ave., Whittier; 562-698-6947, www.pho-n-roll.com), Modern Shaman (6744 Greenleaf Ave., Whittier; 562-789-1111, www.modernshamankitchen.com) and Costa (6746 Greenleaf Ave., Whittier; 562-945-8723, www.costawhittier.com).
As ever, I have my favorites. Though really, sitting outdoors on a warm evening, I’d be happy pretty much everywhere and anywhere. And so, apparently, would everyone else. At hot spots like Steve’s BBQ (7007 Greenleaf Ave., Whittier; 562-789-0200, www.stevesbarbq.com), which is in the throbbing heart of Uptown Whittier and tries to be many things at once. As website tells us, it’s “Kitchen. Bar. Music” all under one roof. The music is notable, for it’s live Thursdays through Sundays.
There are big screens, of course, for sports. The bar is lively and cranks out plenty of exotica — though beer is clearly the drink of choice. And the menu is barbecue…and then some. Not many ’que shops offer coconut shrimp, jalapeño poppers, barbecue mac and cheese, pork belly sliders and tacos and chile verde fries — along with the pulled pork, barbecue tri-tip and brisket.
In some barbecue houses, the food is all there is. At Steve’s, you can make an evening of your brisket. It’s a bit like the fabled Dinosaur Bar-B-Q in Syracuse, New York, much loved of students from the nearby university, where the ribs are coupled with local bands, filling the air with joyfully discordant sounds. And there are local beers on tap too. There’s a synergy that was made to be.
The food at The 6740 (6740 Greenleaf Ave., Whittier; 562-698-6740, www.the6740.com) is American pub grub, served in an American pub — there are basketball games on the TV rather than soccer, and there’s rock ‘n’ roll in the air. If you’re young and hip in Whittier, this is probably your favorite hang — a good place to go for a beer or something more potent, and a whole mess o’ Buffalo wings. They come with a variety of sauces — spicy, not-so-spicy, extra spicy, teriyaki, barbecue, with carrots and celery on the side, and ranch or bleu cheese dressing for whatever.
There’s also an appetizer sampler platter of wings, grilled potatoes, fried plantains and nachos — an ethnically unique mishmash. Inexplicably, there’s a raw vegetable plate; who eats crudités in a beer bar?
There also are fish and chips, though they come with tartar sauce rather than vinegar. In Rome, do as the Romans — in an American bar, eat a burger. And there’s lots of beer. The 6740 is all about the joys of bending an elbow on Greenleaf — a very fine way to mull away an evening, watching the crowds ebb and flow.
Colonia Publica (6715 Greenleaf Ave., Whittier; 562-693-2621, www.coloniagroupinc.com) is where hungry locals go to commune with their fideo. In this case, Chef Ricardo Diaz has created a restaurant that highlights this dish rarely found at local Mexican restaurants. It’s rare, a short-strand, soup-based pasta.
Fideo can be seen as the Mexican equivalent of Vietnamese pho or Japanese ramen — noodles in broth (highly spiced in this case), with lots of add-ons. So many, in fact, that you do your ordering using a checklist, picking an ingredient here and a drop-in there, creating fideo your way. Or at least, Diaz’s way, filtered through you. It’s fun, and it’s good!
There’s a choice of two broths — regular (which tastes like chicken) and veggie. And there are 21 ingredients with which to trick up the bowl — a fried egg, garlic shrimp, chicken, beans, chorizo, queso fresco, spinach, roasted corn, even a cilantro chutney. What arrives is a steaming bowl, filled to the top with a broth so red, it seems to glow — it’s like Mt. Doom for dinner, with the fideo strands swimming at the bottom; at first, it seems as if they’re not there, but you fish around, and spoonfuls emerge.
And the soup is pretty much all you need — it will make you sweat on a hot day, and warm your innards on a cold one. But if you didn’t order some other dishes, you’d be missing the flip side of Colonia.
The rest of the menu is quirky and eclectic, mostly Mexican — though there is a Papi Burger with bacon, caramelized onions, pepper jack, pickles, aioli mayo and, of all things, spinach. The Mexi-Dog is served on a crispy fried tortilla topped with salsa guisada (tomatoes, jalapeños, garlic and onions). There are tacos filled with chorizo, ceviche and pork belly. There are fries layered with chorizo and avocado salsa. There’s a fabulous chicharron quesadilla — crispy pork cracklin’s with pickled onions and cheese. Yeah!
A commoner, as you probably know, is (in Britain at least) a person who’s not a member of the nobility. Which, in the case of this casual gastropub in the heart of Uptown Whittier, I take to mean a casual, downhome, easy-going place for those of us not to the manner born. The Commoner (6754 Greenleaf Ave., Whittier; 562-464-1761, www.thecommonerwhittier.com) lives up to its name.
This is a fine place in which to get a nice cold mug of any of the more than 30 beers on the list, most of them on draft, all of them craft brews, with proper craft brew names like Hello Again Lager, Campfire Stout Nitro, and Hawaiian King Swirly the 3rd. To say nothing of Hot Curly Double IPA and Sailor Mom. And Beer Geek Breakfast.
It’s also a good place in which to catch a bite of dishes that may, or may not, match well with the beers. I go for the nice chunky pork burger, a bit of a crazy construct of a fried pork cutlet on a tasty broche bun, topped with a gravy made with stout (or is it a stout gravy?), green chiles and arugula and an egg cooked sunny-side up. Very tasty, very beer friendly, though do watch out as you bite into the egg — it can dribble all over the place.
And, really, how can you pass on the deviled eggs — made not with bits of bacon, as is the current style (and a very good style it is too), but with chunks of crawdad, a curious combination, that’s even more Cajun with a good sized splash of Delta hot sauce. But then, everything is better with a splash of Delta hot sauce; it’s how the world rolls.
And speaking of beer, how about an evening at The Rusty Monk (6749 Greenleaf Ave., Whittier; 562-698-5553, www.rustymonkwhittier.com), where along with your brew, you can order a Ploughman Plate of cured meats and cheeses, a properly oversized burger, shepherd’s pie, fish and frites and house-made sausages.
The Rusty Monk is happily old school. And tasty old school at that. There are oversized soft Bavarian pretzels (more or less like those served at the Hofbrau Haus in Munich), served with some rough ground mustard to spread — a very good combination with your suds.
The Drunken Olives, brined and herbed, served with almonds, come soon after. And eventually, the pommes frites show up, mostly crisp, jumbled with sea salt, with garlic mayo for dipping. Just like over there.
For some, that may be enough. But there’s also a chunky ground chuck burger topped with white cheddar, sautéed onions, bread & butter pickles and Russian dressing — a burger too big to eat in a single bite. There’s a platter of smoked sausages, and a bratwurst sandwich with sauerkraut. There are Belgian-style mussels, steamed in butter, garlic, white wine and cream.
I’m not sure who orders chocolate mousse for dessert after a night of drinking beer. But then, I’m a traditionalist. After a night spent with many beers, the best dessert has always struck me as…pizza.
Merrill Shindler is a Los Angeles-based freelance dining critic. Email [email protected]