About steve

Steve Alcorn is the CEO of Alcorn McBride Inc., a company that designs products used in nearly all of the world’s theme parks. He is the author of many books, including historical fiction, romance, young adult novels, and many non-fiction books including How to Fix Your Novel, Building a Better Mouse and Theme Park Design. During the past decade he has helped more than 30,000 aspiring authors structure their novels through the online learning programs of 2000 colleges and universities worldwide. Learn more at writingacademy.com

Rao’s – Los Angeles

Exterior

Interior

Seafood salad

Penne alla Vodka

Fiocchi

Lemon Chicken

Amazing cheesecake!

***** (5 stars)

Rao’s is tucked away on an unlikely side street in residential Hollywood. It has that magical and now rare ambiance of the red leather booth restaurants of the 1950s.

You’d be hard-pressed to find better Italian food in LA. The meatballs and the seafood salad were great starters, and the Penne alla Vodka was also very good.

But the standout was the Fiocchi, made of Beggar Purse Ravioli, with Ricotta and Bartlett Pear Filling, sauteed in Brown Butter, and dressed with Sage and Dried Cranberries. It was, simply put, the best pasta dish I’ve ever had.

Another number one ranking goes to the cheesecake, served New York style, but with an airy character, elevated by a hint of Amaretto. Amazing.

Our server, Jonathan, was a terrific host, and basically assembled this wonderful menu for us. A great new LA find!

Rao’s – Los Angeles
1006 Seward St
Los Angeles, CA 90038
(323) 962-7267
https://www.yelp.com/biz/raos-los-angeles-los-angeles

El Pollo Loco

3 Pcs Chicken Combo

**** (4 stars)

El Pollo Loco has always been my favorite fast food place. It’s healthy (depending upon what you order), tasty, and generous. A three piece combo with chicken breasts, side salad, a heap of cole slaw, corn tortillas and a drink is ten bucks. You can’t beat that! And the salsa bar has fresh cilantro and lots of different salsas. Service was friendly and efficient.

El Pollo Loco
1545 S Western Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90006
(213) 380-2772
https://www.yelp.com/biz/el-pollo-loco-los-angeles-56

Nonna’s Empanadas

Carne asada empanada

**** (4 stars)

These are particularly nicely made empanadas. They’re even branded with their contents! I particularly liked the carne asada. The breakfast empanada was less interesting.

The place is tiny, and it’s a carry out operation. Parking is essentially impossible.

Nonna’s Empanadas
8570 W 3rd St
Los Angeles, CA 90048
(310) 385-0445
https://www.yelp.com/biz/nonnas-empanadas-los-angeles-2

The Bazaar by José Andrés

Interior

Exterior

Scallop ceviche

Caviar and lox cones

$9 a bite x 4

Foie Sandwich

Smoked oysters

Pork Bahn Mi Bun (3 Each)*

Octopus Toast

Squash Tempura Squash Blossoms

Philly Cheesesteak (signature dish)

Dessert room

Mille-Feuille, Caramel Cream and Salted Caramel

Rose

***** (5 stars)

The is an enormous restaurant that feels surprisingly intimate due to clever use of draperies and display cases as partitions. It definitely has an upbeat vibe, but isn’t deafening, and doesn’t make you feel like you’re not cool enough to be there.

Let’s get this out of the way first: it’s not cheap. In particular I thinking of the “cones” that look like little ice cream cones but are filled with ingredients like caviar. The operative word is “little”. They are literally smaller than your thumb, and couldn’t possibly be considered more than one bite, and not a very big bite at that. At $9 each they simply aren’t worth it, even if they are good.

But moving on, there are some much more noteworthy items on the menu. It’s divided between traditional tapas and modern tapas. The modern items were so interesting we just kept exploring, and never got to the traditional side of the extensive menu.

Scallop ceviche was Peruvian style with an unusual creamy but very tart broth. There were only a few bites of fish in the large bowl, but the tart broth made that seem like plenty.

The most inventive item we tried was the foie sandwich, which looked just like a Wonder Bread sandwich, but the bread was made of a somehow soft apple meringue! A thin layer of foie gras and jam was just enough.

Four raw oysters were served under a smoke-filled glass dome. The released smoke makes everyone around you want them, too!

Pork Bahn Mi Buns were three mini sliders with traditional flavors.

The octopus toast was extremely tender, and a generous serving. Raw jalapeno slices added a kick.

Squash tempura blossoms were stuffed with a cheese and olive mixture. The pungent olives overwhelmed the delicate flavors of the squash.

Philly cheesesteak is their signature dish, and it’s easy to see why. Four thin slices of wagyu are served atop a football-shaped pastry filled with a sharp cheese sauce. Eat this over a plate!!! It was delicious.

The wine list is fairly extensive, although most prices are pretty high. However, the Spanish wines are priced quite fairly, and there are some real gems.

A large section of the restaurant has been devoted to a separate dessert room, so at the conclusion of your meal they can transfer your drinks over there for a second experience that is seamless. The only other place I’ve seen this done is Berns in Tampa.

The dessert room lets you survey an array of dozens of items to help decide what you want to order. The rose filled with chocolate mousse was good, but the mille-feuille with salted caramel filling was even better.

Service in both parts of the restaurant was professional, attentive and pleasant. This is definitely one of the more interesting dining experiences in LA.

The Bazaar by José Andrés
465 South La Cienega Blvd
Beverly Hills, CA 90048
(310) 246-5555
https://www.yelp.com/biz/the-bazaar-by-jos%C3%A9-andr%C3%A9s-beverly-hills-3

The Little Door

Door

Exterior

Mussels

Sesame Seared Day Boat Scallops, Preserved Lemon Sauce

Chermoula Marinated Grilled Octopus, Preserved Lemon Sauce

Spicy Ahi Tuna Tartare and Shaved Fennel Salad

Patio at night

***** (5 stars)

The extraordinarily romantic ambiance of The Little Door makes it almost a magical dining experience. Divided into many intimate spaces, it feels like you’re dining in a patio, or a forest, or a cottage, depending upon where you sit.

Tuna tartare was a nice starter, but the grilled octopus was even better, extremely tender and flavorful.

The mussels appetizer which my companion had as an entree was huge; she could only eat half!

My grilled scallops were perfectly cooked and accompanied by carrots seasoned with interesting Morrocan spices.

The extensive wine list is extremely reasonably priced.

Service was professional, attentive, and friendly.

The Little Door
8164 W 3rd St
Los Angeles, CA 90048
(323) 951-1210
https://www.yelp.com/biz/the-little-door-los-angeles

The 3rd Stop

Pretzel bites to go

*** (3 stars)

This is a nice little sidewalk cafe and wine bar. The menu is extensive and we only had time for a snack, so I don’t have a lot of data points to go on. But I will say we were there in mid-afternoon, were the only customers, ordered a diet coke and espresso and pretzel bites, and the service was so slow we ended up having to take the pretzel bites to go. So I can’t recommend it if you’re in a hurry.

The pretzel bites, by the way, aren’t what you’re expecting. It’s actually a bowl of fondue with the pretzels floating in it. It was okay, but I wouldn’t have it again.

The 3rd Stop
8636 W 3rd St
Los Angeles, CA 90048
(310) 273-3605
https://www.yelp.com/biz/the-3rd-stop-los-angeles

Toca Madera

Back room

Enchiladas De Mole

Carne asada hot rock

Exterior

**** (4 stars)

This is a very vibrant restaurant with a club-like atmosphere in the front room. It’s loud by design, and louder because of the central bar. HOWEVER… there is a back room (and an upstairs room) where you can find a reasonable noise level and enjoy some very interesting food.

The free chips and salsa were good, and the plantain chips were particularly good, not overwhelmingly tough or banana-y. I’ve had a lot of guacamole in my life, but this was the best I’ve encountered–creamy, and topped with pomegranate seeds and interesting herbs.

The carne asada hot rock preparation was okay, but nothing spectacular; the soft tortillas were a bit more like roti.

The clear standout of the meal was the enchiladas de mole. WOW! This is by far the best mole I have ever tasted. They claim they use 42 ingredients and cook it for 24 hours, and the complexity shows it is worth it!

Service was very attentive. It’s worth noting that server’s costumes may be setting a new record for short hemlines.

Yes, many of the patrons are narcissistic, dressed to the nines selfie-takers making duck faces into their smartphones. But there are also plenty of well-adjusted people enjoying some creative cuisine. My advice is to go early, before it gets too full of itself.

Toca Madera
8450 W 3rd St
Los Angeles, CA 90048
(323) 852-9400
https://www.yelp.com/biz/toca-madera-los-angeles

Topgolf

Third floor

**** (4 stars)

This is a fun spot whether you’ve ever held a golf club or not. Three floors of driving bays are set up sort of like a bowling alley, and you can just hit balls, or aim for the giant lighted holes while playing a variety of games.

The food and drink are quite good. In addition to small plates, they catered an entire dinner buffet for our office group, and everyone really liked it.

There are also several bars if you just want to sit and relax and enjoy a game on TV, or watch people hitting balls out onto the field.

Topgolf
9295 Universal Blvd
Orlando, FL 32819
(407) 218-7714
https://www.yelp.com/biz/topgolf-orlando-2

Flippers Pizzeria

Counter

Exterior

Interior

Lunch calzone

**** (4 stars)

Nice new location of flippers with a bright, clean interior. All the usual Flipper’s offerings. The lunch deals are excellent. I had my usual pepperoni and green pepper calzone, and it was nicely prepared.

The service was excellent. The only thing I didn’t like about the place was the manager didn’t seem to be treating the servers very well. I realize the place just opened and he wanted it to go well, but they were doing a fine job without all the shouting.

Flippers Pizzeria
6526 Old Brick Rd
Windermere, FL 34786
(407) 877-1717
https://www.yelp.com/biz/flippers-pizzeria-windermere

4 Locos Tacos

Exterior

Fixings Bar

Interior

Flautas

***** (5 stars)

This is a great little quick serve place opposite Crooked Can. Although the address is on Plant street, it’s actually at the back of the building, where there is ample parking.

They have lots of types of authentic soft tacos, but their specialty is Al Pastor, which happens to be my favorite. Traditional Pastor includes pineapple, but some people don’t like that. They’ve solved the problem by offering the taco with just the meat, and then having an extensive fixins bar that includes a delicious pineapple habanero relish.

I also really like the flautas, which had a perfectly fried and delicate shell with moist, slightly sweet chicken filling.

In addition to soft drinks they offer beer, wine and, surprisingly, margaritas.

4 Locos Tacos
360 West Plant Street
Winter Garden, FL 34787
(407) 554-2312
https://www.yelp.com/biz/4-locos-tacos-winter-garden-2