Offal is an unfortunately terrible word – obligatory offal/awful pun aside – that refers to the internal organs of butchered animals. Basically, it’s anything that is technically edible on an animal that isn’t a standard cut of meat. This includes, but is not limited to: intestines, lungs, tripe, head and eyeballs.
Here’s the thing about offal – people all over the world have been enjoying offal dishes for centuries, but it has only recently undergone a (re)birth of sorts in the U.S. Los Angeles’ vast food scene that easily encompasses this dichotomy between traditional and experimental. There’s Animal, the oft-praised new American darling; and just on the other side of the 101 are L.A. classics Pa-Ord Noodle and La Cevicheria. This is the beginner’s guide to Los Angeles offal.
435 N. Fairfax Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90048
Animal is the epitome of new, trendy offal. From its mysterious and minimalist website to its signless storefront and ironic ‘90s pop background music, it is the perfect place for a hip and cautiously adventurous foodie to start dabbling in offal. Essentially, it offers an offal experience with huge training wheels.
The key to offal is understanding that it shouldn’t be approached any differently than any other types of meat just because it looks and tastes kind of strange. Animal understands this, but maybe a little too much. The menu was a veritable feast of easy-to-handle offal like heart, head and pig ears, but the lack of cohesion in flavor profiles and minimal experimentation in cooking technique left an altogether underwhelming impression.
The flavors were soft and flat, safe and predictable: The beef heart tasted like sour cream and onion chips, and the pig’s head was reminiscent of an entire Japanese seasoning cabinet poured into a single dish (see: panko crumbs, bonito flakes, sesame seed and oil, eel sauce, soy sauce). The veal brains – the most promising and ooh-inspiring dish of the evening – fell short in their cloying cinnamon sweetness, but succeeded in their deep-fried texture, the crunch yielding to custard-like, fatty interiors.
Animal is fun, but it doesn’t celebrate offal as much as patronize it.
5301 Sunset Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90027
Pa-Ord Noodle, on the other hand, is everything that Animal distinguishes itself from. It’s a small, popular Thai noodle shop with a diverse crowd and eclectic decor (notice the charmingly awkward, blown-up photos of the founder featured on a wall). The service is fast and the food is cheap, and offal is treated like any other meat on the menu. The flavors were bright and exaggerated, spirited and heavy-handed.
The tom yum noodle soup featured barbecued and ground pork, Thai chiles, tiny neon orange shrimp and crushed peanuts in a sweet broth, but the noodles (number four, for those who were wondering) were the star of the dish – properly chewy, and the slices of liver sprinkled throughout the soup were metallic and soft.
The restaurant is known for its boat noodle soup, which was salty, but also tangy with a dark, spicy broth that features pork blood and five-spice powder.
The highlight, however, was the pork blood soup: the requisite coagulated blood, liver, heart and intestine. The clear broth was sweet and rich in umami. But more importantly, the offal was perfect. The springy chewiness of the intestine, the soft tofu-esque texture of the blood, the slight saltiness of the heart: offal at its finest.
3809 W. Pico Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90019
La Cevicheria makes the offal list by a singular delicious technicality: the Guatemalan concha negra bloody clam ceviche. Clams are not offal by any means, but surely clam blood counts on some level, right? In any case, the deep burgundy juice that flows from these chopped-up clams is the perfect salty and sweet combination of the ocean, contrasted with handfuls of fresh mint and the bite of fresh onions.
The entire concoction – which is fairly sizeable and more than enough to happily share among several people – is served alongside a stack of tostadas for dipping and a bottle of bright yellow habanero sauce for a spicy challenge. Seriously, it is borderline masochistic, but fantastic when paired with the ceviche’s briny flavors.
La Cevicheria is a gem, for the smooth jazz that plays softly over the speakers, and the friendly proprietor who will guide you through the menu with enthusiasm.