Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Mendocino Farms: My Happy Place

I know that I started my long-time-coming, "shouldn't you have done this ages ago?" blog today, but I have to, just HAVE to, tell you about my all-time favorite sandwich place in LA (I went there as recent as's irresistible!). I'd love to say that it's a well-kept secret, with no lines at the noon-time rush and ridiculously low prices, but it's not, and I'm more than OK with that.

Enter Mendocino Farms. An absolute gem buried in the midst of a cement jungle that is absolutely terrifying to the average lunch seeker, Mendo is my happy place. No matter how long the line is, I manage to make it up to the front in a matter of minutes; the crew taking orders and making these amazing creation is so darn excited that you are there, that the minutes you spent in line vanish as quickly as their top-grade sandwiches disappear from the environmentally-friendly paper wrapping in which each one is carefully nestled.

My favorite? Easy. Highway 128 in a grilled wrap. An unbelievably flavorful combination of juicy roasted and shaved chicken, tangy goat cheese, delicate mixed greens, crunchy and thinly sliced green apples, and a heavenly marriage of cranberry chutney and jalapeno relish (I'm starting to feel weak in the knees...). Can you believe this thing has a little mark by it to show that it's healthy, too?!? Incredible. It's gone before I even know that I am sitting down to eat it. But believe me, it's far from the only good item on the menu. Mendo features sandwiches with every kind of wine country-inspired ingredients under the Northern California sun. Like serious meat? The Wine Country Steak and Brie is a sophisticated disguise for a man with sophisticated taste but a reputation to maintain. Like Asian food? The Pork Belly Banh Mi sandwich has the bite and flair of the original, with a great gourmand twist. They even have vegetarian and vegan options that can convince you to (gasp) forego meat in your lunchtime meal. A creature of habit, I was once seduced by a special Vegan Shwarama sandwich; the mind-boggling fusion of tzaziki, spicy white bean and lentil puree, shredded lettuce, red onions, tomatoes and the is-this-really-vegan meatless soy shwarama will open your eyes to a world you may have never dreamed of.

Think you might have a hard time choosing a sandwich? Get this - you can choose your bread, too! Supplied by the bread gods that run Breadbar, the fluffy yet crusty slices of goodness that cradle your precious creation of choice are only appropriate considering the high quality of ingredients that lay between them. While I'm partial to the wrap - they grill it up and make it so very nice and crispy! - I know for a fact that the Curcama Hazelnut bread is a dead-ringer for the luscious tumeric-scented naan bread I hunt for at Indian restaurants, and that one bite into the Buckwheat bread will send you into panic as you wonder how something made of whole wheat can taste so sinfully delicious.

Before I get too carried away, I can't forget to add that Mendo also has an astounding array of daily soups and salads that will please every guest to this lunch hour luxury destination. My personal favorite? Any of the spinach and arugula salads; some days they throw strawberries, goat cheese and honey roasted almonds into the mix, and other times, you can find cubes of maple-y roasted butternut squash, chewy cranberries and crunchy bits of pecan melding together in each bite, tucked quietly between the unassuming baby greens. Oh yeah, and they have chips, cookies and drinks to offer, too, all brought in by local, down-to-earth companies committed to sustainability, natural goodness and all-around awesome taste.

Now, you don't have to tell the folks at Mendo that I sent you (but you definitely can...), but I do ask one thing of you. One aspect of Mendocino Farms' philosophy that I particularly appreciate is their commitment to "think globally, act locally." That being said, they have set up an impressive recycling and composting trash system outside their doors that makes me feel like I'm saving the world, one delicious sandwich at a time, by separating my compostables, my plastics and my trash in an environmentally-friendly way. So, when you feel slightly guilty for spending up to ten dollars on a sandwich, just remember that you are making a little hand print on the sands of environmental improvement (from a hand that's been licked clean of succulent basil pesto and melted Gioia mozzarella). It also doesn't hurt that you've just travelled to Northern California's Mendocino County and back, savoring the delectable flavors of wine country.

Yup. TOTALLY and COMPLETELY worth it.

Mendocino Farms
300 S. Grand Ave.,
Los Angeles, CA 90071

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