Here are five of Arroyoland’s best and oldest restaurants, which you may have overlooked — but shouldn’t.

For as long as humans have roamed the earth, they have experienced hunger. So where in Arroyoland have humans been dining the longest? We canvased the region to find some of the best of the oldest.

We all love to eat, especially at familiar places. But a restaurant with deep roots here may still not be familiar to you. So take another look at these five stalwarts, which have withstood the test of time with favorite familiar foods in a high-turnover business. After all, it’s no accident they’re still standing strong despite many passing seasons.

D.O.B. 1920

In 1920, Pasadena’s population was just over 45,000 people, and there were few places to eat. That year, a small tortilla shop with Mexican food — including handmade tortillas — opened its doors. Mijares was born across from present-day Huntington Hospital at Pico Street and Fair Oaks Boulevard, operated from the home of Jesucita Mijares. It was so popular by 1940 that she was able to borrow $8,000 from a local doctor and a car dealer to purchase a one-acre parcel on Palmetto Drive, its present location. And now, 97 years after it opened, Mijares is a sprawling complex with multiple outdoor patios and interior dining rooms as well as a second location on Washington Boulevard. Reminiscent of a hacienda with tiled floors, thatched overhangs and adobe-looking walls, the Pasadena locale could well be mistaken for a pueblo. Historic photos and images dot the interior walls inside, and you can’t miss the images of Jesucita, who passed in 1988.

R-Lene Mijares De Lang is the third-generation proprietor of this family-owned eatery started by Jesucita, whom she calls the “tortilla matriarch.” “We still cook the way my grandmother loved to cook,” she says. Mijares draws crowds for the family’s famous margaritas and light tamales (no lard), fajitas, ceviche and volcanic-stoneground red sauce using chiles from New Mexico. Families keep coming back for seconds, generation after generation, especially for Mijares’ wildly popular Champagne Sunday brunch.

145 Palmetto Dr., Pasadena

(626) 792-2763 /

Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Monday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday; 10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday; 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. (brunch 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.) Sunday

1806 E. Washington Blvd., Pasadena

(626) 794-6674

Hours: 10 a.m. to 8:45 p.m., Sunday through Thursday; 10 a.m. to 9:45 p.m., Friday and Saturday

Russell’s Café
D.O.B. 1930

Los Angeles Airport (LAX’s precursor, known as Mines Field) began operating in 1930, the same year Russell’s opened in Old Pasadena. Russell’s turned into a chain with eight locations in the Southland, but ultimately almost all failed, with the notable exception of the original Pasadena venue — currently ranked Pasadena’s third-best restaurant on While it serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, owner Frank Gale says Russell’s is renowned for its breakfasts, which are served until 4 p.m. Gale, who started at Russell’s in 1992 as a server and ended up buying it in 2014, is proud of the diner’s upscale ambience. “There are a lot of little touches and attention to detail,” he says. Chandeliers hang above each table and reproductions of famous works of art adorn the walls. The black-clad waitstaff — some there for 20 years — scurries about efficiently, yet almost unnoticed. Gale notes that a lot of his current regulars “weren’t even born yet” when their parents started the tradition of coming here. Grab a seat at the sparkly red fabric barstools facing the open kitchen or sequester yourself in a wood-toned booth. “We serve basic comfort food,” Gale says, “and it’s all about quality.” Russell’s Belgian waffles, American omelets, croque-monsieurs and croque-mesdames and blood-orange mimosas are the standouts that keep the crowds coming back for more.

One Colorado, 30 N. Fair Oaks Ave., Pasadena

(626) 578-1404

Hours: 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., Sunday through Saturday

Damon’s Glendale Steakhouse
D.O.B. 1937

The Great Ziegfield, a biopic about the theater producer renowned for his lavish theatrical revues, won the Best Picture Oscar in 1937 (the Academy Awards were just nine years old at the time). That year Damon’s opened as a straight-and-narrow steakhouse, but at the end of World War II, it morphed into its own kind of lavish production — a Tiki-themed restaurant catering to GIs returning home from the Pacific. These days the under-the-radar steakhouse is best known for filet mignon, tenderloin and Mai Tai Mondays. No need to get dressed up; just show up and get lost in the tropical vibe. There’s a mix of booths, some beneath makeshift lean-tos, and freestanding tables with plenty of rattan chairs, a canoe hanging from the ceiling, plastic palm fronds dangling off support pillars and wall murals depicting ocean scenes and long-forgotten island people. Yes, you do feel like you’re in some jungle paradise (the fish tank helps).

How have they survived so long? “It’s a three-legged stool,” says current owner Kevin Berresford. “Value, quality and consistency, that’s how we’ve maintained our appeal.” Of course, the Tiki décor is also part of that appeal, but beyond that, “our servers are old school,” with decades at Damon’s under their belts. That’s reassuring to regulars, as is Damon’s continuing reputation as a top-notch steakhouse.

317 N. Brand Ave., Glendale

(818) 507-1510 /

Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 a.m., Sunday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., Friday and Saturday

Twohey’s Restaurant
D.O.B. 1943

In March, 1943, the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical Oklahoma opened in New York to great fanfare and went on to run for 14 months. On the other side of the country, Twohey’s Restaurant opened its doors in Alhambra the same month. Naturally it debuted to less fanfare, but the place is still running strong.

How did Twohey’s stand out, surfing a sea of changes, for three quarters of a century? “You’ve got to be a great operator,” says co-owner Jim Christos. “That means great service, great food.” Tweaking menus to keep up with evolving tastes helps too, leading Twohey’s to expand into seafood dishes like sand dabs and lobster rolls, since it’s “near and dear” to Christos’ New England heritage. “The neighborhood has changed, Alhambra has changed, but a great institution like us, well, we change too.” But some things never change — Twohey’s menu still touts its Original Stinko Burger, so named because the eatery pioneered topping it with aromatic raw onions and pickles, something commonplace today.

With its iconic ridged roof, the place looks more like a bowling alley than a restaurant. But the interior is all retro diner with simple clean lines. “Our cornerstones are the curry clam chowder, onion rings, burgers and hot fudge sundaes,” says Christos. Twohey’s also keeps it interesting with seasonal items. But regulars typically return for the familiar faces of the loyal waitstaff, some still there after 30 years. With no major advertising, the business is driven by word of mouth — that and its strategy of keeping tempo with the times.

1224 N. Atlantic Blvd., Alhambra

(626) 284-7387 /

Hours: 7 a.m. to 11 p.m., Sunday through Thursday; 7 a.m. to midnight, Friday and Saturday

D.O.B. 1948

The 1948 Rose Bowl saw a humiliating loss by USC to Michigan, 0-49. Loss could also have undone Cindy’s diner had it not been for chef-owners Paul Rosenbluh and wife Monique King, who raised money to preserve Cindy’s cool Googie sign in 2014. “Cindy’s heyday was long past and it needed a lot of love,” Rosenbluh says. In 2015, shortly after the couple took over, a car crashed into the restaurant at 1:30 a.m., when no one was there. Rebuilding offered the opportunity to redefine the eatery, but the chefs had no desire to rebrand Cindy’s as something hip and trendy; they wanted to upgrade the food while honoring the spirit of the place.

Still a diner in the best sense of the word, the new iteration is a scratch kitchen with everything made inhouse. Rosenbluh and King come with loads of restaurant experience, having run the kitchen of Firefly Bistro in South Pasadena. A completely new interior with a definite retro look and feel, not to mention a music video shot here by Justin Timberlake, helped relaunch Cindy’s. Bright orange booths and counter stools pop against the green wall facing the kitchen. The best eats? Shrimp and grits, brisket hash with black-eye peas from the smoker out back and housemade veggie burgers. The place is comfortable and casual, not pretending to be anything other than it is. “You won’t find another one,” Rosenbluh says.

1500 Colorado Blvd., Eagle Rock

(323) 257-7375 /

Hours: 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday; 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., Tuesday through Thursday and Sunday;

7 a.m. to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday.

Is the Arroyo Seco’s Devil’s Gate the seventh portal to hell?

Devil’s Gate is an Arroyo Seco rock formation with a profile some might describe as satanic, and it holds dark secrets: the brutal murders there of the barely pubescent Donald Baker and Brenda Howell in 1952 and the unsolved disappearances of two other boys a few years later led some to believe the Arroyo was cursed. Factor in the unconventional sexual rituals of Jack Parsons, a cofounder of Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), and Parsons’ affiliation with controversial Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, and Devil’s Gate is crawling with conjecture.

It was the Spanish explorer Gaspar de Portola who named the area the Arroyo Seco, meaning “dry streambed,” in 1770. But it was Judge B. S. Eaton (Eaton Canyon was named for him) who named the rock Devil’s Gate in 1858, because it reminded him of the Devil’s Gate on Sweetwater Creek in Wyoming, Hiram Reid wrote in his History of Pasadena (1895). (That Devil’s Gate was a rock formation Eaton passed during his migration to California from the East Coast, but neither Devil’s Gate really resembles  the “prince of darkness.”)

The Arroyo, however, was not always dry; it often flooded, particularly in 1914 and 1916, which prompted the Los Angeles County Flood Control District to construct Devil’s Gate Dam. Completed in 1920, it was designed to “reduce downstream flooding” during a major deluge, according to the L.A. Department of Water and Power. The devil’s stone profile is adjacent to a locked tunnel, part of the dam. But to some it is an entryway to another world.

In 1936 the Arroyo Seco was just a 25-mile-long swath of land with a seasonal river running through it. But in October of that year, three scientists gathered in the Arroyo to perform their own secret experiments. “The ‘rocket boys’ were an unusual bunch,” according to Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s website ( “Frank Malina was studying aerodynamics, Jack Parsons was a self-taught chemist and Ed Forman was an excellent mechanic. They scraped together cheap engine parts, and on Oct. 31, 1936, drove to the Arroyo Seco. Four times that day they tried to test-fire their small rocket motor. These were the first rocket experiments in the history of JPL.” Caltech had purchased land in the Arroyo to build JPL, but it was Jack Parsons who turned Devil’s Gate into an urban legend.

By all accounts Parsons was a brilliant, self-taught rocket scientist, though he’s been written out of most of JPL’s history due to his obsession with the occult, his affiliation with Scientology’s Hubbard and rituals involving sex, blood and classical music. Parsons was also a devotee of controversial British occultist Aleister Crowley, joining Crowley’s Ordo Templi Orientis (OTO) society in 1941. Parsons lived at 1003 South Orange Grove Ave., which became notorious for its “sex magick” ceremonies. In his 1946 essay, The Book of Babalon, Parsons writes: “I had been engaged in the study and practice of Magick for seven years, and in the supervision and operation of an occult lodge for four years.” Part of Crowley’s Thelemic beliefs involved goddess worship, specifically of Babalon, a.k.a. the Mother of Abominations. Parsons, like Crowley, believed it was possible to summon Babalon into human form via the use of sexual rituals, leading to the overthrow of Judeo-Christian civilization and the rise of Thelema, exhorting followers to “do what thou wilt.”

In August 1945, Parsons met former Navy man and writer of lurid fiction, Lafayette Ronald Hubbard. Parsons wanted to include L. Ron Hubbard in the rituals and wrote to Crowley: “I deduced that [Hubbard] is in direct touch with some higher intelligence. He is the most Thelemic person I have ever met and is in complete accord with our own principles.” Using background music from Rachmaninoff and Prokofiev, Parsons sought to invoke Babalon through incantations and blood sacrifice. At the end of one ritual, Parsons wrote, “And thus was I Antichrist loosed in the world; and to this I am pledged, that the work of the Beast 666 shall be fulfilled, and the way for the coming of Babalon be made open and I shall not cease or rest until these things are accomplished.” We contacted the Church of Scientology to clarify Hubbard’s involvement. They did not respond, though the official line since the 1960s was that Hubbard, on leave from the Navy, was sent to infiltrate Parsons’ rituals, record the activities and report back to the government. Whatever Parsons and Hubbard were up to, a belief germinated that they had opened a portal to hell, and the negative energies loosed from Devil’s Gate would not be denied.

On August 5, 1956, 13-year-old Donald Baker and 11-year-old Brenda Howell went for a bike ride at Devil’s Gate Dam. When they didn’t come home, their parents contacted police and hundreds of volunteers searched for them in vain. All that was found were their bicycles and Brenda’s jacket. Just seven months later, on March 23, 1957, 8-year-old Tommy Bowman disappeared. Tommy was hiking with his family around Devil’s Gate and ran several yards ahead of them, rounded a corner and vanished. It was about 5 p.m. The ensuing searches were in vain. News outlets reported that Tommy disappeared after rounding a bend in the trail. But according to the Pasadena Star-News, two sisters reported they saw Tommy around 5:30 that evening. He was crying and standing at the entrance to the ranger station. But Tommy was never seen again.

Then three years later, in July 1960, 6-year-old Bruce Kremen was on a hike with his YMCA group not far from where Tommy disappeared. Bruce was lagging behind so the group leader told him to return to camp — a mere 300 yards away. Bruce never made it. Nine years later, Mack Ray Edwards confessed to kidnapping and killing Donald and Brenda along with three other children and burying their bodies in highway construction land about to be paved over. Convicted and sentenced to death, he hanged himself in his cell in 1971.

There have been subsequent reports of suicides (typically, hearsay) at Devil’s Gate, and many people who have hiked there have reported that, amid the trash and mud, burned Bibles have been observed as well as the occasional ritual. A cyclist’s body was found there in 1998 under mysterious circumstances, and para-
normal practitioners have lugged equipment to the rock, delighted when they were able to record “evidence” of otherworldly energies.

On Friday June 20, 1952, four years before the murders of Donald and Brenda, Parsons was experimenting in his laboratory. At 5:08 p.m., an explosion rocked Pasadena, killing Parsons, who was 37 at the time. Conspiracy theories formed immediately; Parsons was assassinated; some claimed suicide; Howard Hughes supposedly had Parsons killed for stealing secrets. One thing for sure: it was Parsons who seeded Devil’s Gate’s mythology. Are the stories surrounding this rock foolish, or prophetic? In his 1950 essay collection, Freedom is a Two-Edged Sword, Parsons wrote: “No man is worthy to fight in the cause of freedom unless he has conquered his internal drives. He must learn to control and discipline the disastrous passions that would lead him to folly and ruin.” Jack Parsons did not discipline his “disastrous passions”; he died broke, a mere footnote to aerospace history. But he did lay the foundation for myth and speculation of black arts in the Arroyo.

Trendy health aficionados are busy swigging bone broth, but Bone Kettle’s Indonesian chef says the stock is ancient and enduring.

When Bone Kettle restaurant opened on North Raymond Avenue in late February, Arroyoland got its first taste of two standouts in the foodie firmament:

One is Chef Erwin Tjahyadi, who’s been hailed for his extraordinary Asian fusion flavors. The other is bone broth, the chef’s latest iteration of his Indonesian heritage and a current food trend that’s gone mainstream because of its touted health benefits and psyche-soothing rewards.

But Chef Erwin’s passion for bone broth has nothing to do with trends, he told Arroyo Monthly. “I grew up with it, have always watched my mother making it,” he says. “It’s an Asian thing with a lot of health benefits. I think it’s better than coffee to start the day. Or any time. It has a lot of collagen, vitamins, nutrients.” Erwin left his Indonesian homeland at age 8 and hadn’t been back in more than 20 years until a recent trip through Southeast Asia. When he returned, he says, he “couldn’t shake the smells and tastes of the bone broths I encountered there.” Far from a fad, he said, bone broth is ancient and enduring, and he opened Bone Kettle as a means to “bridge the ocean’s divide between my heritage and the Southern California community,” which has nourished his own life in so many ways. More about his accomplishments later.

First, the broth, which you may know as soup stock, pure and simple. It’s made by boiling bones for umpteen hours to release the nutrients: protein, vitamins, minerals, collagen and keratin. Call it brodo (Italian), bouillion (French), broth or stock. They’re all the same, according to experts. But (and this is essential), not all bone broths are created equal. The quality of the bones and other ingredients, the boiling method, the added spices and herbs and the cooking time all make a difference between the packaged bone broths on supermarket shelves and those produced lovingly at home or by a meticulous chef.   

Chef Erwin says he follows an ancient Korean method, starting with “the highest quality femur bones from cows”; he boils them with onions, garlic, ginger and a secret blend of spices and herbs in 120-gallon vats for 42 hours. “We start boiling during the day, continue all night and we add more filtered water when we come in in the morning,” he says.

But Bone Kettle isn’t just about broth, he adds. Take a look at the menu on for a tempting selection of “traditional East Java style shareable small plates executed with French techniques and premium locally sourced ingredients.” Try the Indonesian corn hush puppies with a sweet chili reduction for $9, or stick with a simple beef bone broth and noodle dish, an $11 staple. Tjahyadi’s cuisine prompted Zagat to name him one of 30 top chefs under 30 in 2014, when he was 28.

The chef has strong ties to the San Gabriel Valley, he says. He grew up in Montebello, graduated “with honors” from Pasadena’s now-closed Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts and launched his career apprenticing with Wolfgang Puck. He then worked under Chef Trey Foshee at La Jolla’s prestigious George’s at the Cove restaurant and went on to become lead cook at the Hotel Bel-Air.

In 2009, during the great recession, he and a friend decided to go out on their own, launching a Westside gourmet food-truck business they called Komodo, after Komodo dragons, the world’s largest lizard species, native to Indonesia. That was before the food-truck explosion, but even after the burgeoning scene arrived, a Thrillist food critic said Komodo “stands apart” from other trucks for its unusual quality and flavor creativity. Tjahyadi’s reputation went national in 2012, when Smithsonian magazine named Komodo one of the 20 best food trucks in America, citing its “mastermind” chef ‘s exquisite Indonesian specialties. Tjahyadi opened a brick-and-mortar Komodo restaurant in Pico-Robertson a year after he started food-trucking and later expanded to a second location, in Venice.

With two successful restaurants on the Westside, why open this one in Pasadena? “It’s near where I live, in Monterey Park,” he says, “and I have so many good ties to Pasadena.” Another incentive, he adds, was the San Gabriel Valley’s large Asian population, a natural audience for his menu.

While Tjahyadi knew about the charms of bone broth as a child, the stock only recently soared in popularity nationwide, with no particular ethnicity accounting for it. The trend began in 2014, when New York Chef Marco Canora started selling his version of brodo by the cup from a small window in Hearth, his East Village restaurant. It was a sellout, especially since the James Beard Award–winning chef claimed to have revitalized his own health by including the broth in his diet. Broth mania went viral, and health claims for its powers soared; it was said to reduce inflammation, regenerate internal organs, rejuvenate skin, nails and hair, and enhance immunity to colds and other illnesses.

By the time that trend peaked, bone broth had gone mainstream, and commercially packaged versions can now be found everywhere from Whole Foods to WalMart.  Food experts say the mass-produced packaged broth bears little relation to the product created lovingly at home with only fine, fresh ingredients or in the relatively few restaurants that spend the time and money to make the purest broth from the best ingredients in the time-honored (and time-consuming) way. Many canned or boxed bone broths contain added sodium, sugar, artificial colorings or colorings, and the quality of basic ingredients can be less than top-notch.

Of course, Chef Erwin is right about bone broth’s ancient lineage. It’s been around as long as humans have cooked with fire. Chinese medics prescribed it more than 2,500 years ago to support digestive health, as a blood builder and to strengthen kidneys. In 12th-century Egypt, physician/philosopher Moses Maimonides was said to prescribe chicken soup as a remedy for colds and asthma — and to this day, chicken soup is sometimes known as “Jewish penicillin” for its powers to calm colds and flus. A 2000 study published in Chest, the official journal of the American College of Chest Physicians, bolstered that contention. Researchers found that patients who consumed chicken soup “seem to experience a mild reduction in inflammation that helped reduce symptoms of an upper respiratory tract infection.” Even experts who say the benefits have been overblown acknowledge that it might have some healthful advantages.

A small but growing number of advocates have even started sipping bone broth instead of coffee as their morning and work-break drink of choice — but Starbuck’s needn’t worry yet. “You feel better when you drink it rather than coffee,” Chef Erwin says. And, always thinking ahead, he plans to bottle and distribute his Bone Kettle version in mason jars within a year or so. “It’s perishable and it will be fresh, and have instructions along with it,” he says. “Nothing boxed, canned or frozen would be as good.”

The South Pasadena

As July temps heat up, you need a tippler to help you cool down. The Langham Huntington, Pasadena’s Tap Room offers seasonal cocktails as well as standard offerings, live jazz on Thursdays nights and a Top 40 band on Friday and Saturday evenings. Relax on a triangular sofa or couches grouped around a fireplace, or perch at freestanding tables with views of the patio. It’s all designed to lull you into the waiting embrace of one of their signature cocktails, such as The South Pasadena. This gin-based concoction offers up noticeable lemon with soft honey and resin notes, thanks to a wisp of citrus from fresh lemon. Add mint, which offers a cool contrast to the herbal, savory gin. The South Pasadena is crisp and clean, slightly viscous and will ensure a satisfying before-dinner drink, well suited to appetizers. “The South Pasadena cocktail fits with our mission of melding old and new generations,” says Susan Williger, the hotel’s director of communications, and this cocktail hits a middle stride, not pretentious and overbearing, nor a wallflower — it is a classic cocktail that will suit most everyone.


The South Pasadena


2 ounces gin

¾ ounce lemon juice

¾ ounce simple syrup

2 loose mint leaves


Place the loose mint leaves in the bottom of the glass. Add gin, lemon juice and simple syrup, and crush leaves with a muddler. Shake and strain. Garnish with a lemon wheel and mint sprig, and serve.

You think you know falafel? You don’t — until you try Sudanese tamiya.


es, it is July. And while you were probably expecting a patriotic recipe like Red, White and Blueberry Liberty Bars (not a real thing), I regret to inform you that I am still not back to my regularly scheduled patriotism. I’m trying. But lately, each day seems to bring more disappointment. So, I continue with my series on the traditional foods of the countries targeted in Trump’s travel ban. It is my hope that, by understanding these countries better, we can view their citizens with compassion, and not consternation.

This month’s focus is Sudan, the largest nation in Africa. It encompasses a staggeringly huge area three times the size of Texas, bordering Egypt, the Red Sea, Eritrea, Ethiopia, the Central African Republic, Chad and Libya. It is properly referred to as the Republic of Sudan (and sometimes North Sudan, as South Sudan won independence in 2011). The Nile runs the length of the country, which helps explain why the region has always been tumultuous.  At the end of the Bronze Age around 1200 B.C., it became home to the Kingdom of Kush, replete with dynastic pharaohs, pyramids and high art. But a desire for control of the Nile lured the Assyrians, the Byzantine Greeks (who brought Christianity), the Arabs (who brought Islam), the Ottomans (who rolled it into Egypt) and the Europeans — Belgian, French, Italians and eventually the British (who proclaimed it a crown colony).

Sudanese forces played an important role in the African Campaign of World War II, and four years after the Egyptian revolution of 1952, the first independent Sudanese government was established. But since then, modernization, inept governments, military coups, Islamic fundamentalist groups, drought, flood and genocide have devastated the country.

Unsurprisingly, given its history, Sudan’s people are a mix of Arab, Egyptian, Nubian and pre-Islamic indigenous tribes. This cultural mix, as in other portions of Africa, plays out in the exotic cuisine of this region. Early traders introduced spices, red peppers and garlic, which play a big part in Sudanese cooking. And Sudan shares many culinary traditions with its neighbors. For instance, as in adjacent countries, flatbread is a staple element of every meal. In Sudan, the most common flatbread is kissra — a big, flat spongy pancake like Ethiopian injera or Somali anjera. Loose dough made from sorghum (also called dura), wheat or corn is fermented overnight for a sour taste, then fried into flat pancakes.

Sudan is so huge that it contains several distinct climate zones, and each has a unique culinary tradition. In the dry western regions, pastoral tribes still herd cattle and goats in the dry months and grow cereal crops in the wet ones. There, dairy is a main source of nourishment. Tropical areas to the east are known for the banana dish called moukhbaza, in which green bananas are boiled and mashed, then topped with green chile and olive oil. Where rivers and lakes dot the landscape to south, fish is the primary food. Peanuts are a common ingredient all over, both as a crunchy element in stews, and ground into butter.

Stew (mullah) is the most common meal, with each region determining what the pot contains. The national dish of Sudan is ful medames, a fava bean stew that has been widely exported across the continent. Meat and fish are dried for use in stews, and many contain offal, because, as in many pastoral cultures, nothing goes to waste. Popular stews generally contain the Sudanese spice mix ni’aimiya, dried okra, yogurt and the Sudanese white cheese gibna bayda.   

It is said that the ancient Nubians were the first to cultivate wheat — a fact of which the Sudanese are rightly proud. This might explain why porridge holds such an important place at their table, always served alongside stews. Throughout North Africa, the porridge aseeda (sometimes referred to as “jelly bread”) is common at special occasions.  But in Sudan it’s an everyday staple. A thin batter of wheat, sorghum or other available flour is fermented overnight, then boiled with additional water into a thick porridge. It is then poured into a deep bowl and cooled until firm (similar to the way polenta can be molded before frying). The bowl is unmolded onto a platter, and the gelatinous orb is surrounded by savory mullah. Aseeda is also eaten at breakfast, served with honey or butter.

There are a few traditional desserts, like ful sudani, a peanut macaroon clearly of European descent, and a Turkish-style, syrup-soaked semolina cake called bisbosa.  There is officially no alcohol, but there are several interesting drinks, including a bright red hibiscus tea.

If you’re looking to try some of these Sudanese delights, there are several notable Sudanese communities in the U.S., most impressively in Portland, Maine. That city has made it their business to welcome refugees. Sudanese started arriving in the 1990s to escape civil war. But as genocide ripped through Darfur, Portland became a destination of choice for tribes from all over the county. In support of their new residents, the city officially divested from Sudan in 2006.

Remarkably, though Sudan generates refugees, a large portion of its current population is itself made up of refugees from neighboring African countries, most of whom reside in slums on the outskirts of the capital, Khartoum. There you will also find some of the 3 million internally displaced Sudanese (fleeing civil war and genocide). Although there are people trying to help, relief organizations have difficulty getting access to the affected areas.

Yeah, it’s messed up. But it’s no fault of the refugees. Americans in 2017 should realize more than anyone else that a government’s policies do not necessarily reflect the will of its people. The people of Sudan have a rich and vibrant history worth seeking out. Unfortunately, unless you have a Sudanese friend who cooks, you may have to travel to Maine to find it. Sudanese restaurants are far less common in Los Angeles than are restaurants featuring other African cuisines, and that’s too bad. The most common Sudanese dish available to us is their version of falafel — hardly unique by SoCal standards. But wait — the Sudanese falafel is actually different and, in a way, it perfectly represents their country. All these countries share traditions, but each one has been able to add its unique stamp, especially when it comes to food.

And maybe that is my point. We all eat a lot of the same stuff. And we all have to eat.  Why can’t food be the bridge between cultures? Let’s start with the things we have in common, rather than the things that are weird and different.

Plus, if we let the Sudanese into our country, we can finally get to the bottom of jelly bread.         

Tamiya (Sudanese Falafel)

The brilliance of the Sudanese falafel is its use of bean. Fava beans are the standard, but like most great cooks, you use what you can get. You must use only dried beans in this recipe to achieve proper texture.


3 cups dried fava bean, red lentils or black-eye peas, soaked in water overnight (do not use canned beans!)

1 large white onion, diced

¼ cup chopped garlic

¼ cup fresh dill, sliced

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon red chili flakes

1 tablespoon sea salt

1 teaspoon ground black pepper

1 teaspoon baking powder

½ cup water


Pulverize soaked beans, onion, garlic and dill to a coarse paste. Transfer to a bowl, add flour, chili flakes, salt, pepper, water and baking powder, and mix in. Add more water or flour as needed to create a paste that can be formed into a patty.

Heat oil to 350°. Drop patties into hot oil, and cook until golden brown on each side.  Serve in flatbread with salad and yogurt and tahini dip.

Sudanese Yogurt and Tahini Dip


2 cloves of garlic, minced

1 small green chile pepper(such as a jalapeño), minced 

¼ cup Italian parsley leaves, chopped

½ cup tahini

Juice of 2 lemons

1 cup plain Greek-style yogurt

Sea salt and black pepper to taste

1 cup gibna bayda or feta cheese, crumbled



1. Mix together garlic, chile, parsley and tahini. Add lemon juice and yogurt, and blend well, then season with salt and pepper. Fold in the cheese last, being sure to leave some chunks for texture.  Leave at room temperature for up to 3 hours to meld flavors, then serve, or refrigerate to store. 

Leslie Bilderback is a certified master baker, chef and cookbook author. She lives in South Pasadena and teaches her techniques online at

A peripatetic art pro reveals some of her favorite hotels that boast their own notable art collections.

I often tell people that I was an art major who turned into a writer. One of my first college jobs was as a studio assistant to contemporary artists (some, now famous) in Los Angeles.

Much later, as a travel writer over the past few decades, I collected and bought and sold art and antiques discovered on my sojourns. (Midcentury furniture salesman’s samples discovered in Brazil or a huge mestizo religious painting brought back from a trip to Buenos Aires, anyone?) More recently, I’ve been working as a fine art and antiques broker, assisting clients around the globe who want to sell their treasures via international auction houses from London and Hong Kong to L.A. and New York. As a result, I have always favored cultural travel, including destinations close to home that engage the artistic senses and provoke both contemplation and conversation.

Here are a few hotels that might be of interest to those of a similar mind.


It may be a European tradition: fill a hotel with fine art from guests who are artists, often in residence, or display important pieces from a savvy (and rich) owner’s private collection. At Amsterdam’s charming Hotel Pulitzer, set in 25 row houses (, the terrific rotating art on display is sourced from the Pulitzer family art collection (yes, the Pulitzer Prize dynasty). Perhaps the first time I became aware of incredible art in public places was in the 1980s, first on a summer holiday to the south of France, then during a New York snowstorm and on a later trip to Holland, where I discovered the Pulitzer collection.

At La Colombe d’Or ( in St. Paul de Vence in the south of France, I marveled at not only the cuisine and setting, but also the art and stories behind the works hanging on the walls of this famous restaurant and pensione, where Picasso, Matisse, Calder, Braque and others would dine and leave works that still grace the walls. Ah, if those walls could talk!

Here in sunny Southern California, you can power dine at The Belvedere in the tony Peninsula Beverly Hills ( amidst blue-chip artworks. The multimillion-dollar works include a stunning Sean Scully and a bright, at times controversial, Robert Indiana painting, which apparently some guests have objected to (the words “DIE” and “Paris” appear in the work — Indiana, who was living in Paris in the mid-’60s, created it in response to the assassination of John F. Kennedy). There are no titles or labels on any of the pieces, so guests who don’t know their Josef Albers Homage to the Square from Yayoi Kusama’s trademark polka dots may just have a pure art experience, devoid of name-dropping.

A lovely black-and-gold calligraphic nine-panel work, Linescape I and Linescape II (2015), was commissioned specifically for the room from Parisian artist Fabienne Verdier — despite the artist’s initial reservations. At first, she rebuked the commission, saying she “doesn’t do hotel art” — until she learned of the caliber of artworks her piece would hang alongside. Bold poppies by Donald Sultan from 2014 hang in one of two private dining rooms. Those celebrating an anniversary might request a table within view of a large figurative work by Alex Katz: Anniversary (2003).


Julian Schnabels and Ruth Asawas of the future may be discovered at the Mayfair Hotel (, a 1926 downtown L.A. venue with a storied history. The 15-story hotel was the site of the first afterparty for the Academy Awards in 1929, and L.A. noir writer Raymond Chandler set his 1939 short story, “I’ll Be Waiting,” at the hotel where he and his mistress resided.

But something new and radical is afoot that may surprise you. The hotel, undergoing a $40 million restoration, is featuring art by resident curator and artist Kelly Graval (a.k.a. RISK), who went from being a graffiti street artist and graduate of the USC Roski School of Art and Design to museum shows. RISK is bringing outdoor art indoors and has reached out to other graffiti artists — Evidence and Jason Revok — whose work will be part of the hotel’s collection. “Graffiti writers have always managed to leave their mark, literally, on the urban landscape in Los Angeles,” Kelly says in a statement. “The pieces I’ve selected for this project symbolize each artist’s cultural imprint on our society.”

Rooms and hallways are decorated in black, white and gray color schemes, and there are two versions of the former, including one with a blow-up mural backdrop of a 1926 map of L.A. that features all sorts of fun details from yesteryear. Public rooms will include a grand lobby, the Speakeasy restaurant, a rooftop pool and even a podcast studio.

Ironically, I did see some graffiti in the ’hood just west of downtown, officially called Central City West. Future collectors, take note: you never know who’s expressing themselves right before your very eyes — inside or out. I’m excited to return and see how the art plays out throughout the historic Mayfair. See you there for a martini in the Speakeasy and some art talk? Be forewarned: you’ve gotta know the passcode.


The Inn at the Presidio ( is my favorite hotel in San Francisco for several reasons. The moment you enter the grounds — through one of the national park’s gated entrances — the lovely natural setting, flush with hiking trails, museums, earth art and restaurants, provides a welcome oasis in the bustling city, with plenty of its own temptations.

The inn’s 22 spacious rooms and suites are located in Pershing Hall, the historic three-story building that once served as the bachelor officers’ barracks in the repurposed military complex. They include lovely high-ceilinged bathrooms, flick-on fireplaces and comfy beds. The helpful staff and art curated by Julie Coyle add to the charming ambience.

But it’s what’s outside — the phenomenal nature works by internationally acclaimed sculptor Andy Goldsworthy — that really sets this inn apart from its competitors. Right out the inn’s back door is the Ecology Trail, a scenic, easy hike that leads to Inspiration Point and one of Goldsworthy’s noteworthy installations, Spire, a soaring, 90-foot-high cathedral-like tower built of recycled eucalyptus trees; I consider it California’s version of Sagrada Familia, Antoni Gaudí’s spectacular church in Barcelona. Goldsworthy’s other earthworks span the globe, but there are four of them tucked in the 1,480 acres that constitute the Presidio of San Francisco. Yup, you heard me right. In addition to Spire, there’s Wood Line, Tree Fall and Earth Wall.

In addition to the outdoor art amidst great hiking trails, there are plenty of other attractions and diversions within The Presidio, including the Disney Museum, a bowling alley and even a YMCA. Ocean cliffs, lakes and miles of trails add to the natural ambience, not to mention all the action that lies just outside the former military base gates in the big city.

I can’t wait to return to this gem of a destination and see the Goldsworthy works I missed on my first visit, as well as the ones I viewed a couple of years ago. Those, like nature and my perceptions of art, will have changed. The disintegration reminds one not only of the beauty of Mother Earth, but the transitory nature of life.

South Pasadenan Joe Davis brings his own sports spin to play-by-play announcing for the L.A. Dodgers.

The Los Angeles Dodgers are taking a new direction that goes beyond reconfigured player lineups, coaching assignments and concession stand offerings. With the official retirement of legendary sports announcer Vin Scully, the team is introducing fans to a young announcer who is fiercely determined not to step into Scully’s shoes – his goal is to make his own mark on the heavily competitive sports scene. “You don’t replace someone like Vin,” says sports commentator Joe Davis, 29, who moved from Michigan to South Pasadena with his family in January. “I don’t kid myself. I know that I’ll always be considered the guy who followed Vin. When someone says to me, ‘Well, you’re no Vin Scully,’ I tell them, ‘You are absolutely right. No one is.’”

While Davis called his first Dodgers home game in April, he has been serving up his play-by-play on the road since last season, while Scully continued home game duties. For 50 televised road games, Davis was joined by former Dodgers-turned-analyst-announcers Orel Hershiser and/or Nomar Garciaparra.

During that season,  fans got a taste of post-Vin Dodgers life, adjusting to the rhythm of new voices and personality combinations. After all, Scully’s signature solo style has permeated the team’s essence for 67 years (he joined the team way back in Brooklyn in 1950). His mastery of the English language fused with his limitless knowledge of sports anecdotes to elevate the profession far beyond the clipped, old-time radio cadence of most broadcasters. “[Vin] is the greatest ever and all us broadcasters have learned so much from watching him through the years,” says Davis, adding that if he considered the pressure of the mantle every time he stepped into the Dodgers’ press box, “it would be overwhelming. Right from the start, I made a decision to be as mentally comfortable and tough as I could be — and a big part was to realize that I am not replacing Vin and no one was ever going to replace him. I have to try to be myself, lean on my analysts and hope, over time, I can be someone that people can tolerate.”

Fortunately, that was exactly what the team was looking for. “We looked at a lot of candidates for almost two years — listening to people, watching them — and Joe just bubbled up to the top,” says Lon Rose, Dodgers executive vice president and chief marketing officer. “He has a great enthusiasm, a love of the game. He offers that unique combination of a fresh perspective while respecting the past.”

Davis’ humble attitude, his genuine love for the game and his respect for Scully’s legacy are earning him high praise from Dodgers fans who have a right to be picky about the voice that accompanies a Joc Pederson grand slam or a Clayton Kershaw no-hitter. “You have a very tough role of stepping in the biggest shoes ever left to fill; I think you did an exceptional job last year,” one fan commented to Davis when he recently hosted an Ask Me Anything (AMA) Reddit conversation. “Your first year broadcasting with us was terrific, you have already earned a spot in the hearts of a ton of Dodgers fans,” wrote another. “Excited to hear you call Dodgers games for the next 50 years or so,” gushed another.

Fans’ applause reflects Davis’ adoption of Scully’s treasured advice to him. “He called me the night before my hiring was announced and he passed along advice which was given to him when he started in 1950 from another Hall of Fame  broadcaster, Red Barber. ‘You bring one thing to the booth that one else can – and that is yourself. To steer away from that would be a disservice to the people listening and to yourself, too.’”

Providing fans with just the right amount of statistics, emotion and stories – and knowing when to be quiet – is a lot harder than it seems, explains Davis, who says he knew from an early age that he wanted to be a professional sports announcer. Growing up in a small town in Michigan (“There were 70 kids in my graduating class”), Davis was heavily influenced by his dad, Paul Davis, who was a Michigan High School Hall of Fame football coach. “I have always been around sports,” says the longtime Cubs fan. “Going to practices or playing football and baseball, it’s been a part of my life as long as I can remember.”

Davis attended Beloit College in Wisconsin, where he played football and announced its baseball games in football’s off-season. Later, he assumed play-by-play duties for men’s and women’s basketball on local radio and television. He graduated in 2010.

While his collegiate career introduced him to the craft, Davis credits the three years he spent broadcasting minor league baseball on the radio as the real educational foundation for his career. “Anyone who asks me advice on how to get into the business, I tell them to do minor league baseball,” he says. “There is no better way to call games on a low-pressure level where you can make those mistakes and find yourself. It takes time to be yourself on air because we all think we are supposed to sound a certain way — like Mr. Broadcaster. Over the course of three seasons there were 400 games, which meant 400 opportunities to get better.”

Davis broke into television with a 2012 ESPN gig at the ripe old age of 24. He served as announcer for college baseball, basketball, football, hockey and softball and also appeared in spot duty for Major League Baseball on ESPN radio. In 2014, he was tapped by Fox Sports for national coverage of college football and basketball, and he continues to pursue that while with the Dodgers.

These days, Davis is enjoying life as a Southern California resident as he pursues the never ending world of research and preparation for the next game. “There’s a saying that to prepare to call a baseball game, you prepare your entire life,” he says. “You draw on stories you read 10 years ago, things you learned from playing baseball as a kid or umpiring when I was in high school. When it’s in season, there is a game every day to watch and learn. I am reading all the time or picking up as much firsthand stuff as I can from the players, managers and coaches in the clubhouse or batting cages. The access that I have is something that people at home don’t have, so it’s my job to take the fans behind the curtain.”

Davis, his wife, Libby, and their 10-month-old daughter, Charlotte, have settled comfortably in the warmth of South Pasadena. There are regular strolls to Eddie Park, workouts at the South Pasadena/San Marino YMCA, breakfasts at Julian’s and maybe lunch at the Bristol Farms deli. The family picked the area because it had a Midwestern small-town feel to it — but with a big difference. “We walk every day and that’s something we definitely weren’t doing in the winters in Michigan,” Davis says with a laugh. He says he still has moments of disbelief that he landed the job and his new life in Southern California.

Says Davis: “Walking into the press box is an incredible office to walk into every day,” he says. “Yes, I’m still pinching myself.”

As the L.A. Zoo celebrates its 50th anniversary, top officials talk about Billy the elephant and zoos’ evolving roles in a rapidly changing world.

The Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Gardens is in the midst of its 50th-anniversary celebration, which runs through October. And there’s plenty to celebrate, according to the two Arroyoland folk who know most about the 113-acre zoo and its 1,100 animal residents representing 250 different species.

Zoo Director John Lewis, who lives in La Crescenta, is in charge of ensuring that the animals and their habitats are in tip-top shape and that the zoo’s 1.8 million annual visitors are inspired and enlightened by what they see. Lewis also oversees the zoo’s programs to help preserve the world’s endangered species. La Caňada Flintridge’s Connie Morgan is president of the private, nonprofit Greater Los Angeles Zoo Association (GLAZA), which raises funds that enable the zoo to attain its goals in animal care, conservation and visitor satisfaction. Both Lewis and Morgan (see page 9) started work at the zoo about 14 years ago and both say they are ardent proponents of well-run zoos in general, and of the L.A. Zoo in particular.

Zoos such as L.A.’s, they say, have evolved in many ways over the past few years. Many habitats have been enhanced so that the animals are healthier and happier than ever before, and visitors are educated about endangered wildlife and the need to preserve it. And the L.A. Zoo has become an important asset in global research into conservation of endangered species. It allocates funds, expertise and staff to conservation projects worldwide and has had great success with important local projects. By the 1980s, the population of California condors had sunk to about 22. Today, thanks to the zoo’s program to breed condors in captivity and introduce them into the wild, there are more than 420 condors, half of them already living in the wild.

Other beneficiaries of the zoo’s conservation programs include peninsular pronghorns — elegant hoofed animals with branched horns, which first appeared in the Pleistocene age and resemble a blend of deer and goat. Once numbering in the thousands, they lived in deserts and semi-deserts of Baja California until their habitats were destroyed and manmade barriers prevented them from finding water and shelter along what was once their natural migration route. The L.A. Zoo, in concert with partners, has been able to breed pronghorns and steadily increase the population, which, from a low of 50, now numbers in the hundreds. The zoo’s breeding herd is part of a longterm Species Survival Plan for these animals.

Those are just two of many behind-the-scenes programs in which the zoo participates while promoting its primary function of enabling the public to meet and interact with extraordinary animals from around the globe. That traditional role of zoos has become controversial here and around the country in the era of animal-rights activists who say it is unethical and inhumane to remove animals from their natural environments and hold them captive for the entertainment of humans.

In April, L.A. City Councilmember Paul Koretz filed a motion to remove 30-year-old Billy the elephant from the L.A. Zoo, where he’s been a lifelong resident. That was in response to animal-rights advocates who claimed that Billy’s living conditions are isolated and restrictive, and that he shows signs of distress. The motion seeks to relocate Billy to a wild animal sanctuary, where he can roam freely and socialize. Similar controversies have arisen around the country, as rare and endangered zoo animals become physically or emotionally ill due to allegedly inappropriate living conditions, or are killed when they escape or are involved in accidents involving humans. In May 2016, the teenage gorilla, Harambe, was shot at the Cincinnati Zoo when a 4-year-old boy fell into his enclosure. Although few would disagree with the action that may have saved the boy’s life, activists also argued that Harambe was one more endangered and innocent captive creature who died through no fault of his own. After the film Blackfish was released in 2013, documenting severe distress experienced by a 12,000-pound orca in captivity at Sea World, ticket sales plummeted and intense public pressure led the park to end its orca program. A campaign by activists spotlighting the inhumane conditions endured by performing circus animals aided in the demise of many animal-oriented circuses, including 136-year-old Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey, which ceased operation in May.

Of course, zoos don’t require animals to perform, and most take excellent care of their menageries. But public attitudes are shifting as research focuses on animal intelligence and cognition, animal rights and ecological imperatives.

Could zoos someday become as obsolete as animal-oriented circuses? There are compelling arguments both for and against the concept of zoos, and we asked Lewis and Morgan to discuss both the zoo’s achievements and challenges.

Arroyo Monthly: What are some of the achievements you’re proud of since you’ve been at the zoo?

John Lewis: We’ve spent about $180 million improving the zoo with voter-approved tax money as well as privately raised money from GLAZA. We’ve greatly improved our habitats for our great apes — gorillas, orangutans, chimpanzees — and we also have a fantastic facility for our elephants and a brand new amphibian facility, an updated bird show so we can teach people about how birds live and how they fly. We have a new front entry with visitor services and education classrooms and a multipurpose theater. There have been a lot of physical improvements for both our visitors and our animals, and a host of conservation projects all over the world. We are educating the public about the lives of these animals and the threats they face as their natural habitats disappear, and what needs to be done about it.

Connie Morgan: GLAZA is proud to have helped bring all those projects John just mentioned to fruition. We’ve raised a great deal of money for construction of the habitats for elephants, the great apes, the new education center. We’ve funded much new medical equipment for the zoo’s state-of-the-art Gottlieb Animal Health and Conservation Center, helped them secure new laser equipment, portable ultrasounds, all the new technology that is critical to ensure our animals have the best care possible. We’re currently working on a new park at the zoo for all types of corporate events that will bring new revenue so we can continue updating everything needed for our animals.

AM: Both of you mentioned elephants, and right now your elephant Billy is in the news, because a city councilperson is requesting his removal to a sanctuary. I notice there’s a full page on your zoo website about Billy, explaining why he should stay at the zoo. Can you talk about that?

JL: I’m happy to talk about that. The reason he should stay at the zoo is because he gets excellent care and has plenty of space and caretakers that love him and take excellent care of him. The misinformation being spread is by groups who are trying to shut down elephant programs all over the country. They focus on an individual and try to give people concerns they really should not be concerned about. Billy is doing great. The lawsuit that’s being talked about now was actually filed six years ago, and we won it. But the judge added some injunctions to his decision, which aren’t onerous for us but the critics keep watching and periodically harass us to say we’re not doing what we should, and we have to file a court report to prove that we are. We have actually filed an appeal through the state Supreme Court asking that those injunctions be dropped, just so we don’t continue to be harassed. Billy and all our elephants are doing just great.

AM: Can you talk about changes in the zoo’s operations since you took over?

JL: There are two main areas that come to mind. First, engaging our staff to engage the visitors. I tell staff all the time that this zoo is really for people as well as the animals. People are the ones that will make a difference for wildlife, and all the challenges that wildlife is facing right now.

So we need to engage visitors and help them understand what’s going on and help them care about the animals, not just come here to look at them.

The other thing that’s changing: This zoo has done a lot of conservation over its life, but a lot of that has been financially supporting [outside] investigators. This fall, GLAZA is actually raising money to hire a full-time conservation biologist for the zoo. That individual’s initial responsibility will be to identify hotspots around the world where animals are being threatened, as well as other conservation issues that need resolving, and then put together a team of individuals that will include zoo employees and professors and academics and researchers around the world to solve that problem. It’s called the Species Conservation Action Network [SCAN], and we’ll be scanning the conservation horizon looking at how we can help.

AM: So this person will spearhead a global group ?

JL: That’s correct. And the group members will change, depending on what issue it is tackling.

CM: Something John should be very proud of is that our zookeepers and curators today are extremely talented, knowledgeable and educated folks in how to care for animals. They are now becoming critical to global conservation needs.

JL: Connie is referring to the fact that more and more of what we do in our zoos has direct application to wildlife. Unfortunately, with so much loss of wild habitats, a lot of the parks are looking like big zoos because there is not that much space left in the wild for the animals. The techniques that we use to keep animals alive and provide good health, and even for breeding and reproduction, are now being used more and more in the field by wildlife biologists. And we are able to send some of our experts to help them use those techniques in environments around the globe. We’ve sent several people to Africa; our keepers and curators have recently gone several times to China.

AM: Ms. Morgan, in the years you’ve been GLAZA president, what shifts have you seen in community response?

CM: The greatest shift is that we’ve been able to build a solid and consistent base of financial support for the zoo for the long term. We have donors who stay very loyal to the zoo, who understand the zoo’s mission and how important it is to the Los Angeles community and to the wildlife community across the world. We’re continuing to build on that for the future. That’s one reason SCAN is so important to us. Our board of trustees for GLAZA wanted to do something very special for the zoo’s 50th anniversary, so we committed to funding this project which we can take into the next 50 to 100 years, using all the talent and expertise we have here to help solve global conservation issues.

AM: There’s so much technology that now lets us get up close and personal with animals living in the wild, and we can observe them closely without going to a zoo. Added to ethical concerns, do you think zoos are becoming less necessary and less relevant?

JL: I think zoos are, unfortunately, going to become even more relevant than ever before. A large portion of the world’s population has moved and continues to move away from rural areas and into cities, and away from wildlife. They’ve lost their connection with wildlife, and zoos and aquariums provide those connections. The films and documentaries are all good, but they complement the experience of the zoo, they cannot replace it.

CM: I would agree that zoos connect people with wildlife in a way nothing else can. You could compare it with concerts. You have to see things live.

Palm Desert’s charms make it a favorite getaway for Southern Californians.

More desert tourists are becoming art browsers and shoppers thanks to Desert X, the widely-publicized, site-specific outdoor art exhibition that ran for two months ending April 30. In its last few weeks, Desert X overlapped with the blockbuster Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, which boasts its own art installations on the grounds of its Empire Polo Club venue. However, there is art to see year-round in the Coachella Valley, particularly in posh Palm Desert. And while you’re in the neighborhood, you can sample some of the town’s other attractions, from golf to giraffes.

Browse or Buy Art

Palm Desert is an affluent town, and along and around El Paseo, a milelong shopping street, dozens of art galleries are tucked in among high-end retail stores. The larger ones include Imago, Melissa Morgan, Coda and Hohmann. One of the best, Heather James Fine Art, is a little farther afield, on Portola Avenue, off the east end of El Paseo. It’s a whole building unto itself, with various spaces usually dedicated to certain collections, artists or themes. “We like to have our shows look curated,” says gallery staffer Montana Beutler. At any given time, Heather James shows include works of blue-chip international artists, such as Pablo Picasso and Alexander Calder, as well as American favorites such as Norman Rockwell and the California Impressionists.

There’s also public art on El Paseo and sprinkled throughout Palm Desert, thanks to the city’s Public Art Program established in 1986. That year the City of Palm Desert became the first in Riverside County to pass a public art ordinance, which requires real estate developers to integrate artwork into their developments or pay a fee to the Art in Public Places fund.

“There are over 150 pieces of art throughout the city,” says Deborah S. Glickman, who helps run Palm Desert’s public art program. “There’s a map that can be downloaded, and we do also offer free walking tours on the weekends.” Those tours are available on select Saturdays September through May. Private tours for three or more people can also be arranged. Glickman adds that the city produces the biennial El Paseo Exhibition, which places artwork in the El Paseo shopping district, “and we have artists who participate from all over the world.”

For information about Palm Desert’s Public Art Program (including tours, maps and film series), visit

The Sporting Life

Of course the area offers other attractions — great golfing (natch!), tennis, swimming, fine dining and wonderful hotels. Quite a few hotels — like the J.W. Marriott Desert Springs Resort & Spa, Hyatt Regency Indian Wells Resort & Spa and the La Quinta Resort and Club — have their own golf courses, swimming pools and spas. From the Marriott spa, for example, you can lounge in the sun after your treatment of choice, and have a gorgeous view of the greens. If you prefer an Old World flavor, check out the historic La Quinta Resort and Club with its sprawling but well-maintained complex in Spanish Revival style. Its charming casitas open onto swimming pools in cozy compounds; there are 41 pools in all, plus five award-winning golf courses and 41 tennis courts.

Not surprisingly, golf is one of the main attractions here, and not to worry if your hotel doesn’t have its own links; you can always play at other courses or check out the city-run, world-class Desert Willow Golf Resort ( It offers two fields of play — the Firecliff golf course and the Mountain View course, both roughly 20 years old and designed by Michael Hurdzan, Dana Fry and PGA Tour pro John Cook. Eric Johnson did the landscaping with many drought-resistant species. Meanwhile, the water used to keep the greens green is being recycled, important in drought-prone California. For meals and drinks, there’s a clubhouse with views of the greens against the backdrop of the gorgeous Santa Rosa Mountains. Desert Willows will probably be the most well-appointed public course you’ve ever visited — it was for me.

Commune with Nature

As a vivid reminder that Palm Desertites are denizens of the desert — the Colorado Desert, specifically — you might want to visit The Living Desert (, a combination desert, botanical garden and zoo on 1,200 acres — 1,000 of them pristine. No, not all the animals are native, though most of them do inhabit savanna and desert. One can easily spend half a day here, walking through various exhibitions and listening to experts.

There are a few things not to miss, so make sure to check the daily schedule. The giraffe feeding gives you a chance to look at a giraffe up close; visitors can even climb a platform to see giraffes eye to eye. Yes, they have very beautiful big eyes with long lashes, and also long black tongues to lap up the special snack you can buy for them. The Cheetah Run showcases the world’s fastest land animal, reaching speeds of up to 70 mph. Here cheetahs show their stuff, running from one end of their long enclosure to the other. And do visit the Butterfly/Winged Wonders exhibit in its own building, featuring hundreds of butterflies from 30 species.

For a deeper excursion into nature, take a tour of the San Andreas Fault. Desert Adventure Red Jeep Tours & Events ( runs a fleet of, yes, red jeeps (CJ-8 Jeep Scramblers) that are open-topped; passengers pile in the back while the driver doubles as a guide. These guys are seasoned pros (I say “guys” because I only saw gents doing the job), and ours told us not only about the geology of the San Andreas Fault, but also about the area’s native plants and animals. And I learned quite a bit from him about the Cahuilla Indians, who used various plants for food, medicine and shelter.

To illustrate the geology of the San Andreas Fault, our guide, Black Feather, held up an Oreo cookie. He squeezed the two dark biscuits together, very hard, until the white filling got pressed out around the rim. The fault, he told us, is the result of two geological plates — the Pacific Plate and the North American Plate — coming together and moving in different directions. Then he says, with proper drama, “We’re going to drive about a mile into the delicious white cream.”

It’s a strange analogy, since things don’t really get squeezed out when there’s a tectonic plate shift — they fall in. Which is what we saw as we traveled into a private preserve, bumping up and down on our course down dusty roads and into a canyon. The fault creates cracks and crevices, which align with underground aquifers. There are places where you can see the jagged faultline running across the land, defined by a line of live palms and vegetation because of those aquifers. One of the most interesting stops was an oasis, where the earth had caved in during a particularly violent shift and become a refuge for a jumble of palms and bushes.

Incidentally, Black Feather was only a nom de guide, so to speak — our guide’s real name was Darrell Eisman, and he hailed from New York City. Apparently, all the guides adopt Native American–sounding names. We learned a lot from Darrell, not only about geology, but about the plants and animals that live in this part of the desert. Red Jeep also offers tours to Indian Canyons and Joshua Tree National Park. Enjoy the ride!


Somali cuisine reflects global influences from its history as a major trading port.

realize this column has taken a turn from its usual jovial tone. I’m sorry for that. I guess I’m just not feeling it these days. And with that warning, I am continuing my series on the food from the countries whose people Trump has tried to ban from entering the United States. Though the ban has been blocked by federal courts, it will likely end up in the Supreme Court. Regardless of the outcome, I believe acceptance of these refugee groups, and of other cultures in general, is important. Plus, it’s fun to try new foods! 

This month I bring you a nation that was once considered among the mightiest ports of call in the world. No, it’s not Egypt, or Greece, or Phoenicia. Situated on the Horn of Africa (that’s the pointy part on the eastern coast), Somalia was once a maritime marvel, and the hub of trade in exotica from prehistory through the Middle Ages, until imperialist powers’ Scramble for Africa and colonization.

Strategically located on the Gulf of Aden, between the Red and Arabian seas, this country boasts the longest coastline and the most beaches on the continent. Of course, this made it prime real estate for traders. Artisans, spiritual leaders and royalty from around the ancient world came to what the Egyptians referred to as “the land of Punt” (which means “spice”). They traded not just for spice, but for gold, ivory, ostrich feathers and incense.  Somali incense was renowned — there are images of it in Egyptian tombs — and the country still supplies it to the Roman Catholic Church. Eccentric royalty stocked their menageries with Somali zebras, giraffes and hippopotami. But that strategic location was really what the world wanted, and everyone tried to get it.

By the 8th century, Islam had taken hold. Muslim Arabs and Persians set up trading posts along the Somali coastline, and the cities thrived. All this prosperity did not go unnoticed, and soon the Portuguese and the rest of Europe wanted a piece of this money-making pie.  In the 1880s, during a mad dash to colonize the continent, Somalia was divided into pieces by the French, British and Italians. 

Contact with so many cultures resulted in a cuisine that draws from many places. Arab and Persian traders who settled along the coast brought rice, garlic and spices. Indian-style samosas and paratha were incorporated into the Somali diet. Even the Europeans left their mark with Italian pasta, English steamed puddings and French-style pastries. And as the Somali people emigrated across the globe, these dishes morphed even more, picking up local ingredients and preparations with a unique, truly multicultural flair.

Much like its Yemeni and Ethiopian neighbors, this majority Muslim country relies heavily on halal meats, especially goat and lamb (though Ethiopia, which is mainly Eastern Orthodox Christian, incorporates more vegetarian dishes in response to church-prescribed fasting). Bread is a staple, as it is in neighboring regions, and there are several variations, including anjero, a spongy yeasted bread that resembles the larger, tangier Ethiopian injera. Bread-making is daily women’s work in Somalia, and though today it is often made with granulated yeast and baking powder, it was traditionally leavened with a natural starter made from flour and water. Other breads include fried kac kac (a square little doughnut), rice cakes, spiced pancakes and flatbreads made from everything from corn to chickpeas.

Spaghetti and rice dishes are familiar, but with a twist. Most include xawaash, a spice mix that varies regionally but incorporates many ingredients found throughout the Middle East –- cumin, coriander, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, turmeric and black pepper. Sauces made from chili, or from yogurt, fried coffee and tamarind grace the tables. And when you order rice, expect to be served a banana on the side.  Don’t make the mistake of eating it as an appetizer or dessert, unless you want to be laughed at. The banana is cut and eaten with the meal, like a condiment. 

The banana and rice side dish is an homage of sorts to the once-booming Somali banana trade. Plantations started by Italian colonists in the 1920s once provided the majority of bananas eaten in the Middle East and Europe. But civil war, drought and flooding ended this industry in the 1990s.

That civil war continues, and it is messy. Warring clans, government forces, outside interests and extremists have been competing for influence and power for more than 20 years. Nearly a million refugees are registered around the world, with another million internally displaced, 60 percent of them children. (As in Yemen, most are too poor to escape.) On top of that, the Somali people are facing famine. The second drought in less than a decade has wreaked havoc on an already displaced population. Lack of water not only limits the availability of food, but sets killer disease in motion. Unsurprisingly, extremists make access by relief workers next to impossible. (They are warned to avoid the outer parts of Mogadishu, as it is likely they will either be shot by militia, or eaten by lions, cheetahs or hyenas.) The region is in desperate need of relief. Billions of dollars in relief.

Here in the U.S. we have the largest Somali community outside of Somalia. They first came as mariners in the 1920s, but the biggest wave came as refugees from the civil war. The largest communities are in the Twin Cities region of Minnesota, and it is there you will find hundreds of Somali-owned businesses and a restaurant scene that is gaining mainstream acceptance. In California there is a sizable Somali population in San Diego, where you’ll find a dozen Somali restaurants to try. Closer to home, you can experience this cuisine at Banadir in Inglewood. Don’t be fooled by the nondescript exterior and the minimal décor. The food is fantastic and definitely worth a visit. In the meantime, try making some Somali flatbread. 


This flatbread (sometimes known as lahooh or laxoox) is a common breakfast for Somalis. Drizzle it with ghee and a sprinkle of sugar, serve it with tea spiced with cardamom and
cinnamon, and think good thoughts for Somalis around the world.


5 cups lukewarm water

1 tablespoon granulated yeast

1 cup white corn flour

4 cups all-purpose flour

½ teaspoon baking powder

¼ cup sugar

½ teaspoon sea salt


1. Combine water, yeast and corn flour, mix together into a thin batter, and set aside to proof for 1 hour. This is the starter.

2. Add all-purpose flour, baking powder, sugar and salt, and beat until smooth. Set aside to ferment again for 1 to 2 hours. (Purists ferment overnight for a sourer flavor.) 

3. Warm a nonstick or cast-iron skillet over medium heat. Ladle the batter into the pan, swirling it to spread into a thin pancake. Cook until the batter looks dry and spongy, then remove and repeat with remaining batter. Serve these for breakfast, or use them to accompany spicy Somali curries and stews.

Leslie Bilderback is a certified master baker, chef and cookbook author. She lives in South Pasadena and teaches her techniques online at