Think there aren't any restaurants open late in L.A.? Residents who work late beg to differ. Performer and blogger Melanie Reno took us to her favorite bar-with-tacos in Venice.
It's 11pm when I meet Melanie Reno at the Alibi Room. We open the door to the tiny bar, and everyone turns to look. It's not because we're famous (although Melanie has been on Comedy Central). It's just because the place is so small that an opening door is noticeable. They greet us with friendly, neighborhood smiles. We're definitely not at a Hollywood club.
It's dark and bustling with folks who've been here since happy hour: guys in hoodies, girls in heels, and a man who works for the NFL Network. "I work in the news department, and we just sit around and wait until some news happens," he says. "If nothing happens, I like to come here for a Pabst Light. This is the only place that has them."
Melanie usually forgoes the beers and comes here for the late-night Koji tofu tacos (the food truck also keeps a residence here). A comedian, storyteller, (her next show, That Time of the Month, is on the 16th at the Talking Stick Coffee Lounge in Venice) and blogger, Melanie is often leaving a show late and in need of some midnight nourishment.
Laurenne: So, Melanie - you come here often?
Melanie: I've only been here a few times, but I've decided it is my new place. I used to have to track down the Koji [Korean BBQ Taco] truck on Twitter and run around and find it to get these tacos. This place is like being inside a food truck.
Laurenne: Ah, yes, the food trucks. Some of them are so good.
Melanie: I was all into chasing them around for a while, but now I'm getting too old for that. We're preparing to breed [she shows off her shiny engagement ring.] Plus, I thought the food trucks were a fad that wouldn't last. Nope. They're still around.
Laurenne: Are you really into fads? Are you, as they say, an early adopter?
Melanie: No! I usually don't care about that stuff. I mean, I did have some puffy paint T-shirts back in the day. And I might have owned a slap bracelet at one time, but I don't follow too many trends. I was chasing the Koji truck because these tacos are seriously amazing.
Laurenne: What's so seriously amazing about them?
Melanie: Actually, at first I didn't like them. My fiance and his cousin kept raving about them, so I got the thing that he likes-- the short rib burrito with Kimchee. Um, let's just say my IBS didn't agree. But I still went back and ate it many times because I'm a people pleaser. I got indigestion for my fiance, that's what a good almost-wife I am. But then I tried the tofu tacos, and I felt like Cinderella. Tofu has never tasted so good.
Laurenne: So, you're a people pleaser with IBS and you have to work odd hours. It seems like it might be hard to find a good place for you to eat.
Melanie: Well, I'll just go where you go. I'm kidding. If I find a place, I stick to it. I was actually here last night. Or I go to Swingers for a midnight snack. I try not to leave Venice. I love the community here, and I love seeing people I know wherever I go.
As if on cue, our new NFL friend taps us on the shoulder. "I recommend the Pacman Burger," he says. "Best thing on the menu."
The menu says it has three meats, three salsas, onions, cheese, and slaw.
"She has IBS," I tell him.
Melanie is used to talking about her indigestion and people-pleasing on stage anyway, so it's cool to share it with the Alibi community. We share Rolaids while we decide between the Sweet Chili Chicken Enchilada or the Kimchi Sesame Quesadilla.
We go with the tofu tacos, the chicken sliders, and the Korean spiced fries. The menu is also stocked with plenty of creative cocktails. They have a Kentucky Mule with bourbon, fresh lime, maple syrup, ginger beer, and cracked pepper. It's not Korean or Mexican at all. And the decor of the place looks like it has nothing to do with the food theme. It's a dark den with a secret smoking patio. Still, it all comes together beautifully.
Laurenne: What do you think about this whole Korean Mexican thing? Korean Tacos. It's very LA. Two of our huge communities making food together.
Melanie: Yeah, it seems like a forced meal at some forbidden wedding. But it works. Korean Mexican works.
We devour our crunchy fries with a spicy mix of ketchup, sriracha, and sesame mayo. Then come the tofu tacos. The corn tortilla mixed with the Korean-spiced tofu sings.
Laurenne: These are seriously amazing. You were right.
Melanie: It's like an explosion hitting all parts of your tongue. And even look how they toasted the slider buns. Totally worth any IBS flare I might have later since I forgot to ask them to take off the cheese.
Laurenne: I wonder if people will enjoy reading about food and IBS in the same piece.
Melanie: Oh yeah, I forgot that lots of people don't talk about that stuff. Well, they should come to my show and hear about lots of other afflictions.
We invite our NFL friend to see Melanie's show, but he's off. Something very important must have happened in the NFL. Or maybe they ran out of Pabst Light. When we get our bill, I become an instant life-long fan of Koji tacos at the Alibi room. A dark, relaxing atmosphere of entertaining friendly people, tacos, sliders, fries, two sodas, and a flirty bartender: All for $26 including tip.
I will be back.
12236 Washington Blvd., LA
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