Since becoming a Los Angeles resident nearly one year ago, actor, comedian, writer, and Saturday Night Live alumnus Horatio Sanz has made a number of delectable food discoveries. KCET headed out on a Sanz-style food tour of his three favorite restaurants and learned about his SNL days, his Mexican wrestler/crime-fighter alter ego, Espanto, and how giving up SpaghettiOs saved his life.
Rebecca: How are you liking The City of Angels so far? You're currently in Silver Lake?
Horatio: I like it here; it's a little more like Chicago, at least the Chicago I used to live in. In New York I lived in Chelsea, and I feel like Silver Lake is more diverse and neighborhood-y. You can walk to a small Mexican restaurant or Goodwill. There's a big variety.
Rebecca: What's your favorite thing about living there?
Horatio: I love Silver Lake because if you position yourself well you can have a little country with your city -- like a tree and a yard. I love eating outside, and in New York I couldn't really do that.
Rebecca: And you're originally from Chicago?
Horatio: Well, I was born in Santiago, Chile, then moved to Chicago when I was two months old. When I got on SNL, it was my ticket out of Chicago. Before that, my plan was to move to L.A., but luckily I got to move to New York for the show.
Rebecca: How amazing was that?
Horatio: That was my first time leaving Chicago and living anywhere outside of where my parents lived, so it was a big thing but it was great. I couldn't think of a better way to get out of town than to go on Saturday Night Live.
Rebecca: That's a big move. Did you have roommates?
Horatio: No, I stayed in a hotel for a few months until I found a studio in the West Village on top of a Chinese restaurant -- a pretty good one actually. But I was eventually chased out by mice.
Rebecca: Pretty classic. So between Chicago and New York and being born in Chile, you have a lot of great food to compare with L.A.
Horatio: I think L.A. is a lot like New York where you can really get anything, but maybe an even bigger variety since there's more space and it's easier to open up all kinds of different restaurants, like this Chilean place I used to go to on Melrose.
Rebecca: What's Chilean food like?
Horatio: It's a lot of meat and potatoes, but mostly empanadas.
Rebecca: Do you make them?
Horatio: I don't make them, but my parents do. They have a fryer in their back yard and they'll make them when I come visit. They keep it outside because if you don't, your whole house smells like empanadas.
Rebecca: That sounds delicious.
Horatio: It's hard to find a bad empanada. Hot Pockets are like modern-day empanadas, kind of.
Rebecca: Do you eat those?
Horatio: Oh no. It's a complete waste of calories. But my favorite thing to eat used to be SpaghettiOs and grilled cheese sandwiches.
Rebecca: No messin' around there!
Horatio: I had to give all that stuff up though because I had high blood pressure.
Rebecca: Is that what motivated you to lose 100 pounds?
Horatio: Yes, and I was getting to the point where I could have been at risk for diabetes. It was either change my life or get ready for some pretty scary shit.
Rebecca: That's really great that you took the steps to turn your health around.
Horatio: Yeah, I didn't want to get my foot chopped off because of SpaghettiOs.
Rebecca: How do you factor in the food you love while keeping the weight off?
Horatio: It's just a struggle -- a fat guy struggle. I had salad for lunch to prepare myself for tonight. I have cheat days, and I work out. It's about keeping it in the middle somehow, and my girlfriend is a vegetarian, so I eat very healthy at home.
Rebecca: That sounds tough. I don't know if I could do it.
Horatio: It is. My friend Joe is heavy-set, so if I go out with him it's easy to get bad stuff. It's hard because he's a fat guy and I'm a recovering fat guy, and they know where all the good food is at. If you want to know where all the good food is, ask a fat guy.
Rebecca: But you still manage to keep your weight down.
Horatio: I gain a bit here and there. It would be hard to get back to what I used to be because at that time, I didn't say no to anything. I mean, literally, anything. Walk down the street, there's pizza? All right. Chicken cutlet sandwich after drinking? No problem! So basically, changing my lifestyle has changed everything.
Rebecca: Those after-drinking meals are the ones that get you.
Horatio: Yeah, and here they have those hot dogs wrapped in bacon outside the bars.
Rebecca: Yes, dirty dogs. Have you ever had one?
Horatio: No, but I dream about them.
While Horatio might only dream about the city's late-night dirty dogs, in waking life, he treats himself to burritos, pizza, and peanut butter pie from some of L.A.'s most interesting restaurants.
The Hollenbeck Burrito from Manuel's El Tepeyac Café
This Mexican diner in Boyle Heights was built off the Rojas family's actual home nearly four generations ago. The cozy café has personality, from the wait staff who are cut from the kindly-Mexican-mom mold to framed graduation pictures on a steel shelf behind the bar. There's an old jukebox in the corner, and in the parking lot, a walk-in shrine to the Virgin Mary. It's the perfect place to enjoy a football-sized burrito ... or, if you're brave, the Manuel Special: A 22-inch long, 8-inch wide, 6-inch high, 6.5-pound burrito, that apparently takes more than two hours to finish in one sitting.
Rebecca: How does the Mexican food out here compare to New York and Chicago?
Horatio: There are only a few places in New York with decent Mexican food. It's more like Mexican neuvo or something. You can't get just tacos or enchiladas, they have to have multi-colored shells and all that. The best here is El Tepeyac -- I think it's an Aztec name. My favorite is the Hollenbeck. It's the size of a football for one thing, and the one I get has shredded beef. It's not steak or chicken, it's shredded beef, and when you have it by itself, it's called "ropa vieja," which means old clothes. It's super huge, and it's wet; you can't pick it up and eat it. And they have the best, fresh chips and good salsa. It's one of those L.A. places that's been open for many years and people go generation to generation.
Rebecca: How did you discover it?
Horatio: My chubby friend Joe showed it to me. Like I said, fat guys always know where the best food is.
The Hollenbeck with machaca is nearly a foot long, filled with shredded beef, jalapenos, cheddar cheese, refried beans and rice, all wrapped in a flour tortilla that soaks up the meat's marinade like a sponge. Fresh guacamole and red and green salsas come on the side. A truly great burrito, an even greater experience.
Deep Dish Pizza at Masa of Echo Park
Echo Park's beloved bakery and café arguably boasts the best carbs in town, which in turn, may make for the best pizza. Between its eclectic assortment of wall art, clashing tablecloths, and black and white movies playing in the background, Masa's welcoming balance of kitsch and class further authenticates its Chicago style. The deep-dish pizzas require 45 minutes in the oven -- you can't rush a masterpiece -- and Horatio orders his usual sausage and mushroom.
Horatio: I've been to this place a lot. We used to come here years ago to watch the Cubs opening day.
Rebecca: Did it always look like this?
Horatio: I think so. It looks like a Chicago pizza place. Really good Chicago pizza places look like casinos. I don't know what it is but they always seem to have leathery couches and wood, lots of wood. And weird pictures of Italian people, you have no idea who they are.
Rebecca: It's your favorite pizza in town?
Our pizza arrives with steam rising from its thick crust. As we serve ourselves the pre-cut slices, infinite cheese oozes and stretches from the metal server. A sausage patty spans the entirety of each slice, and beneath it are hearty layers of mozzarella and chunky tomato sauce. I knife and fork it to find the sausage wonderfully spiced, the cheese perfectly melted, and the sauce tangy and hot. Apparently a salad was involved, but the flavor-packed pizza effectively erased any memory of greens.
Horatio: This is deep-dish, typical Chicago deep-dish. You notice it has a sausage patty on top, then it's a bunch of cheese, then sauce, then the dough? It's like a pie, but not like a pie-pie.
Rebecca: I've never had sausage like this on pizza before, usually it's little lumps of sausage.
Horatio: The sausage is really good, it's not sliced sausage like in NY; this is more meatballish, instead of like pepperoni. For some reason, Chicago, they just make better sausage. I don't know why or if it's because I grew up with it but it's a big game changer in sausage pizza.
Rebecca: The cheese is so thick.
Horatio: I thought it was linguini once. And this thick, buttery crust -- it's freaking good. But there's more stuff than crust, the crust doesn't envelope it like pan pizza.
Rebecca: I didn't think I cared for deep-dish, but I stand corrected.
Horatio: A lot of people don't like deep-dish, they like regular thin crust. I guess that's cool, if you want to live like that.
Rebecca: I'm so full. I thought I could finish this second piece but ...
Horatio: There's no shame in that. It's a day changer. You don't just say lets have some deep-dish pizza then go dancing. You just have to go home and lie on the couch.
Peanut Butter Pie at House of Pies
After pizza pie it's time for pie-pie at House of Pies: A diner in Los Feliz Village that probably hasn't been remodeled since 1988. Their menu offers a variety of breakfast platters, deep-fried dishes and desserts. Horatio's favorite is the peanut butter cream, but we also order slices of butterscotch, banana cream and strawberry -- you know, for research.
Rebecca: So much for lying on the couch. I've got Masa burps.
Horatio: Masa burps could feed a family of four.
Rebecca: So you know the whole pie vs. cake debate?
Horatio: No, there's no debate in my mind. I like pie just as much as cake.
Our pies arrive, each covered in about three inches of cream, besides the strawberry, a mountain of glazed, red berries garnished with a modest dollop. We somehow manage to dig our forks into each of the rich, sweet fillings, as we fall deep into our respective food comas.
Rebecca: The peanut butter is insane. It's like a mousse, but a little thicker.
Horatio: How should we rank these? I think peanut butter, butterscotch, banana cream then strawberry.
Rebecca: Yes, and you can mix the peanut butter and banana together too.
Horatio: Yeah, the Elvis Presley.
Rebecca: Speaking of Elvis Presley, were your SNL days the best ever or what?
Horatio: Yes and no. It was pretty exciting but also pretty stressful. There was a lot of drinking, It's kind of how you do it, but when you're on the SNL set, there's nothing more exciting.
Rebecca: Who was your favorite character to play?
Horatio: There's one character I did in different scenes, he was the guy when Will Ferrell wore the American Speedo to work and I'd say "you're the best in the biz!" That character was called Vasquez Gomez Vasquez and I just kept putting him in different scenes. I liked getting him on the air. If people were paying attention, they'd see that I did it. My favorite sketch is "Debbie Downer." I didn't write it, but I think it's the most joyous.
Rebecca: What do you like doing better, characters or impressions?
Horatio: I think I like doing characters, and I enjoy just kind of writing funny, weird things. Like, I'll do a huge character like Espanto. Some humor that's racist is offensive, but somehow Espanto is racist, but not offensive.
Rebecca: Yes, Espanto! Hilarious.
Horatio: Espanto isn't just a superhero and a guy who's a bumbling idiot, he's more than that. There's racism in the Latino community against other minorities. You'd think someone who's a minority wouldn't be that way, but they are, and they're sometimes worse, and that's what that character plays off of because he's real ignorant about everything.
Rebecca: Was it a life long dream of yours to play a superhero?
Horatio: I've always wanted to play that character. I've wanted to do that for a long time. It's fun to do something very different. Also, it's great too because I get to wear a mask and go on the street acting like an idiot. We originally did Espanto in New York, but we're bringing him to Los Angeles.
Rebecca: So, now that you and Espanto are finally here, do you think you'll stay in L.A. forever?
Horatio: Yeah, I'm really happy here.
When we can't take it anymore, we push away our pie plates and adjust our waistbands. The fluorescent lights beat down on us as we take inventory of all the damage we did in just one night. But we're not sorry, because this level of decadence is rare. As Horatio demonstrates, moderation is key -- it's entirely possible to turn your health around if you care enough. Moral of the Story: you can have your peanut butter pie and eat it too ... as long as you have a salad for lunch.