But precisely because Pico is so unremarked, because it is left alone like old lawn furniture moldering away in the side yard of a suburban house, it is at the center of entry-level capitalism in central Los Angeles, and one of the most vital food streets in the world. Pico is home to Valentino, which specializes in preparing customized Italian food for millionaires, and to Oaxacan restaurants so redolent of the developing world that you half expect to see starved chickens scratching around on the floor; to Billingsleys, a steak house, which could have been transplanted whole from Crawfordsville, Indiana, and to the Arsenal, a steak house decorated with medieval weaponry; to chain Mexican restaurants, artist-hangout Mexican restaurants and Mexican restaurants of such stunning authenticity that youre surprised not to stumble outside into a bright Guadalajara sun. Greek and Scandinavian delis still flourish on stretches of Pico that havent been Greek or Scandinavian since the Eisenhower administration.I went back to Pico last week, to a faded Mexican joint once famous for the best carne asada in Los Angeles, beer so cold that a thin sheet of ice formed on top of it on hot summer days, and waitresses beautiful as Velázquez princesses. The restaurant had not aged well. It was populated with guys sitting around in stained undershirts, half-looking at the Galaxy game that droned from a TV overhead, dosing shrimp cocktails with generic-brand ketchup, listlessly draining one can of Modelo after another. The food was rank sour grilled meat, cardboard-thin, a week older than it should have been; watery beans; commercial tortillas. I probably would have pushed it aside uneaten if the cook hadnt been sitting three feet from the table. I couldnt help wondering whether I would have grooved on the scene 15 years ago, followed the game, plowed through the food. (It was approximately 15 years ago, after all, that I had sung with an excruciatingly bad white blues band that used to cap its sets of Peetie Wheatstraw and Blind Lemon Jefferson covers with a song Id written called "Breakfast on Pico." The last time we did this, at a disco deep in the north Valley, a bouncer unplugged the PA and then pounded me bloody when we refused to stop playing. Perhaps it was the couplet rhyming "mountain-size" with "chili fries" that set him off.) I thought about Pico restaurants Mr. Coleslaw Burger, Hodys, Nu-Way, Chicken Georgia, Bens Place, Kong Joo (for goat soup), Carls BBQ, the carnitas place on the corner of Vermont with old boxing snapshots on the walls that had vanished except for a shiny patch of sidewalk or the ghost of a painted sign. I wondered whether my infatuation with Pico was purely nostalgic, standard-issue post-adolescent infatuation with poverty. I finished the bottle of Bohemia, paid the check and walked sadly away from a barely touched plate of food. Was Pico really all that it had seemed to be? Or had I moved onto another scene? Then, on the next block, the Greek sausage sandwich with tzatziki sauce at Papa Cristos was as good as anything Ive ever eaten, and I knew Id only wandered into a lousy restaurant. The sun broke out from behind a cloud, bathing the Greek cathedral across the street in honey-colored late-afternoon light. Or to paraphrase Samuel Johnson, "A man who is tired of Pico is truly tired of life."