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Hand Jobs 

Let your fingers do the walking.

Wednesday, Feb 24 1999
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Al-Watan

If you have a taste for meaty northern Indian cooking, Pakistani cooking is probably everything you like and more so, spicier than Punjabi and meatier, more deeply inflected by the flavors of ginger, cardamom and wood smoke. First among Pakistani stews is haleem, beef braised with something like shredded wheat until it breaks down into a thick gravy with the flavor of well-browned roast-beef drippings, delicious scooped up with a slice of garlic naan. Nahri is a beef curry strongly flavored with fresh ginger; magaz nahri is a creamy, unctuous beef curry plumped out with ground nuts. There is even stuff for a vegetarian to eat: Navrattan korma, a mixture of cauliflower, green beans and carrots stir-fried with chile and plenty of spices, is like a wonderful Muslim ratatouille, flavors of each vegetable fresh and distinct while contributing to the cumulative effect of the cumin-scented whole. 13611 Inglewood Ave., Hawthorne; (310) 644-6395. Open daily for lunch and dinner. Lunch or dinner for two, food only, $10­$16. No alcohol. Takeout. Street parking. Cash only.

Benita's Fritas

Location Info

Benita's, a small takeout stand in the true American tradition of overspecialization, serves Belgian fries and only Belgian fries -- no mussels, no burgers, no shakes. Benita's fries them twice, the first time in coolish oil, which cooks them through; the second time sizzles the fries to a fine â golden brown. They're not greasy at all, and the oil they're fried in is superpolyunsaturated 98 percent cholesterol-free something. And you'll find more things here to put on fries than you ever thought possible: malt vinegar, red-wine vinegar, white-wine vinegar, salt, pepper, cayenne, seasoned salt, mustard and even ketchup. For an extra few cents, you can get a rémoulade sauce spiked with tarragon, a creamy Dijon-mustard dip, or a thick garlic mayonnaise that will announce your presence in a room five minutes before you actually show up. There's even a chili that tastes like the orange stuff you get on hamburgers -- which is to say, pretty darn good. 1437 Third Street Promenade, Santa Monica; (310) 458-2889. Open seven days for lunch and dinner. Fries for two $3­$5. No alcohol. Cash only.

Burrito King

If your idea of an "authentic" burrito involves liquidy beans or brains or tongue or pig's stomach, allow me to recommend the currently more popular car-wash stand kitty-corner to Burrito King. Otherwise, the burritos at Burrito King -- for 20 years as much the occasion for hip midnight pilgrimages as Tommy's or Pink's -- are substantial, but less than grotesque. The renowned chile relleno burrito is plumped with orange cheese and surrounded with beans, and sometimes even includes the lip-numbing, soul-gladdening seed pod of the chile, while the green-chile burrito is bright with the fresh, almost citrusy taste of green chiles against the rounder sweetness of the beef and the grainy, almost fermented quality of the beans. Plus, this burrito is so well-engineered you can almost eat the entire thing in the car before the chile drools onto your lap. 2109 E. Sunset Blvd.; (213) 413-9444. Open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Lunch or dinner for two, food only, $6­$9. No alcohol. Limited lot parking. Cash only.

Ethiopian Messob Restaurant

If you've ever eaten at an Ethiopian restaurant, you pretty much know the drill. A stew called wet' (sometimes spelled wat' or wot') will be simmered in a fiery, multispiced sauce colored brick-red with dried chiles; a mild stew identified by the word alich'a will at some time or another be fried with wilted onions. T'ibs is a sort of soulful stir-fry. Fitfit is a stew tossed with pieces of injera bread, served on top of more injera (like all other Ethiopian dishes), and customarily eaten (like all other Ethiopian dishes) using still more injera as a spoon, making the whole thing a fairly injera-intensive proposition. Everything is seasoned with one or two of the holy trinity of Ethiopian cooking -- spiced butter, hot dried chile paste and a kind of hot fresh chile paste -- and almost everything has high notes of garlic, ginger and cardamom. Most people order one or another of the combination plates -- giant metal platters lined with injera and mosaicked intricately with little varicolored heaps of t'ibs and lentils. Like the No. 2 dinner at a Mexican restaurant, a Messob combination is undemanding, tasty and fun. 1041 S. Fairfax Ave.; (323) 938-8827. Open daily for lunch and dinner. Dinner for two, food only, $15­$25. Beer and wine. Street parking. AE, MC, V.

Renu Nakorn

Renu Nakorn's food is spicy, but what makes it wonderful is the fresh play of tastes, a fugue of herbs, animal pungencies and citrus that is quite unlike anything at your corner Thai café. There's a blistering larb of finely ground catfish seasoned with lime, chile and nutty-brown, ground toasted rice; the thinnest sour strands of shredded bamboo shoot dressed the same way; and an extraordinary version of steak tartare that was so delicious it seared the hairs out of my nostrils. The waiter will bring a side plate of sliced cucumber and cabbage on a bed of crushed ice, which you can nibble on between bites to cool down, and sticky rice in little straw baskets, which you're supposed to roll into balls and eat with your fingers. The seua rong hai, sliced steak grilled rare and served with a gamy, tart dipping sauce, is almost benign, a pleasant, meaty intermezzo between fire-breathing salads. 13041 E. Rosecrans Ave., Norwalk; (562) 921-2124. Open daily for lunch and dinner. Dinner for two, food only, $10­$20. Beer. Cash only.

Woody's BarBQ

What you get here is more or less industry-standard stuff: sweet beans, sweet-potato pie, eggy potato salad, the goods. Which is to say, barbecue: crusty pork ribs spurting with juice; thick, blackened hot- link sausages with the chaw of good jerky; chewy, meaty little rib tips; giant beef ribs; charred, only occasionally stewy-tasting slices of well-done barbecued beef brisket. The chicken is crisp-skinned, dense-fleshed, deeply smoky all the way to the bone, like those fancy turkeys that cost a mail-order fortune. The sauce is sweet and red, hotly spiced with pepper flakes, seeds and all, which you sop up with slices of damp white bread until it's gone. It exudes from your pores for hours. It makes you breathe hard, if not precisely speak in tongues. 3446 W. Slauson Ave.; (323) 294-9443. Also 475 S. Market St., Inglewood; (310) 672-4200. Open daily for lunch and dinner. Dinner for two, food only, $8­$15. Takeout only. Cash only.

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