About the best thing at this Cuban restaurant is arroz con pollo: a big, fragrant bowl of rice, stained Easter-chick yellow with achiote, and studded with pimientos and the meat of at least a quarter-chicken. Chicken is also available sautéed with garlic and tomatoes, or sautéed and glazed with an intense sauce of wine and fried onions. There's a good version of the shredded-beef stew called ropa vieja, and the various fried steaks and chops are garlicky and fine. Also, try a big plateful of moros y cristianos (Moors and Christians), a tasty miscegenation of black beans and rice fried with garlic and gobbets of pork fat; or piles of fried fresh pig gam -- a.k.a. ham, a.k.a. pierna de puerco -- crisp and brown on the outside and meltingly tender within, topped with an immoderate portion of caramelized onions, all washed down with cold red wine served in those flared jugs pizzerias use for Almadén. 2328 W. Pico Blvd.; (213) 386-6131. Open Wed.Mon. for lunch and dinner, Tues. for lunch only. Lunch or dinner for two, food only, $9$28. Beer and wine. Lot parking. MC, V.
Dinners at Dulan's are massive things, with towering entrées that share the plate with rice or a mountain of crisp-edged corn-bread stuffing, also with two little bowls of side dishes: pungent collard greens; pillowy, herb-redolent red beans; blandish macaroni and cheese with a crunchy cheese crust; green beans; or sweet, gently spiced stewed yams. The dinner menu, prix fixe at $10.95, is the eternal soul-food list without the various innards and tails: crusty fried chicken (drumsticks à gogo!), fragrant with garlic; long-cooked pork chops smothered in brown gravy; big trenchers of meat loaf made delicious with peppers and herbs. There are vast, thin fillets of catfish, dusted with peppery cornmeal and fried, the flesh moist and firm, the kind of catfish whose coating all but shatters under your teeth; also, enormous slabs of short ribs braised to a rich, beefy tenderness. Plus, Dulan's serves what must be the best peach cobbler in Los Angeles. 4859 S. Crenshaw Blvd.; (323) 296-3034. Open Sun. only for brunch and dinner. No alcohol. Takeout. Street parking. MC, V.
Chiu Chow makes slippery rice noodles the width of your little finger, submerged in broth and garnished with things like boiled duck legs (hubba-hubba!) and sliced pork. At Kim Chuy, the "special noodles" include duck and shrimp, squid and cuttlefish, and four kinds of fish cake. The Chiu Chow spiced beef noodles come in a gritty, spicy demi-curry, almost crunchy with ground nuts; and fried noodles -- with chicken, with beef, with mixed seafood -- are fully possessed of that elusive quality that Chinese call wok chi, special wok energy that is possible only in restaurants as small and informal as Kim Chuy. 727 N. Broadway, No. 103, Chinatown; (213) 687-7215. Open daily 8 a.m.8 p.m. Lunch for two, food only, $8$10. No alcohol. Validated lot parking. Cash only.
Lake Spring's "noisette of pork pump" may or may not have been a whole, anise-scented pork hock. (When I asked a waitress what it was, she smiled mysteriously and gestured toward her shapely outstretched calf.) The pork had been simmered in soy sauce and rock sugar for hours, until it was so soft, a probing chopstick easily penetrated the whole sweet mass of delicious, melting fat; at the core was a fist of the tenderest imaginable meat, the sort of thing all pork might taste like if the President's Council on Physical Fitness had never been convened. I kept fantasizing about Wolfgang Puck discovering the thing and importing the recipe to Chinois, where roomfuls of cholesterol-conscious Westsiders would chow down on what is essentially pounds and pounds of braised hog lard: Pump up the volume! 219 E. Garvey Ave., Monterey Park; (626) 280-3571. Open daily for lunch 11:30 a.m.3 p.m. and for dinner 59:30 p.m. Dinner for two, food only, $15$30. No alcohol. MC, V.
As at most great Thai places, finding Palm Thai's actual specialties requires a bit of persistence. Non-Thai customers are routinely brought a roster of the familiar cooking of suburban Thai restaurants -- or you can request a second menu, which includes most of Palm Thai's best main dishes, fiery salads, Isaan-style bar snacks and elaborate soups. Try the red curry of wild boar, quite hot but tempered with coconut milk and flavored with lime leaves and unripe green peppercorns still on the branch. Or maybe, just maybe, the pepper-garlic frog, crunchy fried bits of the amphibian (legs and all) set on a layer of fried minced garlic so thick that it looks at first like a plateful of granola -- as much garlic as even a Thai person could want. The third time we ordered this dish, the frog was garnished with thin, moss-green, disconcertingly crunchy croutons of deep-fried frog skin. Yum. 5273 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood; (323) 462-5073. Open weekdays 11 a.m.mid., weekends 11 a.m.2 a.m. Dinner for two, food only, $18$40. Beer and wine. Takeout. Guarded lot parking. MC, V.
Philippe the Original
Philippe the Original is so much a part of old Los Angeles that sometimes it feels as if it isn't really a part of Los Angeles, as if it belongs to a city much older and much more attached to its distant past. But everybody who has lived in Los Angeles for more than a year has heard how it was Philippe himself who invented the French-dip sandwich -- 60 years ago, when he accidentally dropped a sandwich into some gravy. And the lamb sandwich is indeed wet, and rich with something of the gamy animal pungency of old-fashioned roast meat, while all around the restaurant you can see nostrils flare as people hit a little depth charge of Philippe's hot mustard in their sandwiches. Philippe's is a fine place, too, for lunch, dinner or breakfast: crisp doughnuts, decent cinnamon rolls, and coffee for 10 cents a cup. Then there are the pickled pig's feet that protrude scarily from their containers of brine . . . one can only dream! 1001 N. Alameda St., downtown; (213) 628-3781. Open daily 6 a.m.10 p.m. Lunch or dinner for two, food only, $7$12. Beer and wine. Takeout. Lot parking. Cash only.