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The Matter at Hand 

In some of our favorite parts of the world, everything is finger food, from steaming gobs of rice to whole fried carp

Wednesday, Dec 29 1999
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Casa Bianca

Of all the neighborhood pizza parlors out there, each of them touted as the best in the Southland, one of them actually has to be the best. And I‘m pretty sure that the Casa Bianca Pizza Pie is it. Especially the sausage pizza: speckled with sweetly spiced homemade sausage, shot through with mellow cloves of roasted garlic (if you order them) and topped with plenty of stringy mozzarella cheese. Tomato sauce is sparingly applied, a bit of tartness to cut through the richness of the cheese and of the sausage. The crust is chewy, yet crisp enough to maintain a rigidity while you maneuver it toward your mouth; thin, yet thick a enough to give the sensation of real, developed wheat flavor, and with enough carbony, bubbly burnt bits to make each bite slightly different from the last. 1650 Colorado Blvd., Eagle Rock; (323) 256-9617. Open Tues.--Thurs. 4 p.m.--mid., Fri.--Sat. 4 p.m.--1 a.m. Dinner for two, food only, $8--$20. Beer and wine. Takeout. Cash only.

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Nyala

The central fact of Ethiopian cuisine: injera, the pale, moist, platter-size pancake that acts as plate, utensil, condiment and bread, and also as an ingredient in about half the stews. Ethiopian cooking is unthinkable without injera’s profound sourness -- or without the central flavorings of onions, ginger, red pepper and, especially, lakes of spiced butter, perfumed with cardamom, cumin, holy basil and fenugreek. At Nyala, there is a fine version of the chicken stew doro wot, thick with hot spice and glistening with butter. There is spicy stewed lamb, yebeg wot, and the tough, tasty beef stew yeawaze tibs. There‘s also a good vegetarian red-lentil chili called yemiser wot. 1076 S. Fairfax Ave.; (323) 936-5918. Open Mon.--Fri. 11:30 a.m.--11 p.m., Sat.--Sun. noon--11 p.m. Dinner for two, food only, $17--$24. Full bar. AE, DC, MC, V.

Pink’s

Consider the Pink‘s dog, uncouth and garlicky, tapered and uncommonly slender, skin thick and taut, so that when you sink your teeth into it, the sausage . . . pops . . . into a mouthful of juice. The bun is steamed, just so, soft enough to sort of become a single substance with the thick chili that is ladled over the dog, but firm enough to resist dissolving altogether, unless you order your hot dog with hot sauerkraut. (I do.) Crisp chunks of raw onion provide a little texture; a splash of vinegary yellow mustard supplies the hint of acidity that balances the richly flavored whole. Pink’s also serves hamburgers, but it is the dog that is its glory, the dog that deserves a historic-preservation act of its own. 709 N. La Brea Ave.; (323) 931-4223 (no phone orders). Open Sun.--Thurs. 9:30 a.m.--2 a.m., Fri.--Sat. 9:30 a.m.--3 a.m. Lunch for two, food only, $4.50--$9. No alcohol. Takeout. Lot parking. Cash only.

Red Sea

While Red Sea‘s Eritrean cooking may be remarkably similar to basic Ethiopian food -- rich with butter, hot with red pepper, complexly spiced with cardamom, ginger and clove -- it seems lighter somehow, a vegetable-intensive, Mediterranean-style version of Ethiopia’s heavy high-plains cuisine. As at any Ethiopian restaurant, a meal at Red Sea revolves around vast sheets of fresh bubble-pitted injera bread. And while the selection of entrees isn‘t large -- the meat dishes, for example, consist essentially of the spicy saute of beef and onions called tibs, the lavishly buttered Ethiopian steak tartare kitfo, plus the only intermittently available lamb saute zigni -- they can all be had fitfit, that is, tossed with still more injera. And be sure to try the Eritrean vegetable combination plate, a sort of ratatouille of spicy spinach, cabbage and string beans dyed yellow with turmeric. 6001 W. Washington Blvd., Culver City; (310) 202-7425. Open daily 11 a.m.--11 p.m. Dinner for two, food only, $10--$13. Beer and wine. Street parking. Cash only.

Shahnawaz Halal

Mirch ka salan is less a dish than a force of nature, a thick jalapeño-pepper stew the approximate yellowy tan of a camel’s flank, heady with the scents of garlic and ginger, bound with a pungent, grainy mortar of ground spice. Garnishes of lemon, cucumber and fresh shredded ginger are served alongside in a gleaming metal salver; in a straw basket are smoking-hot ovals of freshly baked naan bread with which to scoop up the stew. Or try the nehari, a spicy beef stew flavored sharply with ginger. Or consider this Pakistani-Muslim place‘s tandoori-mix plate: a rare lamb chop, subtly smoky, crisp at the edges; a few pieces of bright-red marinated chicken tikka that spurt juice like chicken Kiev; a ruddy whole chicken leg; several inches’ worth of clove-scented minced-lamb kebab; a tart pile of yogurt-marinated roasted beef -- all for about $6.95. 12225 E. Centralia Ave., Lakewood; (562) 402-7443. Open Tues.--Sun. 11:30 a.m.--9:30 p.m. Dinner for two, food only, $10--$14. No alcohol. Takeout and delivery. Lot parking. All major credit cards.

Zankou

This is what you eat at Zankou: barbecued-chicken sandwiches, excellent falafel, shawarma carved off the rotating spit and served warm, with caramelized edges, and sweetly gamy as only properly overcooked beef can be. The sesame dip hummus is fine and grainy, and the spit-roasted chickens are superb: golden, crisp-skinned and juicy, with developed chicken flavor. Such chicken really needs no embellishment, although a little bit of Zankou‘s garlic sauce -- a fierce, blinding-white paste, the texture of pureed horseradish, that sears the back of your throat, and whose powerful aroma can stay in your head (also your car) for days -- couldn’t hurt. 5065 Sunset Blvd., East Hollywood; call (323) 665-7842 for hours. 1415 E. Colorado Blvd., Glendale; (818) 244-2237. 2424 W. Ball Road, Anaheim; (714) 229-2060. 1296 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena; (626) 405-1502. 5658 Sepulveda Blvd., #103, Van Nuys; (818) 781-0615. Dinner for two, food only, $5--$9. No alcohol. Lot parking. Cash only.

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