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West L.A. and Culver City 

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El Abajeno. The cornerstone of the menu at El Abajeno is its specialty burrito, a monstrous construction the size and shape of a shoebox: two huge tortillas wrapped around truly heroic portions of lettuce, rice, beans and meat. An El Abajeno burrito, the Westside’s answer to the mammoth beasts served at El Tepeyac in East L.A., could probably feed a family of six with leftovers for lunch the next day, though I have never seen one attacked by more than one hungry guy. 4515 Inglewood Blvd., Culver City, (310) 390-0755. Breakfast, lunch and dinner Mon.–Thurs. 8 a.m.–8:30 p.m., Fri. 8 a.m.–9 p.m., Sun. 7 a.m.–8:30 p.m. Beer. Lot parking. Lunch or dinner for two, food only, $11–$18. AE, MC, V. Mexican. JG ¢

Ambala Dhaba. On a stretch of Westwood Boulevard thick with student coffeehouses and Iranian hair salons, Ambala Dhaba is an outpost of the Punjab, a branch of a restaurant noted on Artesia’s Little India strip for its fiery goat curries and the boiled-milk ice cream called kulfi. It’s probably the only thing resembling traditional Indian food on the Westside. Ambala Dhaba exemplifies the time-honored side of meaty northern Indian cooking: basic, direct food almost Islamic in attitude, Pakistani in intensity of flavor, but wholly Indian in its attention to fresh vegetables, crunchy snacks, and breads. 1781 Westwood Blvd., Westwood, (310) 966-1772. Open daily noon–10:30 p.m. No alcohol. Lot parking. Takeout. Food for two, $12–$20. MC, V. Indian. JG $

Beacon Cafe. Beacon marks the trium-phant return to form of Kazuto Matsusaka, who was chef for almost a decade at Wolfgang Puck’s Chinois in the ’80s. His current versions of miso--marinated cod, vegetable nabemono and grilled -shisito peppers are all fine. Grilled-chicken skewers are powerfully flavored with the herb shiso and the tiny Japanese apricot called ume. You’d probably never find anything like Matsusaka’s salad of perfectly ripe avocado dressed with toasted sesame seeds and minced scallions in Tokyo, but the salad follows classical principles, and it is luscious. The hangar steak with wasabi is so successful, the searing tang of the horse-radish doing something wonderful to the tart, carbonized flavor of grilled meat, that you might wonder why nobody thought of the combination until now. 3280 Helms Ave., Culver City, (310) 838-7500. Lunch Mon.–Sat. 11:30 a.m.–2:15 p.m. Dinner Tues.–Wed.&Sun. 5:30–9:15 p.m., Thurs.–Sat. 5:30–10:15 p.m. Beer and wine. Lot parking. D, MC, V. Lunch for two, food only, $18–$35. Dinner for two, food only, $26–$46. Japanese. JG $

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Cafe Brasil. Mostly, you’ll find grilled animals at Cafe Brasil: pork chops, lamb chops, steak, shrimp and fish, all profoundly salty and resonant with garlic, charred at the edges, fragrant with citrus and a little overcooked. With all this protein come truckloads of rice glistening with oil, sweet fried plantains and spicy black beans. Cafe Brasil also serves wonderful feijoada on weekends, less offal-intensive than some versions but meat-fragrant in the best possible way. 10831 Venice Blvd., Los Angeles, (310) 837-8957. Open daily 11 a.m.–10 p.m. No alcohol. BYOB. Lot parking. MC, V. Entrées $7–$16. Brazilian. JG ¢

Canary. Canary is an Iranian sandwich shop on Westwood’s Iranian strip, a house of kebabs in the most kebab-intensive neighborhood in California. Also notable are Iranian-style sandwiches made with a split-and-grilled Hebrew National frank, a hollowed-out length of toasted French bread and condiments similar to those you might expect to find on a Chicago-style hot dog, only inflected with more garlic. 1942 Westwood Blvd., Westwood; (310) 470-1312. Open daily 11 a.m.–12 a.m. Lunch for two, food only, $12–$14. No alcohol. Takeout. Parking lot. MC, V. Iranian. JG ¢

Clementine. Annie Miler, a food-historian-turned-chef, makes delicious versions of great American regional favorites at her sunny breakfast, lunch and takeout café across from the Century City Shopping Mall. Rediscover the Southern ham biscuit and the all-American grilled cheese sandwich, in this case a crusty, buttery version made with marinated onions in an Italian sandwich press. Miler’s best invention yet may be a peanut-butter cookie with a layer of peanut butter piped inside. 1751 Ensley Ave., Los Angeles, (310) 552-1080. No alcohol. Open Mon.–Fri. 7 a.m.–7:30 p.m., Sat. 8 a.m.–5 p.m. Parking in rear lot. AE, CB, DC, MC, V. Entrées $7–$10. California. MH

Il Moro. Nestled in a hidden crook of corporate office buildings, this spinoff of the esteemed Locanda Veneta has good fresh fish, pastas in unusual shapes (try "the pope’s hat") and an artichoke-and-arugula salad bright with lemon juice. The patio creates an unexpected urban refuge; it’s filled with palms, has its own small lake, and a tall gushing waterfall of a fountain literally drowns out the roar of traffic on Olympic. 11400 W. Olympic Blvd., West Los Angeles, (310) 575-3530. Mon.–Thurs. 11:30 a.m.–9 p.m. Fri.–Sat. 11:30 a.m.–10:30 p.m. Sun. 4:30–9:30 p.m. Wine and beer. Valet parking. AE, DC, MC, V. Entrées $10–$20. Italian. MH $

John O’Groats. The restaurant is named -after a town at the northernmost point in Scotland, but the menu is pretty much all-American, with baking-powder biscuits, fluffy omelets, smoked pork chops, and stretchy buckwheat pancakes dotted with fresh blueberries or pecans. And although there seem to be no actual groats on the menu — which is kind of a relief — the steel-cut Irish oatmeal with bananas and heavy cream is fine. 10516 W. Pico Blvd., West Los Angeles, (310) 204-0692. Breakfast and lunch daily, dinner Wed.–Sat. Beer and wine. Street parking. MC, V. Entrées $9–$14. American. JG ¢

Lemon Moon. A glamorous restaurant in a sleekly modern media office complex on the Westside, Lemon Moon is a stab at the ultimate office-building cafeteria. It has streamlined service, relatively healthy food, plenty of takeout options, and a simplified menu wide enough to cater to every imaginable diet, ethnic whim or religious persuasion. Try the crisp flatbread topped with herbed cheese or thin-sliced potatoes. The cheeseburgers, made with profoundly aged prime beef, are among the best in L.A. 12200 W. Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles, (310) 442-9191. Breakfast and lunch Mon.–Fri. 8 a.m.–3:30 p.m. Beer and wine. Lot parking. Food for two: $11–$24. AE, MC, V. Contemporary American. JG $

Le Saigon. An itty-bitty, gloriously inexpensive Vietnamese café just west of the Royal movie theater, Le Saigon is an ideal place to huddle over big bowls of pho or bun (rice noodles), charbroiled meats and glasses of sticky sweet café sua da (iced Saigon coffee). The tables are tiny, the turnover is swift, and the air is scented by grilling meat and freshly cut cucumbers. 11611 Santa Monica Blvd., West Los Angeles, (310) 312-2929. Tues.–Sun. 11:30 a.m.–9:30 p.m. No alcohol. Street parking. Entrées $5–$8. Vietnamese. MH ¢

Mama Voula’s. Mama Voula, who commands her namesake kitchen as if she were commanding a nuclear submarine, is an overwhelming presence in two -family-owned Greek restaurants, Mama Voula’s and Ulysses Voyage (which is considerably fancier). The two have a strong, symbiotic relationship, with the sharp funk of garlic and charring meat, the flowing streams of cold Santorini wine, menus almost exactly alike give or take a few seafood specials, and a killer gyro that combines the virtues of extreme lambiness with a delicate, carbonized crunchiness. Mama Voula’s, 11923 Santa Monica Blvd., West Los Angeles, (310) 478-9464. Mon.–Sat. 11 a.m.–10 p.m., Sun. 11 a.m.–9 p.m. Beer and wine. Lot parking. MC, V. Food for two $14–$24. Ulysses Voyage, 6333 W. Third St., (323) 939-9728. Mon.–Thurs. 11 a.m.–10 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 11 a.m.–11 p.m., Sun. 9 a.m.–10 p.m. Full bar. Validated parking in Farmers Market lot. AE, MC, V. Food for two, $24–$48. Greek. JG $/$$

Shamshiri Grill. Lovers of the Persian dishes tah dig and karafs — a thin, crunchy cake of fried white rice with a delicious green stew on top — will find good versions of both at Shamshiri, a well-mannered restaurant on Westwood’s Iranian restaurant row. 1712 Westwood Blvd., Westwood, (310) 474-1410. Lunch and dinner Mon.–Thurs. 11:30 a.m.–10 p.m., Fri. 11:30 a.m.–11 p.m., Sat. noon–11 p.m., Sun. noon–10 p.m. Beer and wine. Street parking. $9.95–$16.95 (lunch $5.95–$7.95). AE, D, MC, V. Persian. JG. ¢

Simpang Asia. With a huge selection of Japanese candy and boxes piled neatly to the ceiling, this small Indonesian grocery, with a Web site, is what I’d imagine a 7-Eleven in Sulawesi might look like: immaculate shelves of chile peanuts, dried squid and juice boxes of starfruit drink, kilo bags of fried shallots, and more flavors of instant noodles than you may have known existed. Neighborhood kids drop in, carefully counting dimes for their rations of Pocky sticks or Japanese bubblegum. UCLA students haul off caseloads of ramen. Simpang Asia is almost exotic in its nonexoticism. 10433 National Blvd., Los Angeles, (310) 815-9075, www.veryasia.com. Lunch and dinner, Mon.–Fri. 10 a.m.–10 p.m., Sat.–Sun. 11 a.m.–10 p.m. No alcohol. Takeout. Lot parking. D, MC, V. Food for two: $10–$13. Indonesian. JG ¢

Tanino. The high, decorated ceilings, marble floors, impressive woodwork and sparkling chandeliers all conspire to form one of L.A.’s loveliest restaurants — an unlikely, urbane, sophisticated European refuge in a trafficky neck of Westwood. The service is charmingly warm and professional, and the earthy-yet-refined Italian cooking is most often excellent. 1043 Westwood Blvd., Westwood, (310) 208-0444. Lunch Mon.–Fri. 11:30 a.m.–3 p.m. Dinner Mon.–Sat. 5 p.m.–11 p.m., Sun. 4–10 p.m. Full bar. Takeout. Valet parking. AE, DC, MC, V. Entrées $12–$25. Italian. MH $$

Zabumba. Zabumba is less a center of xinxin and jungle-fish stews than a place to gulp a shrimp pizza and a glass of passion-fruit juice between band sets. In fact, it’s the center of expatriate Brazilian life in Los Angeles; headquarters of the local samba club; a hive of Brazilian karaoke; and a steady venue for all forms of Brazilian entertainment this side of Xuxa look-alike competitions. 10717 Venice Blvd., Culver City, (310) 841-6525. Dinner Tues.–Sun. 5 p.m.–2 a.m. Full bar. Takeout. Street parking. AE, MC, V. Dinner for two, food only, $14–$25. Brazilian. JG $

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