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Meat on a Stick 

Thursday, Nov 3 2005
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Alcazar. This could be coastal Lebanon, really it could, a shaded terrace of music, grilled mullet and waiters who transfer bright coals to brass hookahs. Enormous kebab plates are rushed to tables — and the shish tawok, grilled kebabs of extravagantly marinated chicken breast, is as good as a kebab ever gets. On weekends, ultrathin sajj bread is baked on the patio in a vast heated pan, wrapped around grilled meat or made into the thin, crisp, thyme-scented Arab quesadillas called k’llej. Lebanon is famous for its red wine, but Alcazar, in the gentle levant of Encino, also serves oceans of arak, an anise-scented Lebanese liquor that turns milky when you stir it with ice and cool water. 17239 Ventura Blvd., Encino, (818) 789-0991. Lunch Tues.–Sun. 11:30 a.m.–2:30 p.m.; dinner 5:30 p.m.–10:30 p.m., Sunday until midnight. AE, MC, V. Full bar. Hookah and cigar lounge. Valet parking weekends; lot parking in rear. Takeout. JG $$ El Taurino. Some of the best tacos in town come from the truck that spends its weekends parked behind the downtown Mexican restaurant El Taurino. Inside the truck, a gleaming column of marinated pork al pastor rotates on a great big stick before a simulated shepherd’s fire, as bits of the outside layer of meat caramelize and drip juice. Somebody hacks off a few slivers, slivers you know are meant for your very taco, and rushes to anoint the pork with finely chopped onion, cilantro and a stupendous, dusky hot sauce that perfectly accents the sweetness of the meat. These tacos tend to get eaten before you reach your car. Truck operates on weekends behind 1104 S. Hoover St., downtown, (213) 738-9197. JG ¢ Fu Rai Bo. Fu Rai Bo doesn’t just specialize in chicken, but in spicy skewered teba sake chicken wings; not a whole wing, but that spindly middle segment of wing in which a couple of bones form sort of a frame protecting a sweet, if minuscule, oblate ellipse of meat. They’re made for deep-frying the way a chicken breast is for grilling, deeply absorbing Fu Rai Bo’s tart, spicy marinade, greaseless and practically all brittle, crunchy skin. After the chef has dusted them with various white powders and heaped them on plates alongside scoops of shredded cabbage and mayo-intensive chicken salad, you could gnaw through a million of these wings, sucking out the meat, while your teeth seek out hidden crunchy bits. 2068 Sawtelle Blvd., West Los Angeles, (310) 444-1432. Lunch daily 11:30 a.m.–2 p.m. Dinner Mon.–Thurs. 5:30 p.m.- 11 p.m., Fri.–Sun. 5:30 p.m.–11 :45 p.m. Lot parking. Take-out. Beer and wine. MC, V. JG $$ Gerlach’s Grill. This little carryout place is run by a Japanese-influenced Iranian chef taking on an Italian-tinged California-grill menu that happens to include tacos. Got that? Beyond the multiculti stuff, you’ll find the standard array of kebabs: tender things made from grilled filet mignon; garlicky lamb kebabs; heartily spiced minced-beef kebabs called kubideh; black-edged chicken kebabs; and tastefully underdone kebabs of tuna and halibut. Kebabs here generally come with a big salad, a mountain of saffron-tinged basmati rice and a charred ripe tomato, all neatly tucked into a foam clamshell. 1075 S. Fair Oaks Ave., Pasadena, (626) 799-7575. Open Mon.–Sat. 10 a.m.–9 p.m., Sun. noon–8:30 p.m. Dinner for two, food only, $12–$21. Takeout and delivery. AE, DC, MC, V. JG $$ Hot Dog on a Stick. It’s a hot dog. It’s on a stick. It’s fried in a sweetish corn batter and served by pretty college girls who wear tall, multicolored caps that look like something that might have been worn by a Pan Am stewardess on The Jetsons. Frankly, as regional hot-dog styles go, Hot Dog on a Stick may not rank with Nathan’s Famous in Coney Island or the Vienna dogs served outside Chicago’s Wrigley Field, but the stands in those cities have no spectacle that even comes close to the sight of a short-skirted Hot Dog on a Stick employee pumping up a tankful of lemonade. At various food-court locations, including Santa Monica Place, Muscle Beach, Glendale Galleria and the Westside Pavilion. JG ¢ Kokekokko. This yakitori restaurant in Little Tokyo caters to levels of chicken connoisseurship most of us will never develop: an appreciation of the particular striations of one particular muscle in a chicken breast, the flavor of right thigh over left, the ability to identify feed, breed and gender after one small bite into a charcoal-broiled breast. Until you’ve been coming to Kokekokko long enough to begin to know what to ask for, the ritual here is to order one of the set menus, either five or 10 courses of grilled chicken flesh and innards: loosely packed chicken meatballs, faintly scented with herbs; grilled skin, threaded onto the skewer in accordion pleats; marinated slivers of thigh, separated from each other by slices of onion. Wisps of breast stretched around Japanese chile and okra that provide just a smidgen of residual slipperiness to intensify the texture of the meat. 203 S. Central Ave., downtown, (213) 687-0690. Open Mon.–Sat. 6 p.m.–10:30 p.m. Street parking. Takeout. Dinner for two, food only, $30–$50. Beer and wine. AE, MC, V. JG $$ Marouch. Some people stop by Marouch several times a day: midmornings for a piece of baklava and a thimbleful of Turkish coffee, late afternoons for a bowl of dense lentil soup. Then there is the dinner combination meza, essentially everything on the left-hand side of the menu: hummus; the Lebanese thickened-yogurt cheese labneh; veal and bulgur-wheat kibbeh; fattoush, a tart, spicy salad of sweet peppers, onions and tomatoes; and more. It can be overwhelming to face down a dozen plates of food and realize that grilled quail, succulent kebabs and stuffed lamb shank are yet to come. Marouch is as good as it ever was. 4905 Santa Monica Blvd., Little Armenia, (323) 662-9325. Open Tues.–Sun. 11 a.m.–11 p.m. Beer and wine. Takeout. Lot parking. AE, DC, Disc., MC, V. JG $$ Satay Fong. The Hong Kong Plaza Food Court may not seem a likely site for a culinary epiphany ­— but if you were to get your hands on an order of mie, a dripping, ink-black skewer of grilled pork at Satay Fong, you might be inclined to disagree. Like any Indonesian fast-food joint worth its kecap, Satay Fong’s menu revolves around variations on the basic nasi rames combination platter, foam plates containing dabs of three or four dishes, a mound of simmered rice, and a plastic cup or two of one chile sambal or another – maybe the mysterious but powerfully delicious roasted green-chile sauce hot enough to make the reputation of any Mexican restaurant in Los Angeles. Hong Kong Plaza Food Court, 989 S. Glendora Ave., No. 18, West Covina, (626) 337-1111. Open Tues.–Sun. noon–8 p.m. Cash only. No alcohol. Takeout. JG $ Yazmin. In the San Gabriel Valley, ethnic institutions are layered as intricately as microchips — an apt setting for what is probably the most polymorphous of all the world’s cuisines, a shotgun wedding of Chinese, Indian, Indonesian, Thai and indigenous Malay cooking. The satay at Yazmin is especially good, strips of grilled beef or chicken crusted with ground cumin and coriander seed, burnt and crunchy at the edges, floating in that hazy area of perfection between sweetness and charred bitterness — and set off just right by an extremely fine sauce of chile and ground peanuts, and a big heap of acar, a spicy Malaysian pickle stained bright yellow with turmeric and showered with ground peanuts. 19 E. Main St., Alhambra, (626) 308-2036. Closed Tue. Open for lunch Mon., Wed.–Fri. 11 a.m.–3 p.m. Dinner Mon.–Thurs. 5 p.m.–9:30 p.m., Fri. 5 p.m.–10 p.m., Sat. 11 a.m.–10 p.m., Sun. 11 a.m.–9:30 p.m. Dinner for two, food only, $13–$20.Beer only. Takeout. Lot parking. Disc., MC, V. JG $

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