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Around three o’ clock at Musso & Frank Grill, an ashtray smell of cold, burnt things comes off the grill behind the counter’s middle, and a man in a white chef’s jacket pokes among the dead ashes. Within a couple of minutes, he coaxes the grill into crackling life. The warm scent of woodsmoke spreads across the room. A red-jacketed waiter comes over and pours a clear, cold martini from a pony into a tiny, frosted glass. It may be impossible to describe Musso & Frank as a restaurant, rather than one’s relationship to Musso & Frank, and the menu’s eccentricities and inconsistencies have been well discussed. But in the late afternoon, when you’re working on a Caesar salad and a cook flips a fat lamb chop onto the grill just for you, it is hard to avoid feeling that everything is pretty all right in the world. 6667 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood, (323) 467-5123.
The line outside the original Phillips’ Barbecue bastes in hickory smoke, breathes it in like purest oxygen, soaks it into its pores to the extent that I always suspect that after a couple of hours even Luke Walton would glow with the dark, complex chiaroscuro of an unrestored Renaissance painting. At Phillips’, supper sometimes takes more dedication than some people think is strictly necessary. And if the atmosphere outside Phillips’ seems almost edible, the coarsely ground hot links, the lean, sinewy pork ribs and the shillelagh-size beef ribs are manifestly so. Foster Phillips has had his run-ins with the AQMD, sure, but to the barbecue connoisseur, requiring Mr. Phillips’ to comply with air-pollution controls is nearly as nonsensical as it would be for OSHA to make Jasper Johns stop using cadmium red. 4307 Leimert Blvd., Leimert Park, (323) 292-7613. Also other locations in Los Angeles.
From the nearby municipal parking lot, Pitfire smells like a barbecue pit, a Girl Scout campsite, a hamburger stand — anything but what it is, which is a franchise-ready pizzeria. But the pies, given a slow, two-day rise and fired on the floor of a ceramic oven, are superb examples of the breed, puffy in the Neapolitan manner and tinged with smoke, fresh mozzarella browned at its top like a toasted marshmallow, fennel sausage and roast pumpkin and other high-quality ingredients blackened and sizzlng and crisp. You have had better pizza than this — Casa Bianca comes to mind — and the guy who came up with the recipes probably didn’t apprentice in Naples. I have heard that the crust was racier in the beginning, when it was grilled in the manner of Rhode Island’s Il Forno instead of baked. Still, this is the kind of neighborhood pizzeria we should all have in our neighborhoods, a testament to the goodness of flame. 108 W. Second St., Los Angeles, (213) 808-1200; 5211 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, (818) 980-2949.
The tiny patch of asphalt behind Pollo a la Brasa seems more like a lumberyard than it does like a parking lot most of the time, great stacks of cured oak, the smell of fresh sawdust in the air, muscled men cutting logs down into firewood. The savory fumes billowing from the smokestack perfume the noodle shops and brasseries across the street into Koreatown. Inside, spitted birds twirl on the restaurant’s creaking old rotisserie, chorus lines of pale, raw, skewered chickens alternating with their juicy, well-bronzed brethren, whose marinade of garlic and peppers is so intense that you can practically see the Hanna-Barbera smell lines rising off their crunchy skin. Does the Peruvian-style pollo taste like a shotgun marriage between a chicken and a smoldering log? It does indeed. Many aficionados consider this to be among the finest roasted chickens in town. 764 S. Western Ave., Los Angeles, (323) 382-4090.
Heavy Metal Parking Lot
Does there exist a flame duller, more devoid of purpose than the weak, blue sputterings emitted by a propane barbecue? Is there a less-promising kitchen crew than an army of suburban dads? Could there be a more prosaic setting than a motel parking lot? Yet the clouds of spicy smoke billowing from behind the Duarte Inn on Saturday afternoons are entrancing in their intensity, and the cook in charge of the satay station works his bank of burners like Keith Emerson working the keyboards in a concert film. His skewers of grilled lamb and chicken are just great; caramelized, sizzling, dripping sweet juice. Pondok Kaki Lima is a weekly Indonesian food fair featuring 10 or so vendors pumping out fragrant beef soup, chile-red fried rice, ultra-hot combination rice plates and strange, translucent Indonesian desserts, most of them to go. The right bowl of pressed-rice cake with curry has the potential to change your life. Saturdays, 10 a.m–2 p.m., behind Duarte Inn, 1200 E. Huntington Dr., Duarte.