Downtown Los Angeles/Highland Park
Ciudad. Cuchifritos at happy hour. Fatally strong mojitos. Peruvian-style ceviches and Bolivian-style tamales, Caribbean paella and a classic pescado Veracruzana, Bahia-style moqueqas and a fritanga that would knock them silly in Managua. Ciudad, the Pan-Latin downtown outpost of Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger, may be all things to all people, but especially to all people whose pleasures include bending an elbow every now and then. Daytime is for office workers; at night, two-thirds of the customers are dressed in black. 445 S. Figueroa St., downtown, (213) 486-5171. Mon.–Tues. 11:30 a.m.–9 p.m., Wed.–Thurs. 11:30 a.m.–10 p.m., Friday 11:30 a.m.–11 p.m., Saturday, 5–11 p.m., Sunday 5–9 p.m. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, D, MC, V. Entrées $17–$28. Pan-Latino. JG $$Â
Daikokuya. Sooner or later, all ramen lovers end up at Daikokuya, a loud, steamy noodle shop just a few blocks from the Music Center. Most ramen shops offer an endless list of possibilities; at Daikokuya, the choice is taken out of the equation — you will have the thin, curly noodles in pork broth, or you will have them stamina-style, in even stronger pork broth, a formidable liquid, opaque and calcium-intensive, almost as rich as milk. Floating with the noodles are plump slabs of simmered pork, slices of seasoned bamboo shoots and a dusky, soy-simmered egg. When you’re in the mood, you can improve on the kitchen’s excesses by spooning in minced garlic from a tabletop jar. 327 E. First St., downtown, (213) 626-1680. Lunch Mon.–Sat. 11 a.m.–2:30 p.m., dinner Mon.–Sat. 5–10 p.m., Sun. noon–8 p.m. Beer and wine. Takeout. Street parking. AE, MC, V. Food for two $13–$25. Japanese.JG ¢[b?
Silver Lake/Los Feliz/Echo Park
Blair’s. This is an adult restaurant for people who don’t really consider themselves to be grownups even into their late 40s, a civilized refuge of caesar salads and crab cakes and shrimp cocktails that are served with a side of deviled eggs, a sort of roadhouse where the pepper steak comes with oodles of farmers-market vegetables, the salmon comes with lentils, and the roster of artisanal beers is nearly as long as the wine list. I would be surprised if anybody’s parents ate this well at Rotary Club meetings. 2903 Rowena Ave., Silver Lake, (323) 660-1882. Open Sun.–Thurs. 5–10 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 5–11 p.m. Full bar. Takeout. Street parking. AE, D, MC, V. $16–$32. New American. JG $$bÂ?
The Kitchen. Here is the quintessential Silver Lake canteen. Its former subtitle — “Lunch to Late Night” — reflects the circadian rhythms of its neighborhood clientele. The interior is Early East Village — deep colors, battered tables, crumbling cement, loud music. The service tends toward the casual and offhand, which belies the big-hearted, darn good food — try a bowl of quite viable cioppino. 4348 Fountain Ave., Silver Lake, (323) 664-3663. Open Mon.–Thurs. 5 p.m.–mid., Fri. 5 p.m.–1 a.m., Sat. noon–2:30 a.m., Sun. noon–10 p.m. No alcohol. Lot parking. AE, D, MC, V. Entrées $10–$18. American. MH ¢?
Say Cheese. A dual storefront in Silver Lake houses this gourmet store on one side and espresso café on the other. The lunch menu features salads, sandwiches, quiche and the house specialty, tartiflette (baked diced potatoes with onion and bacon topped with melted reblochon cheese and served with a mixed green salad). The gourmet shop tempts with a notable variety of pâtés (including duck foie gras at a dizzy-making $106 a pound), olives and, of course, a handpicked selection of French cheeses. 2800 Hyperion Ave., Silver Lake, (323) 665-0545, fax (323) 665-6465. Open Mon.–Sat. 8:30 a.m.–5:30 p.m (store open until 6:30), Sun. 10 a.m.–5 p.m . No alcohol. Lot parking. AE, MC, V. Sandwiches $8–$9.50. MH ¢b
Brasserie Vert. Wolfgang Puck’s restaurant in the Hollywood & Highland complex may not have much in common with a brasserie, is as restrained-looking as a corporate canteen, and isn’t even green. But Vert is a useful restaurant, a Hollywood bastion of reliable French cooking. Drop in for a Green Bellini, a platter of fritto misto and a shot at the best desserts in Hollywood — the apple tart is formidable. 6801 Hollywood Blvd., Suite 411, Hollywood, (323) 491-1300. Mon.–Fri. 11:30 a.m.–10 p.m., Sat.–Sun. noon–10 p.m. Full bar. Takeout. Lot parking. AE, D, DC, MC, V. Entrées $16–$24. French/Italian. JG $$
Chameau. Chameau, which is more midcentury modern than a garden of earthly delights, may describe itself as French-Moroccan, but the food is quite different from both the plain cooking you’ll find at the fashionable couscous slingers in Paris’ Marais and the new-style cuisine you’ll find in restaurants that happen to feature a tagine or two on their menus. Chef Adel Chagar’s flavors may be modern, lightened and fresh, but his techniques, many of them, come from the traditional Moroccan kitchen, whose methods tend to be fairly languid: chicken-stuffed b’stilla made with incredibly time-consuming warka, couscous made by hand, and lamb shoulder tagines cooked until the meat almost dissolves into a lamb-scented cloud. 339 N. Fairfax Ave., Los Angeles, (323) 951-0039. Dinner Tues.–Sun. 6–10 p.m. Beer and wine. Street parking. AE, D, DC, MC, V. Dinner for two, food only, $42–$66. Moroccan.JG $$
Monsieur Marcel. Imagine one of a thousand small Parisian cafés or wine bars with sidewalk seating and classic plats du jour, then plunk it down in the southeast corner of the Farmers Market on Fairfax and Third, and you have an excellent idea of Monsieur Marcel, an establishment subtitled “Pain, Vin et Fromage.” (The modest restaurant is only one component in M. Marcel’s small empire, which also includes a French gourmet shop and a grocery store.) Grab a stool in the bar area, or stake out the one communal table; or, for a more self-contained dining experience, plant yourself on one of the market’s typical folding chairs at a wobbly table. An added bonus: Monsieur Marcel may employ the most charming French waiter in Los Angeles. 6333 W. Third St., Los Angeles, (323) 939-7792. Mon.–Thurs. 9 a.m.–9:30 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 9 a.m.–10:30 p.m., Sun. 9 a.m.–8 p.m. AE, MC, V. French. MH $
Sanamluang Café. Sanamluang is a Thai place to duck into and out of at 3 a.m. after the clubs close for vast plates of rice fried with mint leaves, seafood and chiles; for big, comforting bowls of chicken soup flavored with toasted garlic; and for wide noodles fried with Chinese broccoli and shiitake mushrooms. Truly extraordinary is the general’s noodle soup: thin, garlicky egg noodles garnished with bits of duck, barbecued pork, crumbles of ground pork and a couple of shrimp, submerged in a clean, clear broth. 5176 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood, (323) 660-8006. Open daily 10:30 a.m.–4 a.m. No alcohol. Lot parking. Cash only. Entrées $5–$10. Thai. JG ¢b?
Mid-Wilshire/Koreatown?Central Los Angeles
Bu San. Korean-style raw sea cucumber is like nothing you’ve ever tasted before, and Korean-style sashimi, which you wrap in a lettuce leaf with raw garlic, sliced chiles and bean paste, is a revelation. The chefs are fond of converting live fish from the tanks into a meal’s worth of demonstrably fresh sashimi. Raw squid, luxuriously creamy, with a small bit of crunch at the center, only tastes alive. Although almost alarmingly so. 201 N. Western Ave., Los Angeles, (323) 871-0703. Open daily for lunch and dinner. Beer and wine. Lot parking. MC, V. Entrées $25–$30. Korean. JG $$
Oki Dog. Immortalized by the Descendents, beloved by the Germs, the original Oki Dog, long since closed, was to the original ’70s punk-rock scene in Los Angeles what the Brown Derby was to 1940s filmdom. The most famous creation here at the stand that remains is the eponymous dog, a couple of frankfurters wrapped in a tortilla with chili, pickles, mustard, a slice of fried pastrami and a torrent of goopy American cheese — a cross-cultural burrito that’s pretty hard to stomach unless you’ve got the tum of a 16-year-old, but strangely delicious nonetheless. 5056 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 938-4369. Open daily 10 a.m.–10 p.m. No alcohol. Lot parking. Cash only. Entrées $4–$5.50. American Cross-Culture. JG ¢b
Sky’s Tacos. Sky’s are not the tacos your mother used to make. Or rather, they probably are the tacos your mother used to make, unless you happened to grow up in a Mexican household: two thick corn tortillas molded into the bottom of a red plastic carhop basket, mounded with turkey or chicken, shrimp or beef, gilded with orange cheese, buried under lettuce and doused with a sweet-hot house salsa. Soul food pops up in the oddest places sometimes. 5408 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 932-6253. Lunch and dinner Mon.–Sat. 11 a.m.–9 p.m. No alcohol. Street parking. AE, D, MC, V. Entrées $3.60–$10. Mexican-American Soul. JG ¢b
Taylor’s Steak House. Taylor’s is a real urban steak house, a two-fisted meat-and-martini joint where an account executive can blow his Pritikin thing with massive hunks of well-aged sirloin, at about half what he’d pay in one of those Beverly Hills joints. The filet mignon here is soft, buttery, as rare as you order it, and crusted with char; the New York steak is beefy and rich; London broil, kind of stewy-tasting, comes sliced, with a horseradish and sour-cream sauce on the side. But the glory of Taylor’s is the culotte steak, a softball-shaped prime thing cut from the top of the sirloin. If you order it rare, the interior is scarlet, dripping juice, marbled with fat, full of the tremendous mineral sourness of great meat. It’s the steak that time forgot. 3361 W. Eighth St., Los Angeles, (213) 382-8449. Open daily for lunch 11:30 a.m.–4 p.m. and dinner 4–10 p.m. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, CB, DC, MC, V. $19.75–$30.95. American. JG $
West Hollywood/La Cienega
Grace. If Los Angeles restaurants are like rock bands, Neal Fraser is the glamorous indie-rock hero, a chef with a wobbly, idiosyncratic style that couldn’t be further from the finish-fetish crowd pleasers, a detailed, market-oriented sort of New American cuisine, heavy on French technique and inspired by the strong flavors and intricate presentations of New York chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten. The cooking can still be a little rough around the edges at Grace, but Fraser is clearly aspiring to greatness here — this is tremendously ambitious food. And there are freshly fried jelly doughnuts for dessert. What more could you want? 7360 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 934-4400. Tues.–Thurs. and Sun. 6–10 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 6–11 p.m. Full bar. Valet parking; difficult street parking. AE, MC, V. $20–$30. American. JG $$$
Sona. What we know as California cuisine may be dedicated to revealing produce at its best, but David and Michelle Myers go after nature with blowtorches and microtomes and dynamite, determined to bend the old woman to their will. A sliver of watermelon may be less a sliver of watermelon than a wisp in a chilled soup, a salted crunch tracing the shape of a curl of marinated yellowtail, a glistening cellophane window into the soul of a pistachio, a texture in a sorbet, a jelly exposing its cucumberlike soul. The morning after nine courses at Sona (this is one restaurant where only the tasting menu will do), it will already seem like a half-forgotten dream. 401 N. La Cienega Blvd., West Hollywood, (310) 659-7708. Dinner Tues.–Thurs. 6–10 p.m., Fri. 6–11 p.m., Sat. 5:30–11 p.m. Closed Sun.–Mon. Full bar. Takeout. Valet parking. AE, D, DC, MC, V. $30–$40. Modern French (With Global Influences). JG $$$[
Westwood/West L.A./Century City
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 ¢b?
Lemon Moon. A glamorous self-service 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., West 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 $b
Nook. Sometimes you get the feeling that the owners of Nook are running less an American bistro than a joke about an American bistro. As faithfully as they reproduce the fundamentals of the kind of fancily unfancy restaurants that pepper every urban neighborhood from San Diego to Augusta, Maine, they are also poking fun at it with every dried-cranberry garnish and each day-boat scallop, each obscure Belgian beer and each boutique Oregon Pinot Noir, each crusty roast chicken and dish of iconic macaroni and cheese. Almost every aspect of the restaurant, from its double-height communal table to the admonition on the menu that cell-phone use interferes with the controls on the deep fryer, is as ironically pitch-perfect as the Neil Diamond songs on a Silver Lake DJ’s iPod. 11628 Santa Monica Blvd., No. 9, West Los Angeles, (310) 207-5160; www.nookbistro.com. Lunch Mon.–Fri. 11:30 a.m.–3 p.m., dinner Mon.–Sat. 5–10 p.m. Beer and wine. Lot parking. AE, MC, V. Dinner for two, food only, $30–$60. JG $$b[Â
Beverly Hills and vicinity
The Grill on the Alley. Yes, the steaks are good; yes, the martinis are perfect; yes, the corned-beef hash (well-done, thank you very much) is sublime. But within the decidedly non-soothing confines of the Grill, where show-business moguls still pack into the booths in the front dining room as thickly as commuters on a rush-hour MTA bus, you will also find this town’s essential rice pudding: touched with cinnamon, drizzled with heavy cream, coaxing the nutty, rounded essence out of every grain of rice. If Musso’s rice pudding is a lullaby, the Grill’s is a lullaby as sung by Renée Fleming. 9560 Dayton Way, Beverly Hills, (310) 276-0615. Mon.–Thurs. 11:30 a.m.–10:30 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 11:30 a.m.–11 p.m., Sun. 5–9 p.m. Full bar. Takeout. Valet parking; free street parking before 6 p.m. AE, DC, D, MC, V. $20–$35. Traditional American Steak House. JG $$$bÂ
Mastro’s. One of a small, Scottsdale-based chain of steakhouses, the Beverly Hills Mastro’s has the look — volcanic rock work, blackout curtains, black-leather banquettes — of desert resorts, supper clubs, casinos and other booze-filled refuges where the dreaded sun don’t shine. Eat downstairs for more intimate dining, or upstairs if you’re up to walking the gauntlet of a long bar (where serious drinkers swivel on cue to watch you pass) to get to your seat. The excellent service staff is adept, adaptable and good-natured, even when their customers — Beverly Hills carnivores — are not. Meat dominates the menu; steak to be exact. Order the Kansas City bone-in, the porterhouse or the bone-in rib-eye. Here, rare means rare, i.e., cold inside — yes. Start with the horseradish-spiked caesar salad, or the traditional iceberg wedge with blue cheese. Sides — fried onions, creamed corns, sugar snap peas, potatos gratin — are fresh, enormous, delicious: Split ’em. Finish with a paradigmatic Key lime pie. 246 N. Cañon Dr., Beverly Hills, (310) 888-8782. Open for dinner weekdays 5–11 p.m., weekends 5 p.m.–mid. Entrées $20–$47. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, D, DC, MC, V. American. MH $$$Â?
Bay Cities. The Italian deli Bay Cities makes a decent turkey sandwich, a loud, greasy meatball sandwich and a very respectable hero, but the sandwich of choice here is a monster sub, straight outta Brooklyn, called “The Godmother,” which includes a slice of every Italian cold cut on Earth. Fully dressed with lettuce, tomato, mayonnaise, mustard and a few squirts of a garlicky vinaigrette, a Godmother feeds a couple of people at least; the guys behind the counter will look at you quizzically if they suspect you’re planning to eat a whole one yourself. 1517 Lincoln Blvd., Santa Monica, (310) 395-8279. Tues.–Sat. 9 a.m.–7 p.m., Sun. till 6 p.m. Beer, wine and liquor for takeout only. Lot parking. MC, V. Sandwiches $2–$15. Italian Deli. JG ¢b
Lincoln Steakhouse Americana. I would have bet there was nothing new under the sun when it came to steak houses, that every possible permutation of the Rat Pack lifestyle, every $120 Kobe-beef fillet, every conceivable tomato salad, cigar station and vodka martini had been explored. This steak-house thing has been going on a long time, after all, and even the most Atkins-crazed Robb Report subscriber could hardly want for variety. But it’s not the braised turnip greens that make the difference at Lincoln Steakhouse. The profoundly charred Angus-beef porterhouses are fine, but no better than you’ll find at a dozen other places in town. What Lincoln has that other steak houses do not is young women, in packs and in pairs, on dates, on business dinners and dining alone. And these aren’t young women nibbling salads or sipping white wine, or hanging around the bar waiting for you, but women ordering big steaks and eating them. I would credit the well-known charm of the antler chandeliers for this phenomenon, but I would probably be wrong. 2460 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica, (310) 828-3304. Lunch Mon.–Fri. 11 a.m.–2 p.m. plus bar menu until 5:30 p.m. Dinner Mon.–Sat. 5–11 p.m., Sun. 5–10 p.m. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, MC, V. $20–$30. New-fashioned steak house. JG $$$bÂ?
Culver City/Venice and vicinity
El Abajeno. The cornerstone of the menu at El Abajeno is its specialty burrito, a monstrous construction the size and shape of a shoebox: two huge tortillas wrapped around truly heroic portions of lettuce, rice, beans and meat. An El Abajeno burrito, the Westside’s answer to the mammoth beasts served at El Tepeyac in East L.A., could probably feed a family of six with leftovers for lunch the next day, though I have never seen one attacked by more than one hungry guy. 4515 Inglewood Blvd., Culver City, (310) 390-0755. Breakfast, lunch and dinner Mon.–Thurs. 8 a.m.–8:30 p.m., Fri. 8 a.m.–9 p.m., Sun. 7 a.m.–8:30 p.m. Beer. Lot parking. Lunch or dinner for two, food only, $11–$18. AE, MC, V. Mexican. JG ¢b
Baby Blues Bar-B-Q. There have been gun battles fought in the Carolinas between partisans of mustard-based barbecue sauce and those who prefer their pork doused with vinegar. Certain barbecue cooks in beef-loving Texas would just as soon throw your mother-in-law on the grill as a pork rib. But Baby Blues serves it all. Like the best uptown essays into the art form of barbecue, the cooking here arises less out of fierce, quasi-religious devotion than out of genial connoisseurship. As such, the restaurant may be lacking in the charming, cussed idiosyncrasies that lead otherwise sane individuals to chatter in cumin-tinged tongues. It’s just a nice, slightly pricey place to eat ribs, baby-back or otherwise. Baby Blues has a strong sideline in Carolina pulled-pork barbecue, stringy mounds of smoky meat that may not have quite the universal appeal of spareribs, but fit much more neatly into a sandwich. 444 Lincoln Blvd., Venice, (310) 396-7675. Open Sun.–Thurs. 11:30 a.m.–10 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 11:30 a.m.–mid. MC, V. Beer and wine. Takeout. JG$$b?
Wabi Sabi. In a neighborhood where artists once rented studios for pittances, a sleek commercial district of antique stores, design offices and high-end restaurants has evolved — including Wabi Sabi, a skinny storefront refashioned into a Matsuhisa-derived sushi bar/Pacific Rim dinner house. Drop in for a big bowl of Cal-Asian style “bouillabaisse,” or linger through a multicourse meal of small plates (including standbys like miso-marinated bass or eggplant). But sushi, here, is the real stunner — which, given the prices, it should be. Don’t miss the lobster roll. 1635 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Venice, (310) 314-2229. Mon.–Thurs. 5:30–10:30 p.m. Fri.–Sat. 5:30–11 p.m. Sun. 5:30–10 p.m. Full bar. Street parking. AE, D, DC, MC, V. Entrées $12.50–$18. California Japanese/Pacific Rim. MH $$
San Fernando Valley
Dos Arbolitos. Sure, the sopes are uninspired; the pozole is too funky and rich. But campestre, involving long-braised pork steaks, rubbed with a smoked-chile paste and topped with fried green pepper and a swirl of blackened strands of onion, is tender enough to cut with a plastic fork. Costillitas are wonderful, tiny little chewy ribs blanketed with a salty, grainy sauce of chiles and tomatillos that stains the soft meat the color of an Ensenada sunset. 9034 Woodley Ave., North Hills, (818) 891-6661. Breakfast, lunch and dinner daily 7 a.m.–9 p.m. Beer and wine. Takeout. Lot parking. MC, V. Dinner for two, food only, $12–$18. Mexican. JG ¢
Green Cottage. This Iranian-American family restaurant, a converted pie shop, has the long tables, and the bilingual multigenerational families, and the sassy waitresses, and the twinkly lights, and the lounge singer who knows all the verses to both “That’s Amore” and “Volare.” The massive plates hold more than any one person could possibly consume. It is all so very American, as American as apple pie. Except that the food that everybody is overeating happens to be lamb kebabs and koobideh and the sticky pomegranate-chicken stew called fesenjan; sweet rosewater ices spiked with noodles; saffron-pistachio ice cream for dessert. You can have your Old Country nostalgia; I’ll take mine — with an Alka-Seltzer chaser, please. 20022 Ventura Blvd., Woodland Hills, (818) 888-8815. Closed Mondays. Tues.–Sun. noon–10 p.m. AE, D, MC, V. Iranian. JG ¢b
Marina Del Rey/Westchester
The Shack. The Shack is a manly place, a place that hosts Jaegergirl promotions, a place where a man can watch the Lakers and drink a Rusty Nail. The Shack is also an archetypal beach hamburger dive, the kind of vaguely nautical-looking place where most of the clientele seem to treat the food as something to soak up the beer. The basic unit of exchange at The Shack is something called the Shack Burger, a quarter-pound of charred ground beef and a Louisiana sausage crammed together in a bun. The Shack Burger seems repellent on the surface, and it will seem repellent an hour after you eat one, but like your favorite punk rock song, a Shack Burger is three minutes of pure greatness, all grease and smoke and snap. 2518 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica, (310) 449-1171; 185 Culver Blvd., Playa del Rey, (310) 823-6222. Open daily for lunch and dinner. Lunch for two, food only, $9-$14. Full bar. Takeout. AE, D, V. American. JG ¢Âb
By Brazil. You eat meat until you die. Massive, garlicky heaps of short ribs and spareribs and sausage and rump roast and chicken are sliced off metal spears onto your plate by a parade of meat-bearing waiters, brought to your table until you cry uncle. 1615 Cabrillo Ave., Torrance, (310) 787-7520. Lunch and dinner seven days, 11:30 a.m.–9:30 p.m. Full churrasco on weekends. Beer and wine. Lot parking. Lunch for two, food only, $16. AE, D, DC, MC, V. Brazilian.JG $Â
Flossie’s. Flossie’s, located on the eastern edge of Torrance, a couple of blocks from El Camino College and a two-minute drive from the sushi bars and poi slingers of Gardena, is the closest you can get in Los Angeles to Mississippi boarding-house cuisine. What Flossie’s serves is mostly daily specials, except for the perfect — and I do mean perfect — Southern fried chicken, which is always on hand. Wednesday is soft, sweet mountains of meat loaf; Thursday is long-smothered pork chops cooked so they fall apart when you look at them. Come hungry. 3566 Redondo Beach Blvd., Torrance, (310) 352-4037. Lunch and dinner Tues.–Thurs. 11 a.m.–8 p.m., Fri. 11 a.m.–9 p.m., Sat. noon–9 p.m., Sun. noon–7 p.m. No alcohol. Takeout. Lot parking. Cash only. Food for two $12–$18. Southern. JG ¢
South Los Angeles
Badiraguato. This converted hamburger stand, named for a patch of Mexico notorious from narcocorrido ballads, traffics in the coastal cuisine of Sinaloa — tacos stuffed with marlin and salty cheese, chicken gorditas fried to a delicate crunchiness, and a great, crisp version of the roast-beef hash called asado estilo Sinaloa that would probably be as popular in Nebraska as in Culiacan. And, of course, there’s the famous machaca — all salt and smoke and heat — smashed into powder with a stone pestle, and fried to a frizzle with bits of onion. 3070 Firestone Blvd., South Gate, (323) 563-3450. Open daily, 9 a.m.–8 p.m. No alcohol. Takeout. Lot parking. Cash only. Lunch or dinner for two, $12–$25. Mexican. JG ¢
East Los Angeles
Alameda Swap Meet. If you duck into the subway on a Saturday afternoon, a few minutes later you can alight from the Blue Line at the Alameda Swap Meet, an immense converted factory complex south of downtown, stuffed with hundreds of stalls selling everything from sea-turtle extract to straw ranchero hats, fluffy white first-communion dresses to the latest Versace bootlegs. In the courtyard is a bewildering succession of food stalls perfuming the air with grilled meat, and sputtering oil, and a certain high note of stickiness. Flank steak sizzles on steel-drum grills; meat is picked from grinning roast cow’s heads and folded into tacos. One popular dish involves chile, lime, mayonnaise, kernels of fresh corn and a generous squirt of Liquid Parkay, all mixed up in a cardboard bowl. There are more than 7 million native Spanish speakers in metropolitan Los Angeles, and sometimes it seems as if they are all here at once. 4501 S. Alameda St., Los Angeles, (323) 233-2764. Open Mon. and Wed.–Fri. 10 a.m.–7 p.m., Sat.–Sun., 9 a.m.–7 p.m. No alcohol. Takeout. Lunch for two, food only, $3–$10. Cash only. JG ¢?b
Antojitos Denise’s. In a land dominated by carne asada, Denise’s is where to go for pork, a bagful of one of three or four different kinds of house-made chicharrones (fried pork rinds), the pickled pigskin called cueritos, or a pound or two of roast pork. If you have a buck for a taco, you can taste the carnitas, among the best in East L.A., dense-textured, with the full, almost gamy flavor of slow-cooked pig. Also good are the tacos with chicharrones stewed in spicy tomato sauce — numbingly rich, a 1,500-calorie taco. 4060 E. Olympic Blvd., East L.A.; (323) 264-8199. Mon.–Sat. 8 a.m.–8 p.m., Sun. 8 a.m.–6 p.m. No alcohol. Lot parking. Lunch for two, food only, $7–$10. D, MC, V. Mexican. JG ¢b
La China Poblana. In the auto-repair district of East Los Angeles, La China Poblana may be the best place in East L.A. to find the cemita, the classic street food of Puebla, a multilayered sandwich on a dense, toasted sesame-seeded bun. The cemitas roll is sliced, crisped on the stove and crammed full of good stuff: thin slivers of avocado, slices of ghost-white panela cheese, and perhaps a tangle of pickled onions, carrots and jalapeño peppers. But the most popular filling by far is the milanesa — beef pounded to the thickness of a playing card, dredged in flour, and fried in clean oil to a sort of bronzed, leathery crispness that is closer in every way to a really large Maui potato chip than to anything you might call steak. 3568 Whittier Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 263-8310. Open daily for lunch and dinner. No alcohol. Cash only. Takeout. Sandwiches $3 to $4. Mexican. JG ¢b
Camilo’s. Camilo’s started out as a catering company on York Boulevard in Highland Park — the small attached café was added almost as an afterthought. But the good Cal-Mex food and neighborhood-friendly prices caught on with everyone from starving artists to thriving yups, and in no time, the café had outgrown its venue. Owners Camilo and Amelia Gonzalez have since moved their operations to a large building smack on Colorado Boulevard in Eagle Rock, and they’ve reclassified it as a “California bistro” — though to us, it still looks and feels like a friendly indie coffee shop. There are chilaquiles and eggs Benedict for breakfast, cobb salads and Cuban sandwiches for lunch, filet mignon and pasta for dinner. 2128 W. Colorado Blvd., Eagle Rock, (323) 478-2644. Breakfast and lunch Tues.–Sun. 8 a.m.–3 p.m., dinner Tues.–Sat. 5–10 p.m. Beer and wine. Lot parking. AE, MC, V. Entrées $9–$27. California. MH $b
Chili John’s. From a series of stainless-steel vats in the center of the room, the counterman at Chili John’s scoops out pinkish beans, mounding them high in a yellow plastic bowl, then he carefully spoons thick, brick-red chili over the beans until the bowl nearly brims over onto the counter. With a flourish, he tops off the chili with a splash of bean water. He cocks an eyebrow, which means: “Would you like an extra little drizzle of orange grease with that?” Of course you do. 2018 W. Burbank Blvd., Burbank, (818) 846-3611. Lunch and dinner Tues.–Fri. 11 a.m.–7 p.m., Sat. till 4 p.m. Closed July and August. No alcohol. Takeout. Lot parking. Cash only. Lunch for two, food only, $9–$12. Chili. JG ¢b
Mandaloun. It is hard not to be a little awestruck by the Lebanese restaurant Mandaloun. Because while the local Middle Eastern restaurant scene is no stranger to grandeur, there has never been anything like this place, a gilded gastrodome of massive kebabs, pita made to order and outdoor terraces devoted to the smoking of apple-flavored tobacco. And it’s all tucked away on the second floor of a complex that from the outside looks better suited to a parking structure. 141 S. Maryland Ave., Glendale, (818) 507-1900. Lunch and dinner Tues.–Thurs. 11:30 a.m.–10 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 11:30 a.m.–11:30 p.m., Sun. noon–9 p.m. Full bar. Takeout. Street parking; valet and lot parking on weekends. All major credit cards. Entrées $12.95–$22. Lebanese. JG $b[
Pasadena and vicinity
Doña Rosa. Behind one counter at Doña Rosa are racks and racks of freshly baked pan dulce, the pink-frosted conchas, the gingery puercitos and the crunchy, sugar-glazed orejas. Near another is a sort of superheated turntable on which lumps of dough bubble and bake into fresh tortillas. Taquitos fry. Shrimp steam. Thick chocolate burbles happily in a heated vat. The air outside is perfumed with the smoke from grilling carne asada, which is chopped and folded into tacos, stuffed into gorditas, or layered onto huaraches with great rivulets of Mexican crema and cheese. The Doña Rosa burrito is a majestic creature, a stretchy tortilla stuffed with rice, black beans, avocado and an oozing, orange mass of beef fried in chorizo grease, the sort of burrito that will coat your teeth for a week and live in your insides like a frisky pet. 577 S. Arroyo Parkway, Pasadena, (626) 449-2999. Open Mon.–Sat. 8 a.m.–mid., Sun. 6 a.m.–11 p.m. Wine, beer and margaritas. Lot parking. AE, MC, V. Lunch or dinner for two, food only, $10–$15. Mexican. JG ¢b?
Firefly Bistro. Monique King’s Firefly Bistro — which she runs with husband and co-chef Paul Rosenbluh — is a comfortable restaurant, the kind of neighborhood place you drop into a couple of times a month because you like the idea of cornmeal-fried anchovies in your caesar salad, or of a paella that tastes more like an uptown version of jambalaya, or of a strawberry shortcake that just happens to be frosted with a superior lemon curd. Asian touches pop up now and again, and a few Mexican things, and quite a few folky flavorsfrom Spain. (The tapas served to coincide with the Thursday-evening farmers market right outside the bistro’s doors have become a South Pasadena tradition.) But King’s culinary specialty is probably the food of the African-American diaspora, and the best dishes on the menu run toward things like crawfish jambalaya, and the pecan-crusted catfish fillets stacked up like poker chips. 1009 El Centro St., South Pasadena, (626) 441-2443. Beer and wine. Street parking. AE, D, MC, V. $14–$27. Modern American. JG $$b[
Monterey Park/San Gabriel and vicinity
888 Seafood Restaurant. A good place to start is the Chiu Chow cold plate: symmetrically arranged slices of tender steamed geoduck clam, aspic-rimmed pork terrine, crunchy strands of jellyfish, cold halved shrimp in a sweet, citrus-based sauce. Or try a soup of whole perch gently poached in the heat of broth, sharp with the flavor of Chinese celery and herbs, made complexly tart with sour plum, or an astonishing dish of Chiu Chow–style braised goose. The epic dim sum breakfasts are locally esteemed. 8450 Valley Blvd., Rosemead, (626) 573-1888. Lunch and dinner seven days 9 a.m.–10 p.m. Full bar. Lot parking. Dinner for two, food only, $20–$30. MC, V. Chinese. JG $b
Babita. Shrimp Topolobampo may still be the single fieriest invention in the history of Los Angeles cuisine, a citrusy sauté of white wine, tomatoes and diced habanero peppers that takes over its victims’ bodies like an ebola infection — searing lips, closing throats, blasting tongues, and bringing forth great bursts of panic-induced sweat that subside only a few minutes after the last shrimp is safely swallowed. The sensation isn’t anguish, exactly — the endorphin rush tends to kick in before the pain receptors realize something has gone terribly, terribly wrong — as much as it is total, irrevocable loss of control. Chef Roberto Berrelleza, who spent decades as a maitre d’ before he ever picked up a pan, is a modern master of Mexican cuisine; and his fish-stuffed yellow chiles, his seared fish with huitlacoche vinaigrette, and his oozy, porky chiles en nogada are worth the drive across town. 1823 S. San Gabriel Blvd., San Gabriel, (626) 288-7265. Lunch Mon.–Fri. 11:30 a.m.–3:30 p.m. Dinner Sun. and Tues.–Thurs. 5:30–9 p.m.; Fri.–Sat. 5:30–10 p.m. Beer and wine. Takeout. Street parking. AE, DC, D, MC, V. $11–$28.95. Mexican. $ JGb
Little Sheep. If cumin were as toxic as VX gas, the atmosphere at Little Sheep could be used as a weapon of mass destruction. Little Sheep, a newish restaurant in yet another Monterey Park strip mall, is a specialist in the Mongolian hot pot, which is to say the severely aromatic hot pot of China’s extreme north, stocked with more medicinal plants than an herbalist’s shop and fairly intensive in lamb, a meat many Chinese people tend to dislike. There are juicy steamed lamb dumplings, lamb fried rice, a sort of crunchy pan-fried lamb bun and lamb chow mein. And the walls are papered with gauzy, room-size photomurals of grazing sheep and giant Mongolian shepherdesses. 120 S. Atlantic Blvd., Monterey Park, (626) 282-1089. Mon.–Fri. 11:30 a.m.–3 p.m. and 5 p.m.–midnight, Sat.–Sun. 11:30 a.m.–midnight. Beer and wine. Takeout. Lot parking. AE, D, MC, V. Food for two: $14–$24. Mongolian. JG $b?
Pepe’s No. 2 is as renowned for the lousiness of its burritos as it is for its spectacular taquitos, fat, meaty things, overstuffed even, with frizzled, blackened strings of beef hanging out at the ends, and a cool, chunky guacamole spiked with diced onions and tomato. 9020 Telegraph Road, Downey, (562) 869-7045. Lunch and dinner, Mon.– Sun., 7:30 a.m.– 9 p.m.; Fridays, 7:30 a.m.– 10 p.m. No alcohol. Lot parking. Cash only. $1.70-$7. Mexican. JG ¢b
Long Beach and vicinity
Shahnawaz Halal Tandoori Restaurant. The best dish at this Pakistani redoubt may be mirch ka salan — a thick, tan curry of fresh jalapeño peppers, heady with the scents of garlic and ginger, bound with a pungent, grainy mortar of ground spice. On weekends, there’s a very nice biryani, basmati rice cooked with butter and sweet spices and tossed with chunks of lamb. And consider the tandoori-mix plate: a rare lamb chop, subtly smoky, crisp at the edges; a few pieces of bright-red marinated chicken tikka that spurt juice like chicken Kiev; a ruddy whole chicken leg; several inches’ worth of clove-scented minced-lamb kebab; and a tart pile of yogurt-marinated roasted beef. 12225 E. Centralia St., Lakewood, (562) 402-7443. Open. Tues.–Sun. for lunch and dinner. No alcohol. Lot parking. AE, D, MC, V. Pakistani. JG$
Palmdale and vicinity
The Pines. The pancake, the occasional Pines special called a tortilla cake (the batter is enriched with masa, cornmeal and ground hominy), tastes the way you’ve always wanted a tortilla to taste, warm and soft and sweet as corn, fragrant, slightly burned around the edges. Picture it striped with yellow from a three-egg omelet, white from biscuits ’n’ gravy, and sandy brown from a half-pound or so of well-done fried potatoes, a weighty analogue to the nouvelle presentation of a Michael’s or a Le Dome, but no less carefully done. 4343 Pearblossom Hwy., Palmdale, (661) 285-0455. Breakfast and lunch seven days 7 a.m.–2 p.m. No alcohol. Lot parking. Breakfast for two, food only, $8–$15. Cash only. American. JG ¢b