Downtown Los Angeles?Highland Park
LA99 Chichén Itzá. Chichén Itzá, a small counter restaurant in a communal mercado south of downtown, is the most serious Yucatecan restaurant in town at the moment, its menu a living, habanero chile–intensive thesaurus of the panuchos and codzitos, sopa de lima and papadzules, banana-leaf tamales and shark casseroles that make up one of Mexico’s most thrilling cuisines. From the delicious banana leaf–baked pork called cochinito pibil to the cinnamon-scented bread pudding called caballeros pobres, Chichén Itzá, named for the vast temple complex north of Cancún, is as fresh as a marketplace restaurant in Mérida. In Mercado La Paloma,3655 S. Grand Ave., Los Angeles, (213) 741-1075. Breakfast, lunch and dinner Sun.–Wed. 8 a.m.–6:30 p.m., Thurs.–Sat. 8 a.m.–9 p.m. No alcohol. Takeout. Lot parking. AE, MC, V. Food for two $12–$22. Yucatecan. JG $b
LA99 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?
LA99 Water Grill. The Water Grill is a big-city fish restaurant, a redoubt of oysters and fresh scallops, sparkling fish and sea creatures we can’t even pronounce, in one of the busiest commercial corridors of downtown. It was widely assumed that the restaurant would wither into irrelevancy when former chef Michael Cimarusti left to open his own place last year (the brand-new Providence), but it is possible that the kitchen is even sharper under David LeFevre, who has added a certain global-Gallic sensibility to the seafood cuisine — which includes a beautiful peeky toe crab salad and perhaps the only local tuna tartare we would dream of ordering a second time. Extremely expensive and quite formal by Los Angeles standards, but you knew that. 544 S. Grand Ave., Los Angeles, (213) 891-0900. Mon.–Fri. 11:30 a.m.–8:30 p.m., Sat. 5–9 p.m., Sun. 4:30–9 p.m. Full bar. Takeout. Valet parking. AE, D, DC, MC, V. Entrées $25–$50. Progressive American. JG $$$b
Silver Lake/Los Feliz/Echo Park
LA99 Gingergrass. Gingergrass, a sleek Vietnamese bistro in Silver Lake, is probably the polar opposite of a place like Golden Deli, citified where the San Gabriel noodle shop is rustic, timid where the food at the other roars with flavor. There is pho, but it’s not really the point here. And the spicy fish steamed in banana leaves, the shrimp in fishy Vietnamese caramel sauce and the lemongrass chicken tend to be sluiced down with basil-spiked limeade instead of, say, salty lemonade or tepid tea. But the chef, Mako Antonishek, tends to cook in a way not unfriendly to wine (the restaurant has a symbiotic relationship with Silver Lake Wine Merchants across the street), and her multicourse Mako Monday blowout dinners are already legendary in the neighborhood. 2396 Glendale Blvd., Silver Lake, (323) 644-1600. Sun.–Thurs. 11:30 a.m.–3 p.m. & 5–10 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 11:30 a.m.–3 p.m. & 5–10:30 p.m. No alcohol. Takeout. Lot parking. AE, D, MC, V. $6–$18. Vietnamese. JG $b[
India Sweets & Spices. The basic unit of consumption at IS&S is probably the $3.99 dinner special, a segmented foam tray laden with basmati rice, dahl, tart raita, pickles and a vegetable dish of some kind, ladled out cafeteria style from tubs in a long steam table and crowned with a whole-wheat chapati that hangs limply as yesterday’s tortilla. For an extra buck, you get a leaden, potato-stuffed samosa and a crunchy papadum; for an extra two, an Indian dessert and a mango lassi. The dinners are cheap, filling and tasty. But while the steam-table food (unless you catch it just right) is basically steam-table food, not especially different from what you’d find on any local Indian buffet, the made-to-order dishes are delicious: freshly fried bhaturas, balloon-shaped breads, served with curried chickpeas; the thin pancakes called parathas, stuffed with highly spiced cauliflower or homemade cheese; the South Indian lentil doughnuts called vada, served with a thin curried-vegetable broth. 3126 Los Feliz Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 345-0360. Lunch and dinner seven days, 9:30 a.m.–9:30 p.m. No alcohol. Lot parking. Cash only. Food for two, $8–$12. Also at 1810 Parthenia, Northridge, (818) 407-1498; 9409 Venice Blvd., Culver City, (310) 837-5286; 2201 Sherman Way, Canoga Park, (818) 887-0868. Indian. JG ¢b[