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Culver City/Venice/Marina del Rey/Westchester and vicinity
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: cheesesteaks, chiliburgers, fries. 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. Full bar. Takeout. AE, D, V. Lunch for two, food only, $9-$14. American. JG ¢Âb
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 Shakira look-alike competitions. In the evenings, Zabumba seems more bar than restaurant, with a long list of exotic cocktails and a blender that seems to go nonstop. 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 $Âb?
San Fernando Valley
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., Sun. until mid. Full bar. Hookah and cigar lounge. Takeout.Valet parking weekends; lot parking in rear. AE, MC, V. JG $$Âb?
Woodlands. Broad as knotted carpets or the infield at Dodger Stadium, dosas are the only snack that might as reasonably be sold by yardage as by weight. And these days, the biggest dosas in town may be found at the south Indian vegetarian restaurant Woodlands way up in Chatsworth. They are tremendous, champion-size beasts, large as umbrellas, folded into great, crisp envelopes over fillings of homemade cheese and chutney; rolled around spicy sautéed cabbage into “spring rolls” the size of the Sunday Times; or stuffed with a sticky mass that tastes like enough hominy grits to feed a Kentucky family for a week. The butter dosa, a half-acre of crunchy brownness jutting off both ends of a rather long platter, is rolled around a slug of gently curried potatoes that you may not run across until you’ve been eating the thing for 15 minutes. This is dosa heaven. They also serve the usual south Indian starches too — the steamed rice cakes called iddly; the oniony porridge pancakes called uttupam; the mung-bean crepes called pesarat — served with the usual complements of sambar and chutney, and done extremely well. In the afternoons, Woodlands is strictly a buffet restaurant, and on the steam table you’ll find the crunchy fried lentil doughnuts called vada; puffs of poori bread; buttery rounds of paratha; knobby lumps of limp vegetable pakora; and a vat of Woodlands’ special lemon rasam, a thin, peppery Tamil vegetable sauce for rice that doubles as a soup and as a healing tonic. Depending on the chef’s mood, you may find something mysteriously identified as moore khulambzu, a tart, runny, complex curry of yogurt and tiny fried-lentil dumplings that is among the best Indian dishes we have ever tasted. 9840 Topanga Canyon Blvd., Chatsworth, (818) 998-3031. Open Tues.–Sun. 11:30 a.m.–3 p.m. and 5–10 p.m. $7.95 lunch buffet Tues.–Fri., $9.95 brunch buffet Sat.–Sun. Beer and wine. Takeout. Lot parking. AE, MC, V. Also at 11833 Artesia Blvd., Artesia, (562) 860-6500. JG $$b[