By Besha Rodell
By Besha Rodell
By Besha Rodell
By Amy Scattergood
By Besha Rodell
By Besha Rodell
By Patrick Comiskey
By Besha Rodell
Downtown Los Angeles?Highland Park
327 E. First St.
Los Angeles, CA 90012
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[
LA99 Jar. Any place in town can serve you a grilled T-bone, but Suzanne Tracht’s snazzy steak house is strictly postmodernsville, man, chefly riffs on the strip steak and the porterhouse, the hash brown and the French fry that may or may not incorporate every last pea tendril and star-anise infusion in the Asian-fusion playbook, if that happens to be your desire. Some people we know have never even tried the steak here — the braised pork belly, the glorious pot roast and the various and sundry wonders of Nancy Silverton’s Mozzarella Monday are just too compelling. But the steak is about as good as it gets. The décor is straight off the set of a Cary Grant movie. And there’s banana cream pie for dessert. 8225 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 655-6566. Dinner daily 5:30–11 p.m., brunch Sun. 10 a.m.–2 p.m. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, D, MC, V. Entrées $19–$29. California American. JG $$Â?
Roscoe’s Chicken N’ Waffles. Why chicken and waffles? Is it a time-honored combination? Is there a particular methodology at work? Or do they just happen to coexist on the same plate, allowing for the occasional serendipitous splash of maple syrup on a succulent fried wing? We may never know. Drawing weekend crowds that spill out onto the sidewalk, Roscoe’s is the Carnegie Deli of L.A.’s R&B scene. 1514 N. Gower St., Hollywood, (323) 466-7453. Breakfast, lunch and dinner daily. Beer and wine. AE, D, DC, MC, V. Entrées $6–$9. American Soul. JG ¢b
LA99 Xiomara. Six or seven food revolutions have washed over America since Nuevo Latino cuisine first posited the chicness of pupusas and llapingachos, and the heat these days is probably on Brazilian barbecue and pre-Columbian grains instead. And Xiomara Ardolina’s big-flavored, Cuban-inflected menus finally reveal her as a classicist instead of an insurrectionist, which probably fits the serene, elegant dining room better anyway. 6101 W. Melrose Ave., Los Angeles, (323) 461-0601. Also at 69 N. Raymond Ave., Pasadena, (626) 796-2520. Mon.–Fri. 11:30 a.m.–10 p.m., Sat.–Sun. 5–11 p.m. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, D, MC, V. Entrées $16–$32. Cuban/Pan-Latino. JG $$b
Mid-Wilshire/Koreatown?Central Los Angeles
Hamjipark. This sticky-table dive down on Pico does a rather spectacular version of pork-neck soup, simmered until the meat has turned almost to jelly and thickened with a brick-red purée of chiles — if you weren’t nursing a hair-of-the-dog shot of soju, you might almost mistake it for a Oaxacan mole colorado. The crunchy, sticky grilled pork ribs are not sad to eat either. Hamjipark has a gentrified branch up near the Chapman Market, with the ambiance of an outer-arrondissement sidewalk café, but on Sunday morning, when the roof of your mouth is a killing floor, the grungier Pico restaurant is where you want to be. 4135 W. Pico Blvd., (323) 733-3635; also 3407 W. Sixth St., (213) 365-8773. JG $
LA99 Tahoe Galbi. Natural-charcoal barbecue, which is to say the atavistic pleasure of grilling meat over live coals, is traditionally a cheap thrill. Such barbecuing as practiced at fancier Korean restaurants is usually done over well-ventilated gas grills, which are much less likely to leave your favorite blouse perforated with tiny holes like a silk colander. The newish, marble-encrusted Tahoe Galbi may be the first place in town where it is possible to enjoy both the superb meat characteristic of the best Korean restaurants and the smoky kick of live-fire cooking. When you bite into the galbi, Korean short ribs, they flood your mouth with sweet juice. 3986 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, (213) 365-9000. Daily 11:30 a.m.–10:30 p.m. No alcohol. Takeout. Valet parking. Dinner $10.99–$25. Korean Barbecue. JG $b[Â
West Hollywood/La Cienega
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. Frankly, as regional hot-dog styles go, Hot Dog on a Stick may not rank with Nathan’s Famous in Coney Island or the elaborately garnished franks of Chicago, 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 chick pumping up a tankful of lemonade. In malls citywide. Mon.–Fri. 10 a.m.–9 p.m., Sat. 10 a.m.–7 p.m., Sun. 11 a.m.–6 p.m. No alcohol. Parking in mall. MC, V. Hot dogs $1–$2. American. JG ¢b?
Lucques. The California-Mediterranean cooking of Suzanne Goin, which is feminine in all the best ways, is profoundly beautiful in its simplicity, and there is satori to be found in every bite of grilled fish, every herb salad. When she’s on, Goin teases out the flavor from a tomato with the precision of a sushi master, makes textural contrasts dance, plays with bursts of acidity, deep, fleshy resonance and the resinous flavors of fresh herbs. Lucques, which is named for a vivid-green variety of French olive, is located in Harold Lloyd’s old carriage house, boasts an ultrasleek Barbara Barry design and is home to one of the nicest patios in West Hollywood; but on loud weekend nights, the restaurant can sometimes seem as if it is about 90 percent bar. 8474 Melrose Ave., West Hollywood, (323) 655-6277. Sunday nights feature three-course prix fixe dinners. Lunch Tues.–Sat. noon–2:30 p.m., dinner Tues.-Sat. 6–11 p.m., Sun. 5:30–10 p.m. Limited bar menu available 10 p.m.–mid. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, MC, V. Entrées $21–$30. French. JG $$
Westwood/West L.A.?Century City
LA99 John o’ Groats. The restaurant is named after a town at the northernmost point in Scotland, but give or take an order of fish ’n’ chips or two, the menu is pretty much all-American, with baking-powder biscuits, fluffy omelets, smoked pork chops and stretchy buckwheat pancakes. And although there seem to be no actual groats on the menu — which is kind of a relief — the steel-cut Irish oatmeal with bananas and heavy cream is fine. The best breakfasts on the Westside. 10516 W. Pico Blvd., West Los Angeles, (310) 204-0692. Breakfast and lunch daily 7 a.m.–3 p.m. Beer and wine. Street parking. MC, V. Entrées $9–$14. American. JG ¢
LA99 Mama Voula’s. Mama Voula, who commands her namesake kitchen as if she were commanding a nuclear submarine, is an overwhelming presence in this family-owned Greek restaurant. Expect the sharp funk of garlic and charring meat, decent seafood, and a killer gyro that combines the virtues of extreme lambiness with a delicate, carbonized crunchiness. 11923 Santa Monica Blvd., West Los Angeles, (310) 478-9464. Mon.–Sat. 11 a.m.–10 p.m., Sun. 11 a.m.–9 p.m. BYOB. Lot parking. MC, V. Entrées $7–$13. Mediterranean/Greek. JG $b[Â
Beverly Hills and vicinity
LA99 Enoteca Drago. In New York City, Italian wine bars are multiplying like mosquitoes. In Los Angeles, the most serious Italian wine bar is probably the posh Enoteca Drago, an outpost of Celestino Drago’s pasta-driven empire, where you can chase a plate of prosciutto, a mess of baby octopods, or even the elusive lardo — cured pig fat in the style of northwestern Tuscany, melted onto a slab of fried bread — with a glass of crisp Verdicchiofrom the Marches. Some of the wines are served in flights — sets of small pours arranged by grape or by region. Enoteca Drago does function as a full restaurant, although it is occasionally hard to remember this when you’re floating in the middle of a Brunello reverie, but you will also find great pasta with pesto and one of the few proper versions of spaghetti carbonara in town. 410 N. Canon Drive, Beverly Hills, (310) 786-8236. Open Mon.–Sat. 11:30 a.m.–11 p.m., Sun. 11:30 a.m.–10 p.m. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, DC, MC, V. Entrées. $13.50–$18. Italian. JG $$bÂ
LA99 Lawry’s the Prime Rib. Like the Tudor castles springing up in Bel Air and the half-timbered manors of Hancock Park, Lawry’s exists as an homage to a British institution its owner had never seen: the London restaurant Simpson’s in the Strand. And like those mansions, fitted out as they are with central heating, screening rooms and black-bottomed swimming pools, Lawry’s is actually better than the original: vast barons of good American beef cut to order tableside on enormous silver carts, and served with horseradish and Yorkshire pudding. Relocated across the street and restored to what it must have looked like in the ’30s, Lawry’s is that perfect Los Angeles thing, a simulacrum of a simulacrum of a simulacrum. 100 N. La Cienega Blvd., Beverly Hills, (310) 652-2827. Mon.–Thurs. 5–10 p.m., Fri. 5–11 p.m., Sat. 4:30–11 p.m., Sun. 4–10 p.m. Full bar. Takeout. Valet and street parking. All major credit cards. $26–$40. American. JG $$$bÂ?
Chez Mimi. Chez Mimi is surely the loveliest patio dining spot around, where the vine-entwined gateway alone makes it hard to remember you’re in California and not some gentrified country stable yard in southern France. Inside, in charming low-ceilinged rooms that, if we didn’t know better, we might assume were built for our far shorter 18th-century ancestors, fires snap on cold nights and Mimi herself (who for years labored under another woman’s name at Chez Helene) checks in on her customers. Try the excellent bouillabaisse and the rich, soothing cassoulet. 246 26th St., Santa Monica, (310) 393-0558. Lunch Tues.–Sat. 11:30 a.m.–3 p.m. Dinner Tues.-Sat. 5:30–10 p.m. Full bar. Takeout. Valet parking. AE, D, DC, MC, V. $9–$29. French. MH $$
Office. At the microbrew fiefdom known as Father’s Office, whose baseball caps read “F.O.,” dining is a full-contact sport. There are no reservations, no minors allowed, and no menu substitutions permitted. There is also no line, no wait list, and nobody keeping track of seating, so that if you want one of the few tables in the bar (and practically speaking, it is impossible to eat the bar’s food standing up), you will have to circle the room until somebody gets ready to leave, then plunge into a scrum. The signature burger is dry-aged beef cooked exceptionally rare, dressed with onions cooked down to the sweetness of maple syrup, Gruyère and Maytag blue cheeses, smoky bacon, arugula and a tomato compote, all on a French roll. Is the Father’s Office cheeseburger delicious? Of course. Does the effort required to acquire it resemble something out of Fear Factor? Definitely so. 1018 Montana Ave., Santa Monica, (310) 393-2337, www.fathersoffice.com. Food served Mon.–Wed. 5–10 p.m., Thurs. 5–11 p.m., Fri. 4–11 p.m., Sat. 3–11 p.m., Sun. 3–10 p.m. 21 and over only. Beer and wine. Takeout. Difficult street parking. AE, M, V. Dishes $4–$15. European Bar Food. JG $bÂ
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?
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[
South Bay/LAX/Long Beach and vicinity
Hak Heang. In the Little Phnom Penh neighborhood of Long Beach is Hak Heang — all glowing neon, elaborate live-seafood tanks and yawning seas of tables, waitresses whipping around the room with endless streams of Tsingtao, fried fish and sputtering skewers of Cambodian shish kebab. The anchovy beef, a small, marinated steak grilled medium rare, sliced thin, and served with a relish of shaved raw eggplant, fermented fish, garlic and a little vinegar, is a rare Cambodian dish that would make almost as much sense at a country restaurant in southern Piemonte as it would along the banks of the Tônlé Sap. 2041 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach, (562) 434-0296. Breakfast, lunch and dinner seven days 8 a.m.–9 p.m. Full bar. Takeout. Lot parking. Cash only. Dinner for two, $18–$28. Cambodian. JG ¢
Pann’s. Every Angeleno has a secret backdoor shortcut to the airport, and Pann’s is smack on the route of at least two-thirds of them. It’s a grand ’50s coffee shop right on the triangle formed by the intersection of La Cienega, La Tijera and Centinela, a bright, neon-lit fortress of patty melts, Dreamburgers, banana splits and pie, bottomless cups of coffee, and a twangy soundtrack that veers from Duane Eddy to Elvis and back. Mornings see customers from all over Los Angeles, some of them bleary-eyed from the previous night’s festivities, who can’t stay away from the sugar-cured ham, the thick blueberry pancakes or the big plates of steak and eggs. Pann’s is a coffee shop, not a temple of cuisine, but we all owe it to ourselves to stop by for a plate of chicken from time to time. 6710 La Tijera Blvd., Los Angeles, (310) 670–1441. Open daily 7 a.m.–11 p.m. Beer and wine. Lot parking. AE, MC, V accepted. American. JG$?
South Los Angeles
Kotohira. Kotohira is one of the few places in the United States that still makes udon by hand: thick, white and long, diminishing to squiggles at the ends, clean in flavor, with the bouncy resiliency of elastic ropes. Whether dunked in fish soup or anointed with curry; hot in a bowl or cold on a mat; or dry in a bowl and garnished with ginger, green onion and wisps of freshly shaved bonito — the wheaty sweetness of the noodles, set off by the clean smoky smack of the dried bonito, is among the most delicious things you have ever eaten. 1747 W. Redondo Beach Blvd., Gardena, (310) 323-3966. Lunch and dinner, Wed.–Mon. 11:30 a.m.–11 p.m. Beer and sake. Lot parking. Dinner for two, food only, $15–$19. MC, V. Japanese. JG ¢[
Sanuki No Sato. Udon noodles come in all the standard flavors: topped with crisp buttons of tempura batter in a plain soy-enriched broth, or with chewy bits of rice cake, or with exquisitely slimy Japanese mountain yams. Yukinabe udon — served in a rustic-looking iron kettle and buried beneath half an inch of grated daikon, a sprinkling of grated wasabi and a ferociously spiced cod-egg sac — is refreshing in spite of its bulk, an exotic bowl you could eat every day. 18206 S. Western Ave., Gardena, (310) 324-9184. Open seven days, 11:30 a.m.–2:30 p.m. and 5:30–10 p.m. Beer and wine. Lot parking. Lunch or dinner for two, food only, $13–$36. AE, DC, MC, V. Japanese. JG $b[
East Los Angeles
Alameda Swap Meet. The food stall closest to the main building here is a full-on Mexican restaurant without the walls, featuring grilled chicken, carne asada, various steam-table dishes and a really good, spicy goat-meat stew. The big awning at the other end shades a Salvadoran stall where a woman fries pupusas. Toward the south parking lot, marinated flank steak sizzles on steel-drum grills. At El Bucanero, hard by the main building’s entrance, chile and lime are dribbled on freshly fried potato chips, sprinkled on popcorn, daubed on sliced mangoes, and squirted on the delicious ceviche and marinated-shrimp tostadas. 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
LA99 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
La Cabañita. The menu here is loaded with things such as entomatadas and mole, which turn out to be basically chicken enchiladas and a slightly spicy beef soup, respectively, but which sound ineffably chefly and exotic. The tacos, created with freshly made corn tortillas, are stuffed with sweetly spiced beef picadillo studded with almonds and raisins; with dryish fried pork; with chopped beef and melted cheese. They’re terrific. Somebody has obviously thought about this stuff. 3447 N. Verdugo Road, Glendale, (818) 957-2711. Lunch and dinner Mon.–Thurs. 10 a.m.–10 p.m., Fri. 10 a.m.–11 p.m., Sat. 8 a.m.–11 p.m., Sun. 8 a.m.–10 p.m. Beer and wine. Street parking. Dinner for two, food only, $20–$25. AE, D, MC, V. Mexican. JG $b?
Pasadena and vicinity
AJ’s Fish & Chips. If you think Ye Olde King’s Head Pub is ye olde past its prime, have a craving for fish ’n’ chips and some place new, then venture into the arcade across from Vroman’s in Pasadena, the arched one from the 1920s that houses various art galleries, the Yucatecan restaurant El Portal and a dusty bookstore that seems to specialize in unread old sets of Kipling, you will find AJ’s Fish & Chips in the corner of the promenade that shrinks the farthest from the sun. AJ’s cook and waitresses are Thai, and the chips — French fries — are just dreadful, formerly frozen shoestrings that could use a little more time in the oil. The tartar sauce seems made by somebody who’s never tasted tartar sauce. The strongest drink on the menu is black Thai iced tea. There may not be a dartboard within miles. But the fish itself, northern cod breaded and fried to a golden crunch you may associate more with Southeast Asia than with the Sceptered Isle, is nothing short of superb. And at AJ’s you can also get a plate of ground chicken sautéed with green chiles and Thai basil that blows the roof off any steak-and-kidney pie you’d care to name. If that’s what you have in mind. 696 E. Colorado Blvd., No. 11, Pasadena, (626) 795-3793. Mon.–Sat. 11 a.m.–7 p.m. No alcohol. Takeout. Validated parking. AE, MC, V. JG $b
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. Beer only. Takeout. Lot parking. Dinner for two, food only, $13–$20. D, MC, V. JG $b
Monterey Park/San Gabriel ?and vicinity
El Gallo Pinto. El Gallo Pinto may not seem like much, but some Nicaraguans drive 100 miles on weekends for the tripe stew mondongo, the plain beef-and-tuber casserole called baho, or the Indio Viejo, a mild yet undeniably exotic stew of the sort you might use to fortify yourself on a cool mountain night. And everybody eats the gallo pinto, Nicaraguan rice and beans served in big mounds shaped like family-sized cans of tuna, slightly oily, seasoned simply, with an intense, chocolate-like flavor from the sautéed beans. “This food is not fancy,” says owner José “Chepe” Cabrales, “but we Nicaraguans feel it in our bones.” 5559 N. Azusa Ave., Azusa, (626) 815-9907. Open daily for lunch and dinner, 11 a.m.– 8:30 p.m. Beer and wine. Entertainment on weekends. Lot parking. AE, D, MC, V. South American. JG ¢
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