Downtown Los Angeles?Highland Park
Hoan Kiem. After gallery openings on nearby Chung King Road, a certain percentage of the art crowd drifts down to this one-dish restaurant, a specialist in pho ga, Vietnamese chicken-noodle soup. When you order, or rather nod, the massive bowl of soup is on your table in about 15 seconds, yellow and chickeny, seasoned with nothing more elaborate than a sprig or two of cilantro and a handful of chopped scallions, with soft rice noodles cooked about a hundred steps past al dente into near gelatinousness, soup that makes the meager offerings of Junior’s or Nate ’n’ Al’s seem like so many bouillon cubes dissolved in tepid tap water. 727 N. Broadway, No. 130, Chi natown, (213) 617-3650. Open for lunch and dinner daily. No alcohol. Validated lot parking. Cash only. Lunch or dinner for two, food only, $10. Vietnamese. JG ¢
Ostioneria Colima. This is a perfect spot to kill a hot Saturday afternoon, slurping fresh oysters and drinking cold cans of Tecate from the supermarket next door. Chase your beer with tostadas de ceviche, thick, fried corn tortillas spread with a chopped salad of marinated raw fish, onion and shredded carrot, sharp with the tang of vinegar, mellow with toasted corn, sweetly fishy in an extremely pleasant way, dusted with fresh cilantro — it goes with Tecate the way Roquefort goes with Sauternes. Then order camarones rancheros, and you’ll get a dozen meaty shrimp sautéed with crisp green peppers, swimming in a light, buttery tomato sauce touched with garlic — the minimalist kind of thing Angeli’s Evan Kleiman might scour fishing villages for if she specialized in Mexico instead of Italy. 1465 W. Third St., downtown, (213) 482-4152. Open daily, 11:30 a.m.–9 p.m. No alcohol. Lot parking. Cash only. Lunch for two, food only, $6–$20. Mexican. JG ¢b
LA99 Philippe the Original. The place is so much a part of old Los Angeles that sometimes it feels as if it isn’t really a part of Los Angeles, as if it belongs to an older city without chrome. The French-dipped sandwiches of lamb or beef are wet and rich, with something of the gamy animal pungency of old-fashioned roast meat. And if you enjoy the sight of eyes bulging and nostrils flaring as people encounter depth charges of ultrahot mustard in their sandwiches, there’s even something of a floor show. 1001 N. Alameda St., Los Angeles, (213) 628-3781. Open daily 6 a.m.–10 p.m. Beer and wine. For takeout, must call ahead and order must be over $40. Lot parking. Cash only. Sandwiches $4–$5. American. JG ¢b
?Silver Lake/Los Feliz/Echo Park
Agra. Balti, in theory at least, is a kind of Kashmiri curry with roots in the Islamic cuisine of northern Pakistan, cooked and served in handled metal pots that resemble miniature woks. In practice, the word balti has come to mean almost any fiercely hot curry served to the overwhelmingly English clientele of the baltihouses of Birmingham — food tailored, as a friend says, to the alcohol-deadened palates of drunken football hooligans. Like a Tommyburger, a balti worthy of the name can still be tasted when one is in the clutches of the next morning’s hangover. Agra, an Indian restaurant in Silver Lake, certainly serves cuisine more subtle than that, but there is a considerable list of baltis on the menu, and they are overwhelmingly, punishingly hot, with all the refinement of last week’s 50 Cent remix played at earth-thumping volume from the back of a Scion. “Do you want that American hot or English hot?” sneers the waiter. “I will be warning you: American hot is a little milder than what the English are calling medium.” 4325 Sunset Blvd., Silver Lake, (323) 665-7818. Open daily for lunch and dinner 11 a.m.–11 p.m. No alcohol. Takeout. Parking lot. AE, DC, MC, V. Indian. JG $b?
LA99 Blair’s. This is an adult restaurant for people who don’t really consider themselves to be grown-ups 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. New American. JG $$bÂ?
Pattaya. This modest Thai restaurant, in a mini-mall on Vermont Avenue in Los Feliz, has a number of things going for it. First, it has a parking lot, a true boon in this bustling, ever-hippifying neighborhood. Second, it opens daily at 11 a.m. for lunch, and stays open nightly until 4 a.m., which means that you can get an excellent curative hot pot of chicken soup before you call it quits on a long evening out. Finally, it has a kitchen full of good Thai cooks, so that whenever you come, you have a solid chance of getting something delicious to eat. The pad kee mao, pan-fried flat noodles with chile, fried basil leaves and, in our case, chicken, was alarmingly delicious. And the green curry, with its thick coconut-milk sauce, well-balanced heat, tender chicken (or beef) and slippery, plump chunks of eggplant, is sensuous and haunting. 1727 N. Vermont Ave., Los Feliz. (323) 666-0880. Open daily 11 a.m.–4 a.m. Beer and wine. Takeout. Lot parking. AE, MC, V. Thai. MH $Â[?