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
727 N. Broadway
Los Angeles, CA 90012
Region: Out of Town
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 $$bÂ?
Pattaya. This modest Thai restaurant, in a mini-mall on Vermont Avenue in Los Feliz, has a number of things going for it. First, it has a parking lot, a true boon in this bustling, ever-hippifying neighborhood. Second, it opens daily at 11 a.m. for lunch, and stays open nightly until 4 a.m., which means that you can get an excellent curative hot pot of chicken soup before you call it quits on a long evening out. Finally, it has a kitchen full of good Thai cooks, so that whenever you come, you have a solid chance of getting something delicious to eat. The pad kee mao, pan-fried flat noodles with chile, fried basil leaves and, in our case, chicken, was alarmingly delicious. And the green curry, with its thick coconut-milk sauce, well-balanced heat, tender chicken (or beef) and slippery, plump chunks of eggplant, is sensuous and haunting. 1727 N. Vermont Ave., Los Feliz. (323) 666-0880. Open daily 11 a.m.–4 a.m. Beer and wine. Takeout. Lot parking. AE, MC, V. Thai. MH $Â[?
Ammo. The little storefront café is almost harshly minimal, white and noisy; the service is intermittent at best, and the clientele is often predominantly stunning models of every gender. But Ammo’s food tastes as if it’s been made to order by a fabulous home cook with her own organic garden (or at least one with access to a farmers’ market) — and for that, we’ll brave anything, even sitting in a room with multiple examples of physical perfection. Try the French lentil salad and the ice cream sandwich. 1155 N. Highland Ave., Los Angeles, (323) 871-2666. Lunch Mon.–Fri., dinner Mon.–Sat., weekend brunch. Beer and wine. AE, MC, V. California. MH $$b
LA99 Cobras & Matadors. Steven Arroyo is the Bill Graham of tapas in Los Angeles, the impresario who made the concept of Spanish drinks ’n’ snacks as popular as sushi platters after dozens of others had tried and failed. And his dark, buzzy tapas parlors are teeming dens of olive oil and garlic, octopus and cured pig, grilled meats and pungent concoctions of seafood and paprika and beans rushed to the table still crackling in unglazed crocks. The Los Feliz restaurant has a nicely curated list of Spanish and South American wines; at the Hollywood restaurant, you buy your wines from the wine store conveniently located next door. When you bring your prize back to the table, don’t be surprised if the counter guy is standing right there, corkscrew in hand. 7615 W. Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 932-6178. 4655 Hollywood Blvd., Los Feliz, (323) 669-3922. Dinner Sun.–Thurs. 6–11 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 6 p.m.–mid. Beer, wine, sangria. Valet parking. MC, V. Spanish. JG $Â
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. California American. JG $$Â?
Mid-Wilshire/Koreatown?Central Los Angeles
LA99 Guelaguetza. Oaxacan cooking is among the most exciting cuisines in Los Angeles at the moment, and at Guelaguetza, the best of them by far, you’ll find the sort of Oaxacan dishes you’ve only read about in cookbooks or glossy magazines. At the original Koreatown location of Guelaguetza, not far from the biggest concentration of Oaxacan restaurants and bakeries this side of Oaxaca itself, you’ll find chile-fried grasshoppers, tlayudas the size of manhole covers and delicious, mole-drenched tamales. The black mole, based on ingredients the restaurant brings up from Oaxaca, is rich with chopped chocolate and burnt grain, toasted chile, and wave upon wave of textured spice — it’s as simple yet as nuanced as a great, old Côte Rôtie. 3337½ W. Eighth St., Los Angeles, (213) 427-0779. Open daily 8 a.m.–10 p.m. No alcohol. Street parking. AE, MC, V. Oaxacan. JG ¢b
Soot Bull Jeep. Soot Bull Jeep may be the best of L.A.’s 100-odd Korean barbecues, noisy, smoky, with all the bustle you’d expect in the heart of a great city, a place to cook your own marinated short ribs and baby octopus, pork loin and tripe, above a tabletop heap of glowing hardwood coals. If you are new to this sort of thing, a waitress will return periodically to make sure that your ignorance of cooking times injures the meat no more than absolutely necessary. 3136 W. Eighth St., Los Angeles, (213) 387-3865. Open daily 11 a.m.–11 p.m. Beer and wine. Street parking. MC, V. Korean. JG ¢
West Hollywood/La Cienega
LA99 The Griddle Café. On a Sunday morning, the Griddle is really loud: clattering pans, a hundred shouted conversations, amplified rock & roll bouncing off the high ceilings. Actors from what seem like half the shows on Fox and the WB are rubbing sleep out of their eyes. And the woman next to you at the counter is eating a stack of berry pancakes so large that it looks like a movie prop, like three large pizzas piled on top of one another and smothered in powdered sugar. The enormous pancakes are available blanketed in cinnamon streusel, or spiked with Kahlua and Baileys, or smothered under an improbable mass of whipped cream and crumbled Oreos. They are not the best pancakes in Los Angeles, but they are good enough. 7916 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood, (323) 874-0377. Breakfast and lunch Mon.–Fri. 7 a.m.–4 p.m., Sat.–Sun. 8 a.m.–4 p.m. Beer, wine, champagne, martinis. Takeout. Lot parking. AE, D, MC, V. American. JG $b
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. American. JG ¢b?
Westwood/West L.A.?Century City
Il Moro. Nestled in a hidden crook of corporate office buildings, this spinoff of the esteemed Locanda Veneta has good fresh fish, pastas in unusual shapes (try “the pope’s hat”) and an artichoke-and-arugula salad bright with lemon juice. The patio creates an unexpected urban refuge; it’s filled with palms, has its own small lake, and a tall gushing waterfall of a fountain literally drowns out the roar of traffic on Olympic. 11400 W. Olympic Blvd., West Los Angeles, (310) 575-3530. Mon.–Thurs. 11:30 a.m.–9 p.m. Fri.–Sat. 11:30 a.m.–10:30 p.m. Sun. 4:30–9:30 p.m. Wine and beer. Valet parking. AE, DC, MC, V. Italian. MH $
Shamshiri Grill. Lovers of the Persian dishes tah dig and karafs — a thin, crunchy cake of fried white rice with a delicious green stew on top — will find good versions of both at Shamshiri, a well-mannered restaurant on Westwood’s Iranian restaurant row. 1712 Westwood Blvd., Westwood, (310) 474-1410. Lunch and dinner Mon.–Thurs. 11:30 a.m.–10 p.m., Fri. 11:30 a.m.–11 p.m., Sat. noon–11 p.m., Sun. noon–10 p.m. Beer and wine. Street parking. AE, D, MC, V. Persian. JG ¢b
Beverly Hills and vicinity
Le Pain Quotidien. This chain bakery and café, which originated in Belgium, has since spread to France, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, New York and, most recently, Beverly Hills. Owner-creator Alain Coumont’s rigorous, winning aesthetic consists of a refined, even streamlined rusticity; he seems intent on promulgating precisely the small, daily pleasures that make Continental life so beguiling. Coffee is served in cunning footed bowls. Each establishment has a bakery, featuring huge disks of artisanal breads, crusty baguettes and straightforward pastries. Antique pine shelving holds Le Pain Quotidien products — olive oil, olive paste, sun-dried tomatoes, sea salt, capers and so on, an almost complete Mediterranean palette. 9630 S. Santa Monica Blvd., Beverly Hills, (310) 859-1100. Lunch and dinner Mon.–Fri. 7:30 a.m.–7 p.m, Sat.–Sun. 8 a.m.–7 p.m. Beer and wine. Takeout. Street parking. AE, MC, V. French. MH ¢b
LA99 Urasawa. The experience at Urasawa is qualitatively different from that at all other sushi bars, the elevator ride up to a private floor, the rice-paper door that magically slides open, the way that everybody in the restaurant knows your name (or the name you reserve under) even before you are ushered to one of the eight chairs. Other sushi restaurants display fish triple–Saran Wrapped behind glass in a refrigerated case; at Urasawa, the fish is out in the open, lighted as carefully as the tomatoes in a Carl’s Jr. ad, all glistening pinks and flashing silvers and glowing translucence surmounted by a bulging slab of ice. The counter is a single, glass-smooth plank of Japanese cypress. (The last time I was in, Kenny G was trying to buy it from chef Urasawa for his house.) Behind the chef is a tableau of irises and hydrangeas and giant bamboo instead of the usual tangle of toaster ovens and rolls of aluminum foil. A ghostly white haunch of what appeared to be real Kobe beef haunted the counter behind the chef. Ginger is cut to order from whole pickled knobs. 218 N. Rodeo Drive, Beverly Hills, (310) 247-8939. Dinner Mon.–Sun. 6–9:30 p.m. Beer, sake and wine. No takeout. Valet and street parking. AE, DC, D, MC, V. $250 per person. Japanese.JG $$$
The Counter. The “Build Your Own Burger” idea behind the Counter, a fashionable new dive in Ocean Park, makes it a universe of possibilities centering around the hamburger and its matrix of 40-odd fixings, a restaurant where a thick, rare, organic-beef hamburger with herbed goat cheese, dried cranberries and roasted chiles seems not just the fancy of a celebrity used to flexing his whim of iron but almost an imperative. Ranch dressing on the side? Done! There is a wine-bar aspect to the place (very decent, if obscure, vintages from California), a selection of microbrews, and waitresses who do not, to put it mildly, look as if they are part of the regular hamburger-eating demographic. 2901 Ocean Park Blvd., Santa Monica, (310) 399-8383. Open Mon.–Thurs. 11 a.m.–10 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 11 a.m.–11 p.m., Sun. noon–9 p.m. Beer and wine. Takeout. Lot parking. MC, V. American. JG $b
Juliano’s Raw. At Raw there is no cooking — at least no cooking with heat. There is slicing, chopping, grinding, mashing, juicing, soaking, dehydrating, rehydrating, fermenting, sprouting, extruding, wrapping and saucing aplenty. The dining room features a poster of the chef, Juliano, an impossibly long-waisted, shirtless, surfer-tanned human spectacle. Like their employer, the waitresses also bear witness to the benefits of the raw life. I have sampled raw-food preparations and was anticipating a different realm of textures and food combinations. What I did not expect, and was thrilled by, was Juliano’s level of flavor. By the end of each meal, however, I found myself wearied by the excessive remaking of everything. Juliano, with all his talent, may be trying too hard. A few islands of simplicity might have gone a long way to relieve the unabashed fussiness of his non-cooking. 609 Broadway, Santa Monica, (310) 587-1552. Lunch and dinner daily 11 a.m.–10 p.m. No alcohol. Street parking. AE, D, MC, V. Raw. MH $b[
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
LA99 Beacon: An Asian Cafe. Beacon marks the triumphant return to form of Kazuto Matsusaka, who was chef for almost a decade at Wolfgang Puck’s Chinois in the ’80s. His current versions of miso-marinated cod, vegetable nabemono and grilled shisito peppers are all fine. Grilled-chicken skewers are powerfully flavored with the herb shiso and the tiny Japanese apricot called ume. You’d probably never find anything like Matsusaka’s salad of perfectly ripe avocado dressed with toasted sesame seeds and minced scallions in Tokyo, but the salad follows classical principles, and it is luscious. The hanger steak with wasabi is so successful, the searing tang of the horseradish doing something wonderful to the tart, carbonized flavor of grilled meat, that you might wonder why nobody thought of the combination until now. 3280 Helms Ave., Los Angeles, (310) 838-7500. Lunch Mon.–Sat. 11:30 a.m.–2 p.m., dinner Tues.–Wed. and Sun. 5:30–8:30 p.m., Thurs.–Sat. 5:30–9:30 p.m. Beer and wine. Lot parking. AE, MC, V. Asian Fusion. JG $bÂ[
Art’s Delicatessen. Art’s has been the best deli in the Valley since late in the Eisenhower administration, and its dense, tasty chicken soup, puddled around matzo balls the size of grapefruit, is justifiably renowned. Among the local cognoscenti, Art’s is well-known for the succulence of its knockwurst, the creaminess of its chopped liver, and the particular garlicky smack of its house-made pickles. Lox and eggs? Matzo Brie? Kreplach soup? Crisp-skinned cheese blintzes? Well-cured salmon on fresh Brooklyn Bagel bagels? Got ’em. And as it says on the menu: “Every Sandwich Is a Work of Art.” 12224 Ventura Blvd., Studio City, (818) 762-1221. Sun.–Thurs. 7 a.m.–9 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 7 a.m.–10 p.m. Beer and wine. Takeout. Valet parking. AE, D, MC, V. Deli. JG $$[
LA99 Krua Thai. Like any respectable Thai joint in this part of Los Angeles, Krua Thai features a sign outside boasting of the Best Noodles in Town, but unlike the rest of them, Krua Thai has a pretty fair title to the claim. In a city where great Thai noodle shops are all that keep some of us going some days, when the anguish of a sick cat or a Laker collapse can be eased, at least a little, by the knowledge of a great bowl of boat noodles, Krua Thai’s pad Thai and pad kee mao and rad na and pad see ew may be the very best of all. In its way, Krua Thai could be the Thai equivalent of a delicatessen like Canter’s: cheerful, fast, popular across ethnic lines, and open very, very late. 13130 Sherman Way, North Hollywood, (818) 759-7998. Open daily 11 a.m.–3:30 a.m. No alcohol. Takeout. Lot parking. All major credit cards accepted. Also at 935 S. Glendora Ave., West Covina, (626) 480-0116. Thai. JG $b[?
South Bay/LAX/Long Beach and vicinity
Tombo. Okonomiyaki, especially the kind that you cook yourself at a hot griddle set into a dining table, is one of those odd dishes whose whole really does transcend the sum of its rather grisly parts: Japanese mayonnaise. Tonkatsu sauce. Bubbling oceans of gooey batter scorched black around the edges. Crunchy, superheated bean sprouts that emit little puffs of steam when you bite into them. Unnaturally pink nubs of pork that collapse into gristle. Carrots charred into carrot pudding. It’s a stinking, queasy-making mess that you could probably eat every day of the week. If you’re in a festive mood, you could throw some Spam in, too. At Tombo, a sticky-table okonomiyaki parlor in Torrance, not far from Gardena, you can try the monjayaki, beef broth you reduce yourself until it reaches the consistency of a cat’s chew toy, which is every bit as good — and bad — as it sounds. 2106 Artesia Blvd., Torrance, (310) 324-5190. Lunch Tues.–Sat. 11:30 a.m.–2 p.m., Sun. noon–2:30 p.m. Dinner Tues.–Sat. 5:30–10 p.m., Sun. 5–10:30 p.m. Beer and wine. Takeout. Lot parking. MC, V. Japanese. JG $b
South Los Angeles
Caribbean Treehouse. Caribbean Treehouse is perhaps the only local restaurant that currently dishes up the spicy food of Trinidad and Tobago. Service is casual to the extreme — if you want another bottle of pop, you walk over to the cooler and take one out yourself. Roti, sort of a Trinidadian burrito made of chicken-potato stew or a handful of curried beef wrapped up in a grilled Trinidadian flatbread, can come pumped up with the restaurant’s fiery homemade sauce. On Saturdays, there’s the “sparrow special,” an enormous plate of food that involves jerkylike strips of salt cod, boiled cassava, sautéed onion, tomato and a certain quantity of dense, chewy dumplings. 1226 Centinela Ave., Inglewood, (310) 330-1170. Lunch and dinner Tues.–Sun. 11 a.m.–8 p.m. Beer and wine. Lot parking. MC, V. Caribbean. JG ¢
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. Cash only. JG ¢?b
LA99 Casa Bianca. Of all the neighborhood pizza parlors in Los Angeles touted as the best this side of Brooklyn, one of them actually has to be the best. And my vote goes to Casa Bianca, especially if the pizza happens to include the fried eggplant, the sweetly spiced homemade sausage — or both. The lines are extremely long, but the crust is chewy, and speckled with enough carbony, bubbly, burnt bits to make each bite slightly different from the last. Remarkable. 1650 Colorado Blvd., Eagle Rock, (323) 256-9617. Dinner Tues.–Thurs. 4 p.m.–mid., Fri.–Sat. 4 p.m.–1 a.m. Beer and wine. Street parking. Cash only. Italian.JG $b?
Pasadena and vicinity
LA99 Europane. A good croissant is a joy forever, crisp, airy and saturated with butter, large enough to take the sting off a double cappuccino but not so large that you’d be tempted to use it for anything so vulgar as a “croissandwich.” On a good day, Europane’s magnificent croissants could be mistaken for France’s best in a police lineup — the crisp, buttery almond croissant could make you swoon. Toss in the homemade granola, the epochal bread pudding and the gooiest egg-salad sandwich in town, and it’s no wonder that Europane’s regulars treat the bakery more as a permanent residence than as a café. 950 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena, (626) 577-1828. Mon.–Sat. 7 a.m.–5:30 p.m., Sun. till 2 p.m. No alcohol. Street parking. MC, V. California Bakery. JG ¢b
Top’s. The drive-thru hamburger is generally a sorry proposition, a junkyard of unhappy Happy Meals, of unstellar Famous Stars, of charnel-house malteds and grisly lumps of gristle, of TV-slick cheesy things and other restaurants so terrifyingly off-brand that you fear for your intestinal fauna. And then there is Top’s, where the bacon-avocado cheeseburgers are grand, goopy things; the onion rings are pleasingly crunchy; and the shakes are as dense and sweet as a life well lived. 1792 E. Walnut St., Pasadena, (626) 584-0244. Lunch and dinner, Sun.– Thurs., 7 a.m.–11 p.m.; Fri. and Sat., 7 a.m. –12 a.m. No alcohol. Lot parking. ATM cards and cash only. American. JG ¢b
Monterey Park/San Gabriel ?and vicinity
LA99 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. Mexican. $JGb
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. 8450 Valley Blvd., Rosemead, (626) 573-1888. Lunch and dinner seven days 9 a.m.–10 p.m. Full bar. Lot parking. MC, V. Chinese. JG $b
Little Malaysia. Little Malaysia seems to concentrate on the Nonya cooking of Pinang. But it’s when multiculturalism rears its head that things really start happening on the plate. The Hainanese chicken-rice dish is subtly fragrant with ginger. Curried fish head is delicately flavored and tartly sauced, although the job of digging out the fish’s cheeks, jowls and lips is hardly a dainty one. 3944 N. Peck Road, No. 8, El Monte, (626) 401-3188. Lunch and dinner. Tues.–Fri. 11 a.m.–2 p.m., 5:30 p.m.–9 p.m.; Sat.–Sun. 12 p.m.–9 p.m. No alcohol. Takeout. Lot parking. Cash only. Malaysian.JG¢b
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