Downtown Los Angeles?Highland Park
LA99 Kagaya. Shabu shabu is pretty basic: a slice of prime meat swished through bubbling broth for a second or two, just until the pink becomes frosted with white. If you’ve done it right — and if the quality of the ingredients is as high as it is at Little Tokyo’s superb (and expensive) Kagaya — the texture is extraordinary, almost liquid, and the concentrated, sourish flavor of really good beef becomes vivid. 418 E. Second St., downtown, (213) 617-1016. Mon.–Sat. 6–10:30 p.m., Sun. 6–10 p.m. Wine, beer, sake. Lot parking. DC, MC, V. Japanese. JG $$
Pete’s Café and Bar. Pete’s has completely classic bar-’n’-grill good looks. There’s also a hint of contemporary clubbiness. The food is a functional, midpriced take on New American cooking: mac and cheese, a gilded burger (fontina, tomato aioli), steaks, bread pudding. Highlights include the martini glass heaped with shrimp, yellow and orange baby heirloom tomatoes, and green guacamole, all doused in citrus salsa. And when available, a fresh tomato soup that seems to sing, optimistically, of summer. A house specialty, blue-cheese fries, is sinful, potatoes tossed hot with the sharp salty cheese so they’re limp yet crisp and chewy — irresistible. 400 S. Main St., downtown, (213) 617-1000. Lunch and dinner Sun.–Wed. 11:30 a.m.–mid., Thurs.–Sat. 11:30 a.m.–2 a.m., breakfast Sat.–Sun. from 11:30 a.m. Full bar. Lot parking. AE, D, DC, MC, V. American. MH.$$Â?
Silver Lake/Los Feliz/Echo Park
El Caserio. The cornerstone of the Ecuadorian kitchen is the fresh chile sauce aji (pronounced ah-hee), which has a tart, fiery taste. El Caserio’s aji is spicier than most, juiced up with onion and fresh tomato, one of the best salsas imaginable, spooned straight over big, puffy white-cheese empanadas, or over the fresh-corn tamales called humitas. The shrimp dish sango de camarones revolves around a strange, thick sauce made with green plantains and peanut butter — probably unlike anything you have eaten before. 309 N. Virgil Ave., L.A., (323) 664-9266. Lunch and dinner Thurs.–Tues. 11 a.m.–9:30 p.m. No alcohol. Takeout. Lot parking. MC, V. Ecuadorian. JG ¢[
K.P.’s Deli. We have always found the Vietnamese sandwiches, banh mi, at Buu-Dien in Chinatown to be better than good, even at the present historical moment, a time when the best places in Rosemead and Santa Ana feature house-made charcuterie, house-pickled condiments and hot baguettes that are practically baked to order. Buu-Dien’s delicate sandwiches have deep soul, also a funky liver paste that is pretty irresistible. But K.P.’s Deli in Silver Lake, a spare takeout joint tucked into what looks like the back of a travel agency, is a sandwich shop of a different order: Owner Khuong Pham, who spent years running giant commercial kitchens, also serves banh mi, but supersized to Philadelphia-hoagie proportions, massive portions of shredded chicken, sweetened beef or even tofu, crammed with cilantro, Vietnamese pickled vegetables and plenty of sliced chiles into muscular, crusty baguettes. It must be the culmination of a trencherman’s dream, banh mi as robust as a meatball hero; and although the sandwiches are about triple the price of their suave Rosemead brethren, it must be noted that most of them are still $6 or $7 a shot — even the mighty, charcuterie-stuffed banh mi dac biet, which K.P.’s has inelegantly dubbed the Kold Kut. 2616 Hyperion Ave., Silver Lake, (323) 913-1818. Mon.–Fri. 11 a.m.–8 p.m., Sat. 11 a.m.–6 p.m. No alcohol. Takeout. Parking lot. AE, D, MC, V. Vietnamese. JG ¢b
LA99 Brasserie Vert. Wolfgang Puck’s restaurant in the Hollywood & Highland complex may not have much in common with a brasserie, is as restrained-looking as a corporate canteen, and isn’t even green. But Vert is a useful restaurant, a Hollywood bastion of mussels and fries, the Provençal pizza called pissaladiere, steak frites with vivid-yellow béarnaise sauce, and a delicious sole grenobloise with tiny croutons and bits of lemon pulp. Drop in for a Green Bellini, a platter of fritto misto and a shot at the best desserts in Hollywood — the apple tart is formidable. 6801 Hollywood Blvd., Suite 411, Hollywood, (323) 491-1300. Mon.–Fri. 11:30 a.m.–10 p.m., Sat.–Sun. noon–10 p.m. Full bar. Takeout. Lot parking. AE, D, DC, MC, V. French/Italian. JG $$
LA99 The Hungry Cat. The Hungry Cat is the restaurant a lot of us in Los Angeles have been waiting for, a local answer to Swan Oyster Depot in San Francisco or New York’s Pearl Oyster Bar, a place to drop into for a dozen oysters or a bowl of shrimp, a boiled crab or a bowl of chowder. The wine list is tiny, but includes a ton of obscure seafood-friendly wines — Picpoul de Pinet, anyone? — and everything is available by the glass. The crab cake, more crab than cake, is tasty if modestly portioned, made from what the establishment claims is a 100-year-old Baltimore recipe. The primary object of desire here is the lobster roll, an abstracted rendition of the New England beach-shack standard transformed into a split, crisp, rectangular object about the size of a Twinkie. In Cape Porpoise, the $22 it costs would buy you a lobster the size of a small pony. But we are in Hollywood, where the next acceptable lobster roll may be 2,800 miles away. 1535 N. Vine St., Hollywood, (323) 462-2155, www.thehungrycat.com. Mon.–Fri. 5:30 p.m.–mid., Sat. 3 p.m.–mid., Sun. 5:30–11 p.m. Beer and wine. Validated parking. AE, MC, V. Seafood. JG $$Â