Downtown Los Angeles
?LA99? Mama’s Hot Tamales Café. On weekends, a line of wooden tamale carts runs along the eastern edge of MacArthur Park, each run by a vendor from a different part of Latin America selling his or her particular kind of tamale: banana-leaf-wrapped Oaxacan tamales oozing black mole sauce, wet chicken tamales from Honduras, green-chile tamales from Acapulco, densely sweet little torpedoes from El Salvador and grainy tamales from Michoacán. The driving force behind the vending district is Mama’s Hot Tamales Café, a sprawling, brightly painted complex across the street from the park that provides the kinds of curatorial services and logistical support to the district’s tamale masters and also happens to sell a rotating selection of the handmade tamales in the restaurant itself. 2124 W. Seventh St., L.A., (213) 487-7474. Mon.–Fri. 11 a.m.–3:30 p.m., Sat. 11 a.m.–3:30 p.m. & 5:30–10 p.m., Sun. 9:30 a.m.–3:30 p.m. No alcohol. Coffee bar. Takeout. Validated parking around the corner on Lake Street in the Unified parking lot. AE, MC, V. Breakfast or lunch for two, food only, $7–$14. Mexican. JG ¢b[
El Taurino. Some of the best tacos in town come from the truck that spends its weekends parked behind the downtown Mexican restaurant El Taurino. Inside the truck, a gleaming column of marinated pork al pastor rotates on a great big stick before a simulated shepherd’s fire, as bits of the outside layer of meat caramelize and drip juice. Somebody hacks off a few slivers, slivers you know are meant for your very taco, and rushes to anoint the pork with finely chopped onion, cilantro and a stupendous, dusky hot sauce that perfectly accents the sweetness of the meat. These tacos tend to get eaten before you reach your car. Truck operates on weekends behind 1104 S. Hoover St., dwntwn., (213) 738-9197. JG ¢
?LA99? Tiara. Its giant range hood tricked out to resemble the kind of glittery diadem that Godzilla might wear when he was exploring his feminine side, Tiara, Fred Eric’s new Fashion District restaurant-cum-organic-market, shoots the girly aesthetic up with steroids. Eric is the chef who practically invented the hypereclectic style of the modern Los Angeles restaurant, and the Asian-tinged, pan-Mediterranean menu is painted in 17 shades of farmers’-market salad. I suspect there is not a single peculiar diet or system of culinary belief the kitchen is not prepared to handle. 127 E. Ninth St., dwntwn., (213) 623-3663. Food served Mon.–Fri. 11:30 a.m.–3 p.m. Market open Mon.–Fri. 8 a.m.–5 p.m. Beer, wine, sake and champagne only. Street parking. All major credit cards. California Seasonal. JG $$Â?
TV Café. If you were the kind of artist who mounts big shows at Ace or Gagosian, merits retrospectives at MOCA, or knows the meaning of the term “catalogue raisonné,” you may well sip old Bordeaux among the Grahams and Diebenkorns at Michael’s. If you are the other kind of artist, you probably already know the mammoth vegetarian burritos, serviceable hamburgers and bowls of cocido at this 24-hour entrepôt in the industrial district south of downtown. Are you dissuaded by the noisy Pac-Man machine and the often-questionable clientele? Welcome to L.A. 1777 E. Olympic Blvd., L.A., (213) 624-1155. Open 24 hours, seven days. No alcohol. Takeout. Lot parking. AE, MC, V. Mexican. JG ¢b?
Silver Lake/Los Feliz/Echo Park
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. 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. Beer, wine. Takeout. Lot parking. AE, D, MC, V. $6–$18. Vietnamese. JG $b[
Rambutan Thai. Rambutan is hip enough for designers and artists, romantic enough for dates, and authentic and passionate enough in its cooking for ethnic-food lovers. Many Thai restaurants cater to timid American palates, playing down the chile heat, eschewing the fish sauce, and sweetening dishes. But the Rambutan kitchen refreshingly assumes that its hip Silver Lake clientele has the sophistication and ability to appreciate the full Thai flavors. 2835 Sunset Blvd., Silver Lake, (213) 273-8424. Mon.–Fri. 11:30 a.m.–11 p.m., Sat. noon–mid., Sun. noon–11 p.m. Beer, wine and sake. Lot parking. Entrées $8–$14. AE, MC, V. Thai. MH $ [
Vermont. Anchoring the commercial corridor of Vermont Avenue north of Sunset, Vermont is like a reliable friend. The owners often wander through the dining room, with its palmettos and pillars and gentle lighting, and they always like to chat. You may not be bowled over by anything you eat, but you’ll be back. 1714 N. Vermont Ave., Los Feliz, (323) 661-6163. Lunch Mon.–Fri. 11:30 a.m.–3 p.m. Dinner 5:30–10:30 p.m. (until 11:30 p.m. Fri.–Sat.). Full bar. Parking in rear. AE, MC, V. Entrées $13–$18. California. MH $