Downtown Los Angeles
Pho 97 The perfect breakfast is hard to find. Soul food is too fattening, diner food too bland, Japanese pickles just too weird before noon. If you like noodles, you might think Pho 79 serves the perfect breakfast, light, tasty and just exotic enough, inexpensive and filled with vitamins: beef soup. The strong, dark-roasted coffee, dripped at table in individual stainless-steel French filters, is among the best I’ve had anywhere. And in an area — Chinatown — thick with Vietnamese noodle shops, Pho 79 serves the best noodles. 727 N. Broadway, Suite 120, Chinatown, (213) 625-7026. Lunch and dinner daily 8:30 a.m.-6:30 p.m. Beer. Validated parking. Cash only. Food for two, $7-$10. Vietnamese. JG ¢
Suehiro One of the oldest late-night dives in Little Tokyo and still one of the best, Suehiro is a splendid place to drop in after an opening for a teriyaki combination, a bowl of tofu with grated ginger, a plate of Japanese curry rice or an order of yakisoba, fried noodles that are always a little greasy, a little intense, and wholly satisfying, especially if you dose them with a lot of the dried-seaweed condiment. Shelves by the entrance are well-stocked with sauce-spotted copies of Japanese-language manga comics, and expats can’t stay away from the mackerel, the donburi or the oily, magnificent salt-grilled whole sanma pike. 337 E. First St., Little Tokyo, (213) 626-9132. Open daily 11 a.m.-1 a.m. Beer and wine. Takeout. Street parking. AE, MC, V. Japanese. 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. JG $b?
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 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. Beer, wine. Takeout. Lot parking. AE, D, MC, V. $6-$18. Vietnamese. JG $b[
Vermont Anchoring the commercial corridor of Vermont Avenue north of Sunset, Vermont (always lowercase) is like a stalwart, 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. Plus, the stylish bar is one of the neighborhood’s few upscale spots for cocktails. 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 $
Cha Cha Cha It is hard to imagine a better brunch than Sunday mornings at the original Cha Cha Cha: strong coffee, suave tropical music and the pan-Caribbean cooking of Toribio Prado, who can rightly claim to be the first Nuevo Latino Caribbean–food chef in Los Angeles. The noise and the sceniness can be a little much at dinner (although the corn chowder is formidable), but on Sunday morning, when locals vastly outnumber screaming Corona bibbers, the buzz is exactly right. And the chilaquiles are the best in town. 656 N. Virgil Ave., L.A., (323) 664-7723. Mon.-Thurs. 9 a.m.-10 p.m., Fri. 9 a.m.-11 p.m., Sat. 8 a.m.-11 p.m., Sun. 8 a.m.-11 p.m. Beer and wine. Takeout. Lot parking. AE, D, MC, V. Entrées $20-$30. Caribbean. JG $$b?