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Where To Eat Now 

Wednesday, Apr 11 2007
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Downtown Los Angeles 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, Suite 130, Chinatown, (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 ¢

Noé In a bland, ultrahotel setting like Noe’s, you might expect the food to be as blandly generic as the nondescript art on the walls. But Robert Gadsby nurtures this sense of dislocation, playing with the inside of your skull in ways that Gerhard Richter or Thomas Pynchon might recognize. Noe is a strange place for a talent to flower, but in this rocky soil, perhaps Gadsby’s food has found its home. 251 S. Olive St. (inside the Omni Hotel), downtown, (213) 356-4100. Sun.–Thurs. 5–10 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 5–11 p.m. Full bar. Takeout. Valet parking. AE, MC, V. Entrées $18–$32. Progressive American With Japanese Aesthetics. JG $$

Silver Lake / Los Feliz / Echo Park Blair’s Blair’s 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. Sun.–Thurs. 5–10 p.m., Fri. 6–11 p.m., Sat. 5–11 p.m. Full bar. Takeout. Street parking. AE, D, MC, V. $16–$32. New American. JG $$

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Tiger Lily Is it a restaurant? Is it a lounge? Is it a place to pose by the bar in a pair of artfully ripped Rogans, nursing a glass of Viognier and a skewer of vegetable shashlik while you wait for prime time at Shag? Will you ever find the actual squid for all the fried batter in the Mangalore calamari? Tiger Lily is the latest in a long, long series of Hollywood small-plates restaurants whose dramatic design perhaps outweighs the cuisine. In this case, a dramatic cavern, lit like a seraglio scene at the L.A. Opera, where it is possible to dine on the amusing snack foods of all Asian nations, from Indian samosas to Sri Lankan vegetarian curry plates; the sleek, approachable, oversweet dishes are what Californians have grown to expect from pan-Asian cuisine. 1739 N. Vermont Ave., Los Feliz, (323) 661-5900. Open daily 5 p.m.–2 a.m. Full bar. Valet parking. All major CC. Asian. JG $$

Hollywood/Melrose/La Brea/FairfaxEl Coyote Many restaurants resemble this place — from the cheap margaritas, to the “Mexican pizza” available in the ever-crowded bar, to the walls decorated with broken mirrors, to the wire-mesh-enclosed patio with its plastic smog-dusted foliage and visiting local sparrows, to the guacamole dinners, to the ersatz tostadas — but I could pick an El Coyote combination plate blindfolded out of 100 others, and most of the regulars could, too. 7312 Beverly Blvd., L.A., (323) 939-2255. Lunch and dinner Sun.–Thurs. 11 a.m.–10 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 11 a.m.–11 p.m. Full bar. Valet parking. Dinner for two, food only, $18–$25. MC, V. Mexican. JG $

 Magnolia Magnolia is the very model of a useful restaurant, open ­after the clubs close but prepared to make you eggs ­Benedict for brunch the next day, suitable both for a first date and an impromptu burger after a movie at the ArcLight, with an outdoor dining room suited to long conversations and an indoor one so loud that conversation is moot. The wine list is short and pleasant. The menu of big salads, hearty pastas, hummus with pita, and pan-seared halibut is probably the sort of thing you could assemble yourself out of ingredients bought from Trader Joe’s, but the kitchen does a pretty good job — and the point is to be out, with music, cocktails and your friends. 6266 1/2 W. Sunset Blvd., Hlywd., (323) 467-0660. Open daily 11 a.m.–2 a.m. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, MC, V. California Contemporary. JG $$

Mid-Wilshire/Koreatown/Central Los Angeles Dino’s Burgers If you are looking for a proper representation of hellfire, the grill at Dino’s Burgers may be as close as you will get, a smoke-belching landscape of fire and ashes, with stacks of chickens ready to be flipped into the blaze like so many unrepentant sinners. A burger stand in the Byzantine-Latino Quarter still owned by founder Demetrios Pantazis, Dino’s is as perpetually crowded as Pink’s after the bars close. The half-chicken plates cost only $4.50 a pop, including fries and tortillas; steak platters with rice, beans and salad run maybe a buck more. There are hamburgers, of course, thin, charred, peppery patties tucked into big, damp buns, cushioned with lettuce and thick tomato slices. The Mexican plate is the kind of Mexican food you would expect to find in a small North Dakota town that doesn’t see many Mexicans, although I am perversely fond of the carne asada. Still, you are going to order the chicken. And the best part of the meal may be the dense stratum of French fries that lies under the chicken like the hot rock beneath the earth’s crust, saturated with the greasy, capsaicin-rich juices of the bird. It may take a week to scrape the residue out from under your fingernails, but it will be worth the crimson shame. 2575 W. Pico Blvd., L.A., (213) 380-3554. Sun. 7 a.m.–11 p.m., Mon.–Thurs. 6 a.m.–11 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 6 a.m.–mid. No alcohol. Takeout. Limited lot parking. Cash only. Dinner for two, food only, $8–$11. JG ¢

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