By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
BEST MAGIC FINGERS
With the proliferation of massage parlors and day spas in this city, it’s easy to overlook the unassuming Massage Therapy Center on the upper floor of a Sawtelle Boulevard mini mart. That would be a mistake. If your concern is quality massages over fancy environs, you’ve come home. The highly respected staff masseuse therapists are known for meticulous technique; they do everything, from basic Swedish to advanced deep-tissue and shiatsu. (You’d expect nothing less from a place founded by the chairman of the California Massage Therapy Council, the state’s massage certification board.) The atmosphere is clean, inviting, with scented candles burning and just a hint of posh. You slip into a terry robe, enter a dark room, are advised to turn off your cell phone. Soft music plays while your masseuse’s magic fingers knead your troubles away. The center has a $79 monthly “Spa Club” membership, which gets you an hour a month and 10 percent off additional services. Good thing. In these tough times, you’ll want more. 2130 S. Sawtelle Blvd., Suite 207, W.L.A. (310)444-8989, massagenow.com.
BEST MECHANIC FOR A CHANGE
When you are a gal in your late 40s, you’ll do anything to keep your car air-conditioning up and running. You’d be just as happy driving a beat-up Yugo with bicycle tires as long as the interior windows showed a hint of frost. “Freezing” to most people means “barely comfortable” to you. We like our AC set somewhere between “Popsicle” and “Arctic Circle.” So when Mike at Norm’s 76 was summoned to look at my 1998 Jeep Cherokee’s leaking gizmo, he responded like the emergency it was. A few hours later, I drove away several hundred dollars poorer, but who the hell cares? I keep an extra sweater or two on hand for passengers. Over the years and many subsequent returns to see Mike, there’s never been a repair experience that wasn’t pleasant, speedy and even under the always-reasonable estimate. 7979 Sunset Blvd., L.A. (323) 654-8073.
BEST MERCEDES REPAIRS DRY OF TEARS
A used Mercedes can negotiate a pothole like a tank takes a molehill. That’s why you’ll see Benzes serving as taxis on the toughest streets of Africa, Asia and Latin America. Maybe that explains their popularity here. The last-generation Es go for a little more than $20,000. This is for a top-line luxury car with relatively low mileage and a bulletproof motor. The caveat? Dealer service charges will make you weep. Regularly scheduled check-up and oil change? $400. Four-wheel brake job? $1,000. Staying away from the dealer? Priceless. Search Yelp!, Citysearch and other sites and you’ll find that this guy stands out: Enrique J. Rodriguez. His Mr. MB Motors in Tarzana is widely praised for honesty and price. That oil change, for example, will cost less than $100, in most cases. Rodriguez has been working on the three-pointed-star cars from Stuttgart since 1964 and worked at dealerships in Cape Town, South Africa, Beverly Hills and Encino. He knows the cars’ German quirks. 5557-A Reseda Blvd., Tarzana. (818) 708-8086.
BEST HOMEMADE REMEDIES
With an ample supply of “Dragon’s Blood,” “Super Placenta Extract” and “Schizandra Berries,” Herbs of Mexico in Boyle Heights provides enough exotic herbs and extracts to make even MacBeth’s witches scratch their heads. A 32-ounce bottle of “Tonico Cerebral” promises to “optimize” your entire nervous system. An 8-ounce bag of Lavender ($2.60) is promoted as a remedy for cancer. A store manager said that a $35 bottle of “Flor Essence” would treat HIV-AIDS. Sure. Take every claim in the store with a grain of spirulina. And be sure to read the fine print, as it can moderate (or even contradict) the large-type claims made on the label. So what’s to recommend about Herbs of Mexico? If you’re already knowledgeable about herbs — their benefits and limitations — you’ll find a remarkable variety of rare products, often at attractive prices. If you can tune out the implausible claims, Herbs of Mexico is a fascinating museum of nature, meticulously labeled, and preserved in bottles and Baggies. And their Web site, at least, is much more conservative in the claims made for their products. 3903 Whittier Blvd., Boyle Heights. (323) 261-5336, ext. 1011, herbsofmexico.com.
BEST PRIMARY-CARE MECHANIC
If you haven’t recently had the pleasant experience of having a mechanic talk you out of spending more money on car repairs, you are advised to head to Donny Vuong of Far East Auto. A longtime fixture near Dodger Stadium, Donny and his small, bare-bones shop are an antidote to spiraling auto health-care costs in an age when cars have become too complicated to tinker with at home. Donny doesn’t approach your car as a potential gold mine but as a patient returning to the doctor for treatment or a checkup. Many’s the time that customers have frantically come waving car-manual repair schedules, only to hear from Donny that many factory-mandated parts replacements are simply unnecessary. His response to expensive and dire warnings about your car from a chain repair shop (i.e., brake replacements, strut tower “upgrades,” etc.), might be apply a quick, common-sense tightening of a loose vacuum hose or replacement of a coolant tube. What is truly astounding, as our cars have become computers with tires, is that Donny remains a mechanic who will often make those adjustments for free or for only a very small bite out of your wallet. 1289 W. Snset Blvd., Echo Park. (213) 250-1252.