99 Things to Eat in L.A. Before You Die 

Fugu to foie gras, pizza to panuchos

Friday, Feb 26 2010

Page 2 of 17

One Tito's taco is perhaps an underwhelming artifact: meat, lettuce and shredded cheese if you pay for it, forlorn in its prefab shell. A box of 22, on the other hand, is a Westside childhood writ large, unimaginable abundance, shredded animal flavored mostly of itself, rich and weighty and comforting. Purists who have just learned the difference between buche and tripas often disdain Tito's Tacos, imagining it as somehow "inauthentic." And I suppose it is inauthentic if you're comparing it to what may be available in outer Quintana Roo, although certain styles of taco-making in Durango are interestingly similar. What Tito's Tacos provides, 500 calories at a time, is the plain, nourishing taste of third-generation Mexican L.A. Tito's Tacos, 11222 Washington Place, Culver City. (310) 391-5780.

Luna Oysters

Even palates trained on Zeeland flats, French belons and Totten Inlet Virginicas can agree: The shellfish from Carlsbad Aquafarm is superb, scallops, mussels and abalone raised in one of those pristine lagoons south of Camp Pendleton, which appear — from the interstate at least — so deserted. Best of all are the Luna oysters: a hint of cucumber, a rush of sweet brine, a bit of crispness. You can find them at the better local oyster bars, places like Anisette Brasserie and BP Oysterette, but if you should find yourself near the Carlsbad stand at the Santa Monica or Hollywood farmers markets, pick up an icy half-dozen to eat on the spot. The cold muscadet is up to you. Santa Monica Farmers Market, Wednesdays and Saturdays at Arizona Ave. & 2nd St.; Hollywood Farmers Market, Sundays at Ivar Ave. & Selma Ave.

Chantilly's Sesame Cream Puffs

Airy, eggy, stuffed to order with blackish, sesame-flavored whipped cream, the puffs at Pâtisserie Chantilly are drizzled with mesquite honey and sprinkled with sweet, caramelized soy powder. Cream puffs like these may be fairly common in the tonier quarters of Tokyo, where South Bay local Keiko Nojima studied her art, but there is nothing in Los Angeles remotely like the exquisite creations she serves at this Japanese-French bakery tucked into a Lomita strip mall. Even if you're not a fan of the genre — far too many Japanese baked goods are squishy, gummy things that look a lot better than they taste — Nojima's cream puffs, even the ones that don't happen to be flavored with sesame, take full command. Pâtisserie Chantilly, 2383 Lomita Blvd., No. 104, Lomita. (310) 257-9454.

Golden Deli's Vietnamese Spring Rolls
click to flip through (10) PHOTO BY ANNE FISHBEIN

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Of all the well-documented marvels of the San Gabriel Valley, perhaps none has inspired as much devotion as the Vietnamese noodle shop Golden Deli, a sticky-table joint with an unmistakable scent: sweet, sharply garlicky, with faint overtones of fish sauce, roasted coffee and burnt spice. Why is everybody waiting outside in the mini-mall when there are identical restaurants within a few minutes' drive? Because Golden Deli has the best cha gio — fried Vietnamese spring rolls — in the observable universe, and its fans will do anything for a crack at the burnished, bubbly deep-fried cylinders. Golden Deli, 815 W. Las Tunas Drive, San Gabriel. (626) 308-0803.

Langer's Hot Pastrami

The idea may have been heretical when Mimi Sheraton first posited it half a lifetime ago, but it is a truth universally acknowledged: Langer's is the Lourdes of Jewish-deli meats, and its smoky, dense pastrami, steamed to exquisite tenderness, cut thickly by hand, sandwiched between slices of crunchy-edged, seeded rye bread, is, as The Michelin Guide is fond of saying, worth a voyage. If your East Coast friends are doubtful, the deli is happy to sell you pastrami in hermetically sealed packaging — now even New Yorkers can discover what pastrami is supposed to taste like. Langer's Delicatessen-Restaurant, 704 S. Alvarado St., L.A. (213) 483-8050.

Cut's Bone-Marrow Flan

Few dishes in the world are more delicious than Fergus Henderson's marrowbones at St. John in London, but the version of the dish served as an appetizer at Cut comes close — marrow extracted from roasted veal bones, whirred with cream and egg yolk, spooned back into the bones and baked until the custard is set. Cut's version, like Henderson's, is served with coarse salt, slices of toasted brioche and a little salad of parsley chopped just enough to tame its weedy overtones. But Cut's marrowbones may be even better, with all the richness, all the flavor, all the slightly transgressive sensation of feasting on a part of the animal that nature has so fiercely guarded but without the charred ends and the charnel-house smell. The preparation tastes like something plucked from the pages of Escoffier but comes straight from Lee Hefter's brain. Cut, 9500 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills. (310) 276-8500.

Little Flower's Sea-Salt Caramels

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