View more photos in Anne Fishbein's slideshow, "99 Essential Restaurants 2010."
When is a restaurant not a restaurant? It's not a rhetorical question, actually, not this year. I really don't know. Because just as parts of Los Angeles have become familiar, through the miracle of film, as suburban Connecticut, the African jungle, Gotham City and a Korean battlefield circa 1954, to the point that it is impossible to go to the actual DMZ and not be a little disappointed that it doesn't look enough like the Malibu hills, some of the most interesting Los Angeles restaurants at the moment are as illusory as light on a screen.
Glazed pork-belly adobo for lunch? Check your Twitter feed. The truck that serves it may be around the corner or it may be two counties away. The cocktailian whose mezcal drinks you crave shifts venues more often than an NBA team on the road. Restlessness has long been a local characteristic, and we were famous for drive-ins, dine-and-dash hash houses and takeout windows long before the advent of tapas trucks and pedal-powered popsicle carts.
The best enchiladas I've ever tasted were made by a woman whose makeshift stand occasionally pops up around the corner from a more established stand whose location I can never quite figure out. The most celebrated young chef in Los Angeles imports his restaurant into a different kitchen every couple of months, like a soufflé-happy hermit crab inhabiting a new shell. At one of the most popular new places in town, your dinner may be prepared one night by one of the most famous chefs in Mexico; the next by a moonlighting lackey from a place you wouldn't eat at with somebody else's mouth.
Is the restaurant the empty taqueria where the cook watches Lucha Libre between customers, or is it that taqueria's truck out in the parking lot, with lines stretching down the block? Is reality the hamachi with pig's foot that you eat at a famous restaurant, or is it that same hamachi with pig's foot handed over with a smile at a charity benefit buffet?
The mantra of Local, Seasonal, Sustainable, Organic has become so persistent in Los Angeles, and the crush of chefs at the farmers market is so pervasive, that the menus at some restaurants seem almost identical to one another at certain times of the year, and completely different from their own menus in spring. Heraclitus once wrote that it is impossible to step in the same river twice. In Los Angeles, it can be nearly impossible to eat in the same restaurant twice.
This is, I believe, what the economists call creative destruction. And it is not impossible here to experience extremes — restaurants that are born and die in a single evening; restaurants in suburbs so distant that they may as well be theoretical; restaurants so hard to get into that they may not actually exist outside of blogs.
Los Angeles is where the modern restaurant was born, the good, the bad and the ugly of it, and we're too far gone to stop now.
Akasha, perhaps the star of its restaurant-clogged Culver City neighborhood, may push more of the late-oughts hot buttons than even a NRDC supporter could ask. The dining room is a place of recycled wood, hemp and organic cotton; the kitchen's commitment to organic, sustainable, certified, cruelty-free ingredients is renowned. You can enjoy a bowl of quinoa with tofu while your date tears through a pork chop with pureed onions and house-cured bacon. Akasha Richmond, who is both chef and muse here, may be a well-known vegan cook, columnist and TV chef who spent years making sure that Michael Jackson got the right kind of mung beans on tour, but if you'd rather have a burger, grilled albacore with shisito peppers, Cuban roast chicken with black beans or a plate of short ribs instead of a pizza with Weiser Farms eggplant, she makes sure that you are happy, too. Have a salty chocolate peanut bar for dessert. 9543 Culver Blvd., Culver City. (310) 845-1700, akasharestaurant.com. Lunch Mon.-Sat., 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.; dinner Mon.-Thurs., 5:30-9:30 p.m., Fri.-Sat., 5:30-10:30 p.m., Sun., 5-9 p.m. Full bar. Takeout and catering. Bakery. Garage parking. All major CC. Location map here.
Za'atar salad — have you ever had za'atar salad? You can probably find the stuff on any corner in Beirut, but on Alcazar's shaded patio, scented with grilling mullet and hookah smoke, it is a revelation, a fresh herb with the fragrance of thyme but less of its pungency, tossed with a little lemon and oil. When you eat za'atar salad in the heat of an Encino summer, it seems as if the temperature drops 15 or 20 degrees. Newly relocated to its original location from a year or so in Westwood, Alcazar is one of the finest Middle Eastern kitchens in Los Angeles. The cooks reportedly are Egyptian and Lebanese, but the owner, a well-known Armenian crooner who sometimes sings here on weekends, is not above insisting on putting Armenian versions of hummus and the raw-beef dish kibbe nayeh on his menus, to go along with the fried sea bass with fried pita and tahini; stuffed grape leaves; and a dish of sautéed chicken livers with pomegranate that are delicious enough to make you forget you don't necessarily like innards. This is the place to go for superbly crunchy boreg, juicy chicken kebabs, grilled quail and the whole panoply of meze, grilled meats, salads, fish and makdoos. 17239 Ventura Blvd., Encino. (818) 789-0991, al-cazar.com. Open Mon.-Fri., 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. & 5:30-10:30 p.m., Sat., 11:30-2 a.m., Sun., 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m. Full bar. Hookah and cigar lounge. Takeout. Lot parking in rear. All major CC. Location map here.
Angeli's Evan Kleiman is one of the busiest people in Los Angeles food, hosting the Good Food show on KCRW, writing books, emceeing half the city's culinary events and popping up everywhere food policy is being discussed. Scarcely a week goes by at the restaurant when she isn't doing a Slow Food event, turning her kitchen over to a gifted Brazilian cook for Street Food Monday, or curating a many-course regional Italian dinner. Yet Angeli is very much what it was when it opened decades ago, the Los Angeles version of an Italian caffe — not the grand and complicated restaurants you read about in guidebooks, but a place to get a plate of roast chicken, a simple pizza or spaghetti dressed with nothing but a bit of cheese, a few stalks of fresh asparagus or a handful of clams. Angeli crystallized the affinity of Angelenos for this kind of casual Italian cooking. Sometimes there is no place you would rather be than behind a table at Angeli, contemplating a glass of Sangiovese and starting in on some gnocchi in tomato sauce or ravioli with melted butter and sage. 7274 Melrose Ave., L.A. (323) 936-9086, angelicaffe.com. Lunch Tues.-Fri., 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.; dinner Tues.-Thurs. & Sun., 5-10 p.m., Fri.-Sat., 5-11 p.m. Beer and wine. Takeout and delivery. Valet parking. AE, D, MC, V. Location map here.
Charles Rosen's study of music's Classical era includes sections called "Haydn," "Mozart" and "Haydn After the Death of Mozart." If you were writing about the last decade in Los Angeles restaurants, you could probably title chapters "Angelini Osteria," "La Terza" and "Angelini Osteria After the Death of La Terza." Because where osterie in Italy find purpose in the repetition of classic dishes, in menus that may not change for decades, Gino Angelini is by nature a creative chef who likes to mark dishes as his own — he was a star chef in Italy long before he came to California — and when he was creating his signature cuisine at the fancier La Terza, the simpler Osteria food seemed less rustic than unfinished, as if the cooks couldn't be bothered to perform the couple of steps that would take, say, the stewed tripe from passable to spectacular. But the kitchen seems to be on a tear these days — the oxtails, the Saturday porchetta, the pasta e fagioli are first-rate. And the Osteria seems to have become fun for the chef, a place where he can fuel a happy lunch crowd with pasta al limone with basil, and pizza with burrata, serve veal kidneys on Tuesday nights, dish out respectable versions of Roman trattoria classics like spaghetti carbonara and chicken alla diavola. 7313 Beverly Blvd., L.A. (323) 297-0070, angeliniosteria.com. Lunch Tues.-Fri., noon-2:30 p.m.; dinner Tues.-Sun., 5:30-10:30 p.m. Beer and wine. Takeout. Valet parking. All major CC. Location map here.
There may be no restaurant in Hollywood as easy to take for granted as Ammo, which has held down its patch of the postproduction district for years. Everyone even tangentially involved in the industry has dashed through Ammo lunches more times than they remember, and while the restaurant was noted for its commitment to local farms, its wine dinners and its seasonal menus, the cooking itself was often overlooked. But this year, with Daniel Mattern as the chef, a local dude who spent time at Portland's Clarklewis, there is actual excitement at Ammo in the kitchen as well as the pantry: a highly mutable menu of pastas, wild salmon and beautiful pork cooked with whatever you saw in the farmers market that morning (a maven probably could guess the exact week of the year by the look of the spigarello, Mission figs and Fuyu persimmons on her plate). Pastry chef Roxana Julliapat is a master of fruit desserts. 1155 N. Highland Ave., Hlywd. (323) 871-2666, ammocafe.com. Lunch Mon.-Fri., 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.; dinner Mon.-Thurs., 6-10 p.m., Fri.-Sat., 5:30-11 p.m., Sun. 5-9 p.m.; Sunday brunch 10 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Full bar. Valet. All major CC. Location map here.
In its short, happy existence, Animal has become the most influential restaurant in Los Angeles, the one where visiting chefs go when they have time for only one dinner in town, and at the center of the local fixations on pig's belly, pig's ear, pig's heads and pig's tails; monstrously caloric dishes like loco moco and poutine; and above all devotion to bacon, which appears everywhere on the short, seasonal menu, up to and including the chocolate dessert. Chefs Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo, perpetually red-eyed and rarely seen outside each other's company, consider a dish incomplete without a sliver of pancetta, a bit of pork belly or a slab of the bacon they smoke themselves in the kitchen. It's what Time columnist Josh Ozersky calls lardcore.
Animal is probably the first restaurant to raise Boy Food to the level of a genuine cuisine — a farmers market–powered version of Boy Food, but Boy Food nonetheless: fried quail with grits, chicken hearts with lima beans, fried rabbit legs with tomatoes. Chefs have been serving seared foie gras with syrups and compotes for centuries; Animal's version of that is to put it on a sweetened version of the truck stop–standard biscuits and sausage gravy. Animal is small and loud and powered by seasonal organic produce; has a nice list of manly wines available by the bottle, the glass and the half-bottle carafe; and, although it is populated with people who like meat, it is unafraid to serve an unadorned bowl of fruit for dessert ... if only at those times when even bacon isn't enough. 435 N. Fairfax Ave., L.A. (323) 782-9225, animalrestaurant.com. Sun.-Thurs., 6-11 p.m., Fri.-Sat., 6 p.m.-2 a.m. Beer and wine. Street parking. All major CC. Location map here.
When local aficionados get together to discuss serious Mexican restaurants, Babita doesn't always come to mind. Although it preceded the first wave of local cenadurias by several years, and was the first place in town to feature good Mexican wines, Babita is a casual family-run joint in a part of town that has become thoroughly Chinese, a converted house with a few tables in the former living room and kitchen that opens up onto the sidewalk. If you're looking for a cheap, sticky-table Eastside dive, you're in the wrong place: The prices reflect the cost of the ingredients, and a certain percentage of its customers commute here from the Westside. But chef-owner Roberto Berrelleza, who worked as a maitre d' at places like the Brown Derby long before he ever picked up a pan, is a modern master of Mexican cuisine. He is especially gifted at the cuisine of his hometown of Los Mochis, on the Sinaloa coast — on the rare occasions his machaca is on the menu, don't hesitate — and a few of the classic-seeming dishes may have been invented by Berrelleza himself: his salmon-stuffed gueritos chiles in strawberry salsa, his seared halibut with huitlacoche vinaigrette, and his habañero-inflected shrimp Topolobampo, a singularly fiery dish that can take over its victims' bodies like the plague. The oozy, porky version of chiles en nogada, a sweet, festive chile relleno lightened with dried fruit and toasted pecans, is probably the best in a chile-mad town. If you're anywhere near the restaurant in the September-January period in which it is served, you really should drop in. 1823 S. San Gabriel Blvd., San Gabriel. (626) 288-7265. Lunch Tues.-Fri., 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.; dinner Sun. & Tues.-Thurs., 5:30-9 p.m., Fri.-Sat., 5:30-10 p.m. Beer and wine. Takeout. Street parking. All major CC. Location map here.
Beacon: An Asian Café
Several years after it launched the Culver City dining boom, Beacon has settled into a comfortable, steady groove, feeding local studio workers at lunchtime and the neighborhood people after dark, when the high-ceilinged dining room assumes a kind of Hopperesque intimacy. Kazuto Matsusaka has seen decades of L.A. restaurant history from behind his stoves, from the birth of fusion cooking at Chinois in the early 1980s to the first days of the velvet-rope thing at Barfly, playing with Japanese flavors from a position of mastery of the modern California grill, and while you'd probably never find anything like his green-tea soba salad in Tokyo — or the tempura catfish, or the avocado dressed with toasted sesame seeds and minced scallions — the dishes follow classical principles, and they are delicious. Some of our friends treat the restaurant as a delivery system for the giant, dripping teriyaki cheeseburgers Matsusaka serves at lunch, piled with Nueske's bacon. They are easily the equal of the more famous cheeseburgers at Father's Office next door. Matsusaka's hanger steak with wasabi is so successful, the searing tang of the horseradish interacting so well with the tart, carbonized flavor of grilled meat, that the invention seems almost inevitable, as art always should. 3280 Helms Ave., L.A. (310) 838-7500, beacon-la.com. Lunch Mon.-Sat. 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m., dinner Tues.-Wed. and Sun. 5:30-9 p.m., Thurs.-Sat. 5:30-10 p.m. Beer and wine. Lot parking. All major CC. Lunch for two, food only, $18-$35. Dinner for two, $30-$60. Location map here.
The best barbecue, it is sometimes said, comes from the smokers and the rigs that cruise the competitive barbecue circuit, where pride and often a great deal of cash depend on the ability to produce a perfect plate of ribs. There's nothing wrong with a patinated 50-year-old pit, but you can produce awfully good barbecue without one. But to a regular of such rib shrines as Woody's, J&J and Phillip's, it is still surprising that some of the best barbecue in town issues not from firepits far south of the 10, but from Big Mista's smoke-puffing trailer at a suburban farmers market, around the corner from the kale and winter squash. Brisket! Pig candy! Burnt ends! E-mail a couple of days in advance if you plan to pick up more than an order or two — the pig candy and the brisket sell out in a flash. Sun. at the Atwater farmers market, 10 a.m.-2 p.m.; Tues. and Sat. at the Torrance farmers market, 8 a.m.-1 p.m.; Thurs. at the El Segundo farmers market, 3-7 p.m.; Fri. at the Echo Park farmers market, 3-7 p.m. Menus, hours and pre-ordering information at bigmista.com.
Laurent Quenioux has long been the most mysterious of L.A.'s first-rank chefs, a madman at the range whose idea of French cooking expands to include ant eggs, sea urchin oatmeal, foie gras tostadas and eel sliders. He uses duck hearts the way some chefs use parsley. His cassoulet, served for some perverse reason only on Tuesdays, is the real thing: creamy tarbais beans walloped with garlic, garnished with first-quality housemade duck confit, braised pork belly and Toulouse sausage. He puts bone marrow in his macaroni and cheese — writing this, I am suddenly getting very hungry. Like any good Frenchman, his fancy turns toward game when the weather gets cold, and Quenioux may be at his best with game: partridge and grouse, but especially the strong, dark meat of wild boar, with its divine stink of the woods in fall. Almost everything on the menu at Bistro LQ can be ordered in half-portions, which are plated with an elegance belying a $7 price tag, and the short, obscure but exquisite wine list includes some bottles at less than their retail price. 8009 Beverly Blvd., L.A. (323) 951-1088, bistrolq.com. Tues.-Thurs., 6-9:30 p.m., Fri.-Sat., 6-10:30 p.m.; cheese cart and dessert until 11:30 p.m. Beer and wine. Street parking. All major CC. Location map here.
Bludso's is what all of us imagine a Los Angeles barbecue joint should be: a bright storefront furnished with a few newspaper clippings and a handful of stools, a crowd that looks like a perfect cross-section of Compton, and a next-door dining room that doubles as a church on Sundays. What Bludso's serves is Texas barbecue, which is to say thick hunks of cow, cooked long and slow, ringed with a deep, ruddy stain where the vapors of the pit have penetrated deep into the muscle. If the fires are burning high and you turn up at the right time of day, the brisket at Bludso's can be as good as barbecue gets — less meat than a damp vapor you inhale so fast and so unconsciously that you barely remember you were eating meat at all. At Bludso's, the only proper amount of meat is way, way too much. 811 S. Long Beach Blvd., Compton. (310) 637-1342, bludsosbbqandcatering.com. Open Tues.-Thurs., 11 a.m.-8 p.m., Fri.-Sat., 11 a.m.-10 p.m., Sun., 12:30-7 p.m. No alcohol. Limited lot parking. Takeout. Location map here.
After 25 years, a half-million ceviche shots and a million orders of panuchos, Border Grill is beginning to assume a new relevance, as a restaurant that pushed forward the limits of the possible at a time when a night of Mexican food meant three margaritas and the No. 2 dinner, but also as the laboratory of a new kind of cross-cultural expression. Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger are unlikely Mexican heroes, and when Mexican-food purists lament the poor quality of beef used in local taquerias, it is most assuredly not to Border Grill's succulent, garlic-stuffed ribeye that they suggest you turn. But Border Grill is a place of charro beans, of wondrous ceviche, of impeccable roast cabrito, of hot tortillas made to order. And while we may all be inured to Milliken's and Feniger's Mexican cooking by now, they still use their impeccable technique and first-rate ingredients to transform the taco, the tostada and the homely chile relleno. The long, black dining room, an artifact of the late 1980s whose crazily skewed ceiling is still painted with rocket ships and batmen, looks even better now than it did when the place first opened, and the new downtown location, in what was until recently Ciudad, has a great patio. 1445 Fourth St., Santa Monica. (310) 451-1655, bordergrill.com. Sun.-Thurs. 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m., Fri.-Sat. till 11 p.m. Full bar open till mid. Takeout. Street and valet parking. All major CC. Also at 445 S. Figueroa, dwntwn. (213) 486-5171. Lunch daily, 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m.; dinner nightly 5-11 p.m. Full bar. Takeout. Valet parking. All major CC. Location map here.
"Avenue to the Sky," it was once called, a broad, swift thoroughfare rising from the Pasadena business district up to the steep San Gabriel Mountains. Henry Ford himself used to test the engines of his cars against Lake Avenue's steep upper grade. And as near the top as any business in Altadena, tucked in behind an auto parts store, is Bulgarini Gelato, the most improbable ice cream store in California, almost a gelato speakeasy, where the gelati are labeled only in Italian and the best flavors include Florentine chocolate speckled with sea salt and a goat-milk gelato with roasted cacao nibs that could double as a cheese course. The proprietor, soccer-mad Roman expat Leo Bulgarini, has been known to pull his delicious sorbetti from the menus of restaurants that fail to come up to his standards. But the gelateria is a singular, perfect blossom: gelato powerfully flavored with the pistachios he hand-carries back from Bronte, vibrant peach sorbetto, yogurt gelato scented with Tuscan olive oil, and dark, smoky chocolate gelati flavored with orange peel, with fresh hazelnuts or with rum. In the summer, he screens movies on the patio outside his shop, because as everyone knows, nothing goes better with a showing of La Dolce Vita than a dish of Santa Rosa plum sorbet. 749 E. Altadena Drive, Altadena. (626) 791-6174, bulgarinigelato.com. Wed.-Thurs., noon-9 p.m., Fri.-Sat., 11 a.m.-10 p.m., Sun. 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Takeout. Location map here.
It is easy sometimes to sneer at Campanile as an emblem of bourgeois entitlement, as the culinary equivalent of a 7-series BMW or a pair of Tod's, an expensive if slightly dated accessory to the good life. And then you walk into the place for what may be the 50th time and you are struck by its rightness once again: the cheery smell of woodsmoke, the soaring dining room fashioned from the courtyard built by Charlie Chaplin for his child bride, the onionskin glow of properly aged Barbaresco, the state of well-being Campanile wears like a nicely-broken-in shirt. The basic premise of Mark Peel's cuisine here is the perfection of grill-intensive Mediterranean peasant dishes, often in ways that may be incomprehensible to the Mediterranean peasants in question, incorporating the best farmers market ingredients, assembled with chefly skill. No restaurant since has managed to marry populist tendencies with the highest levels of culinary ambition, and no restaurant has introduced even a fraction of the number of wines, from Italy and boutique California, to the American palate. 624 S. La Brea Ave., L.A. (323) 938-1447, campanilerestaurant.com. Lunch Mon.-Fri. noon-2:30 p.m.; dinner Mon.-Wed. 6-10 p.m., Thurs.-Sat. 5:30-11 p.m.; brunch Sunday 9:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. Full bar. Valet parking. All major CC. Location map here.
Casa Bianca, hard as it is to believe, has its detractors, usually ex-New Yorkers incorrectly assuming that the pizza is an inelegant take on the slices they grew up on rather than a brilliant re-creation of Chicago's thin-crusted bar pies. If you show up during prime dinner hours, you are going to wait for a table. There are lots and lots of kids, many of whom are the children and grandchildren of customers who also grew up with the taste of Casa Bianca pizza on their lips. But Casa Bianca, neon sign glowing "Pizza Pie" in nursery pink and blue, whomped with garlic, set with checked tablecloths, is the best neighborhood pizzeria in Los Angeles. Sam Martorana, the soul of the family-run restaurant, recently passed away after more than half a century in the kitchen, but his mandate endures: burnt, chewy, bubbly, pizza, dusted with gritty cornmeal and sliced in the odd manner of Chicago South Side, which is where Martorana learned his trade. The mushrooms are canned, if that sort of thing bothers you, but anybody who orders his pizza topped with anything but homemade sausage or fried eggplant is kind of missing the point. 1650 Colorado Blvd., Eagle Rock. (323) 256-9617, casabiancapizza.com. Tues.-Thurs. 4 p.m.-mid., Fri.-Sat. 4 p.m.-1 a.m. Beer and wine. Takeout. Street parking. Cash only. Location map here.
Is it all about the dong po pork here? Very well then: It's about the dong po pork, a dish beloved by Chinese poets, a shining, burnished square of pork belly braised until it is pudding-soft. Chinese cooking in the San Gabriel Valley still leans toward authenticity more than polish, but Chang's Garden is a rare chef-driven restaurant, serving the elegant Hangzhou-style cooking of chef Henry Chang, although in a fairly spartan dining room. His dish of pork ribs steamed in lotus leaves figures so prominently in Nicole Mones' novel The Last Chinese Chef that it is practically a character of its own. The crisp rolled beef pancakes, the candied lotus root stuffed with sticky rice, the fresh Chinese bacon with chiles and the whitefish fried into seaweed-enhanced beignets, are worthy of volumes of their own. 627 W. Duarte Road, Arcadia. (626) 445-0606. Open daily, 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. MC, V. Beer and wine. Lot parking. Location map here.
When I think of Chaya cuisine, it is hard not to flash back to the late La Petite Chaya in the earliest 1980s, and a tasting dinner, in the rigorous Japanese-French style in vogue at the time, that seemed to include five consecutive courses with buerre blanc. Whatever fusion cooking might be, it has come a long way since then — and the Chaya group has been doing it longer than anyone else in Los Angeles, including the serene Asianized bistro food of Chaya Brasserie. The newly remodeled Chaya Venice, with its small plates and Mediterranean touches, is definitely worth a trip. But Tokyo-chic Chaya Downtown, looking out on the same bank plaza as Drago Centro, is still the Chaya of the moment, a starkly beautiful restaurant decorated with vintage posters and a chandelier that seems to be fashioned from plastic beach detritus. Its raw-fish dishes neatly split the difference between sashimi and crudo, and you'll find grilled octopus with wasabi aioli, pan-seared albacore toro with Meyer lemon and balsamic vinegar, and a paella that channels Valencia by way of Osaka. Still, what we dream about is the Monday-only bento box, a rare combination plate that seems to contain everything best in the kitchen. 525 S. Flower St., dwntwn. (213) 236-9577, thechaya.com. Lunch Mon.-Fri., 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m.; dinner, Mon.- Fri. 5:30-10 p.m., Sat., 5:30-10 p.m. AE, MC, V. Full bar. Validated valet parking. Location map here.
A dinner at Chego, Kogi auteur Roy Choi's rice bowl café, can be like bumbling into a Kyrygyz production of Hamlet: You understand what's going on, more or less, but you never quite know whether the guy in the corner is yelling at you or at Gertrude, or why. If you eat by yourself, look sad and order two desserts, you are entitled to a love letter written by Alice Shin, the great Kogi blogger. You are more likely to find out what the specials are by looking up the Twitter feed on your iPhone than by looking at the menu board. If your experience with rice bowls is limited to what you've had from the drive-through at Yoshinara, you may be befuddled by Choi's weighty, baroque constructions that splice all the flavors of the city into great splooshes of combinatorial DNA — rice with pickled watermelon radish, sautéed ong choy, peanuts, crumbled cotija cheese, a fried egg and a crisp, spurting slab of pork belly rubbed as lovingly with Korean chile paste as a '64 Impala show car has been with lacquer. The Korean/Thai/Chinese/Japanese/Indonesian Chego specialties are complex enough to make the loco moco seem as simple as a waltz. Choi isn't elevating Los Angeles street cuisine to the level of fine dining; he's using the language of fine dining to exalt the food of the street. Pastry chef Beth Kellerhals is something of a marvel, but her desserts sell out fast. Order dessert first. 3300 Overland Ave., W.L.A. (310) 287-0337. Open Tues.-Sat., 6 p.m.-mid., eatchego.com. MC, V. No alcohol. Limited lot parking. Location map here.
It lost its MacArthur Park showcase this year, to the regret of the locals hungry for stuffed balls of gouda and the guys at the Mexican consulate down the block. But at the back of the Mercado La Paloma, sharing table space with a Michoacan loncheria and a Oaxacan ice cream stand, Chichén Itzá is still the most serious Yucatecan restaurant in town, fresh as a marketplace stall in Merida, its menu a living, chile-intensive thesaurus of the citrusy, fragrant, sometimes searing-hot cuisine of the Mayas: panuchos and codzitos, sopa de lima and papadzules, vaporcitos and banana-leaf tamales and a proper cochinito pibil. The Cetena family, who own the restaurant, occasionally mount elaborate dinners of pre-Colombian cuisine. But even during the day, people come for its complex antojitos, its shark casseroles and its occasional specials of baked deer. The first time I ate at Chichén Itzá, I liked the cooking so much that I booked an air ticket to Mercado La Paloma. 3655 S. Grand Ave., dwntwn. (213) 741-1075, chichenitzarestaurant.com. Open daily 8 a.m.-9 p.m. MC, V. Validated parking.
There are fancier Sichuan restaurants now, more specialized Sichuan restaurants, and funkier Sichuan restaurants. A subset of bloggers thinks Chung King is passe. But there is no doubt: Chung King is still the gritty, grungy, pickle-spiked star of the local Sichuan restaurant community, the best source among many for Chinese bacon fried with leeks, for the cold, hacked chicken with chile, for the great, multiflavored beef casseroles that are so spicy they attack the nervous system like a phaser set to "stun." Chung King's brand of Sichuan cooking, sizzling with four or five different kinds of chiles and smacked with the cooling, numbing sensation of Sichuan peppercorns, lies halfway between dentist's-chair Novocain and the last time you could afford a lot of blow. Get the water-boiled fish, get the frog small pot, get the chile-red squishies from the cold case, but don't miss the fried chicken with hot peppers, a knoll of crunchy dark-meat cubes subsumed under a blizzard of dried chiles that are the red of silk pajamas, the red of firecrackers, the red of the Chinese flag. 1000 S. San Gabriel Blvd., San Gabriel. (626) 286-0298. Open daily 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Beer. Takeout. Lot parking. Cash only. Location map here.
Squarely in the tradition of destinations like Brasserie Balzar on Paris' Left Bank, Comme Ça aims to be all things to all people, open early for croissants and coffee and late for oysters and Champagne, serving both a hand-chopped steak tartare and mussels steamed in a killer broth enriched with cream and Pernod, formal entrees like roasted pork chops with apples and sole meuniere and bistro classics like steak-frites and lemony skate Grenobloise with capers and brown butter. The Alsatian tarte flambee, a brasserie classic, is especially good here, a sort of puff-pastry pizza smeared with crème fraiche and sprinkled with cubes of smoky bacon. The brasserie is a few degrees off-kilter, and I think the chef likes it that way, a sleek, theatrically lit restaurant lined with mirrors, halls lined with chalkboards, tables filled with smartly dressed citizens of the local design community. Comme Ça is loud, young and cocktail-driven. Is there good onion soup? A great one, informed but not overwhelmed by its gooey mantle of melted Gruyère. And the cheeseburger, made from the chef's mom's recipe, is often considered the very best in town. 8479 Melrose Ave., W. Hlywd. (323) 782-1178, commecarestaurant.com. Lunch Mon.-Fri. 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m.; dinner nightly 5:30-11 p.m.; brunch Sat.-Sun. 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, MC, V. Location map here.
You are at one of the great high-design restaurants of the world, Tom Cruise is sitting across the room, and the bottle of Napa Cabernet on your table costs more than your first car. A beef sommelier cradles first-quality Japanese beef wrapped in ninja-black cloth, which he unswaddles with the pride of a new father. An enormous lobster is paraded through the room, and you can smell the black truffles in the sabayon from 20 yards away. And what is the amuse-bouche? A knish! But Cut is a study in contradictions, a restaurant whose stark Richard Meier interior suggests less a dining room than a museum of contemporary art, a steakhouse whose strengths lie in things like warm veal-tongue salad and bone-marrow flan rather than in its prime Nebraska beef, in its potato "tarte tatin" rather than cottage fries, its marvelous Austrian reds rather than its California cabs. It's Wolfgang Puck's most glamorous restaurant, but its sensibilities mirror those of Lee Hefter, filtered through the chef Ari Rosenson. And there's that A-5 Kobe steak: richness upon richness, smoke and char and animal dancing across your consciousness like sunlight rippling on a pond. A small ribeye runs more than $150, but as a shared appetizer, it easily feeds four. 9500 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills. (310) 276-8500, wolfgangpuck.com. Mon.-Thurs. 6-10 p.m., Fri.-Sat. 6-11 p.m. Full bar. Valet parking a half-block south of Wilshire on Rodeo Drive. AE, D, MC, V. Location map here.
Cheer up, ramen lovers: This year Daikokuya is only the second or third best ramen parlor in town, a few ticks behind the newcomers from Japan, and maybe even behind the guys that the Torrance branch of the Marukai supermarket sometimes bring in for a weekend or so. And it's fun to watch college kids blow out their stomach linings attempting to finish bowls of Impact 2 noodles at Orochon. Will this make the lines at Daikokuya any shorter? Somehow, I have my doubts. Because at Daikokuya, a cheerfully fake '50s-style Little Tokyo noodle shop where the broth is made from carefully simmered kurobuta pork bones, the noodles have both snap and vigor, and the condiment jars on each table are filled with pure, minced garlic. If you want broth thick enough to walk on, ask for it kotteri style, enriched with extra pork oil. 327 E. First St., dwntwn. (213) 626-1680, daikoku-ten.com. Mon.-Thurs. 11 a.m.-mid., Fri.-Sat. 11 a.m.-1 a.m., Sun. 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Beer and soju. Takeout. Street parking. AE, MC, V. Location map here.
If you frequent the better class of restaurants in the Italian countryside, the old mansions that announce themselves by the sound of your tires crunching on gravel, you are undoubtedly familiar with what I have come to call the prego style of service, by which I mean that the moment you ask for a menu — prego, prego — the waiter decides that he knows just what you want to eat. Unless you are wearing a fanny pack or are allergic to Barolo, that waiter is usually right.
Celestino Drago has been running Italian kitchens in Los Angeles since Reagan's first term, and although his heart lies with game and big meat, his restaurants are best-known for their casual style. Do you want salad and pasta for dinner? Fine. But Drago Centro, carved out of a former bank in a Bunker Hill office plaza, may be Drago's first prego restaurant, the first in the grand Italian style. As in Italy, you are probably best off deferring the major decisions to the captain, who will set your party up with the cured meats and the puffy beignets called gnocco; the langoustine carpaccio; the spaghetti Trapanese and the sausage-stuffed quail. Michael Shearin, the sommelier, is in love with the odd bottles on the bottom third of his list. Drago Centro is a new sort of luxury restaurant, skyscrapers blazing outside the big windows, wine towers reaching to the sky, a grand gesture that seems to be exactly what downtown needs. 525 S. Flower St., dwntwn. (213) 228-8998, dragocentro.com. Open Mon.-Fri., 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m., Mon.-Sat., 5:30-10:30 p.m., Sun., 5-9 p.m. Full bar. Evening valet parking on Figueroa between 5th and 6th streets, includes free shuttle to Staples Center, the Music Center or Nokia Theater. All major CC. Location map here.
El Huarache Azteca
The famous dish at El Huarache Azteca is, of course, the huarache, a flat, concave trough of fried masa the approximate size and shape of a size-12 sandal, mounded with beans and tough, thin shards of grilled steak or chile-red nubs of marinated pork, a layer of shredded lettuce and strata of grated cheese and Mexican-style cultured cream — it's a specialty of Mexico City. If your tastes run that way, you can have your huarache topped with slippery squares of fried pigskin that have been simmered into slippery submission, or with shredded bits of chicken. If you are up to the challenge, you can get it piled high with the cabeza, rich, gelatinous meat from a cow's head cooked down into an ultra-concentrated essence of beef with the consistency of refried beans. Don't miss the burning-hot huitlacoche quesadillas — fried turnovers stuffed with musky, jet-black corn fungus — made on weekends by the stone-faced woman who mans a fry cart outside the entrance. 5225 York Blvd., Highland Park. (323) 478-9572. Open daily, 9 a.m.-10:30 p.m. No alcohol. Street parking, parking lot in back. Takeout. Cash only. Location map here.
Is El Parian a one-dish restaurant? Not technically, but it could be. For decades, the waitresses have asked not if you would like to see a menu, but whether you are in the mood for a full or half order of birria, a bowl of Jalisco-style roast goat in a consommé made from its amplified drippings. Throw in some chopped onions, a handful of cilantro and a dash of vinegary hot sauce, and you're set, even without the thick handmade tortillas and a cold Bohemia or two. At some point, the internet discovered that El Parian made carne asada tacos, too, and the woozy dining room began to pull a crowd of people less interested in goat than in the charbroiled steak. El Parian's carne asada is as formidable as you might expect — the meat is well blackened and peppered with delicious pockets of liquified fat. 1528 W. Pico Blvd., L.A. (213) 386-7361. Tues.-Thurs., 10 a.m.-9 p.m., Fri.-Mon., 9 a.m.-9 p.m. Beer, BYOB. Parking lot. Takeout. Cash only. Location map here.
Like a devotee of a Melanesian cargo cult, scanning the horizon for magical warplanes with payloads of rifles and Spam, I sometimes look through the Asian Wall Street Journal for signs of minor unrest in Hong Kong — nothing big, just enough to persuade a few chefs to move out to Monterey Park. L.A. has no shortage of Chinese restaurants, but we may be a little short of superbly trained Cantonese banquet chefs at the moment, the ones whose way with conpoy and sun-dried abalone can leave you weak in the knees. Until that day, we have Elite, a semi-experimental Hong Kong-style restaurant that serves such oddities as suckling pig with foie gras, prawns with fried oatmeal flakes, and papaya salad with goose webs. The roast squab has skin as delicately crunchy as the Beijing duck at the specialist Duck House across the street; the Shunde-style soup of seafood with minced ham and bits of bitter melon is tautly balanced. And the morning dim sum breakfasts, ordered from menus instead of carts, are worth the inevitable 45-minute wait. 700 S. Atlantic Blvd., Monterey Park. (626) 282-9998, elitechineserestaurant.com. Dim sum Mon.-Fri. 10 a.m.-3 p.m., Sat.-Sun. 9 a.m.-3 p.m.; dinner nightly 5-10 p.m. Beer and wine. Street parking. AE, MC, V. Location map here.
Euro Pane Bakery
Sumi Chang's Euro Pane Bakery is the center of civilized life in Pasadena. It's a place to buy excellent-to-superb scones and baguettes and pains au chocolat, of course, but also the heart of a certain sort of society: the Caltech professors, theology students and writers who worship at the twin altars of caffeine and conversation, a place where you are likely to bump into a revered judge, an expert on toxoplasmosis or the star of the play you saw last night. The cinammon rolls are gooey yet crisp-edged; the croissants magnificent; the natural-starter sourdough is divine. Toss in the homemade granola, the epochal bread pudding, the puff pastry tarts with pears and frangipane, and the gooiest egg-salad sandwich in town, and it's no wonder that Euro Pane's regulars treat the bakery more as a permanent residence than as a café. A second Euro Pane down the street sells pretty much the same things, only made with whole-wheat flour instead of white. Think of it as an alternate universe made of bran. 950 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena. (626) 577-1828. Mon.-Sat. 7 a.m.-5:30 p.m., Sun. till 3 p.m. No alcohol. Street parking. MC, V for orders over $10 only. Also at 345 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena. (626) 844-8804. Location map here.
Occupying what until recently housed Hatfield's, Eva is the creation of Mark Gold (no relation), a veteran of Joachim Splichal's haute-cuisine armies of the night: an intimate bistro friendly to kids and regulars, neither too loud nor too brightly lit, with a gently priced wine list and a market-driven seasonal menu at popular prices. Nobody is going to tell you, unless you ask, that the meats had been cooked under vacuum for many hours to relax the proteins, that somebody schlepped to the farmers market at 7 a.m. to pick out the baby carrots, or that the intricately carved fingerlings come from Weiser, the local god of potatoes, but if you've spent much time in better Los Angeles restaurants, you just know: Gold pays attention to the details. If the idea of linguine with clams reinterpreted as stretchy Japanese soba noodles tossed with sliced garlic, littlenecks and a generous handful of chunky bacon sounds good — and it should — you're probably in the right place. Sundays see epic family dinners, multicourse feasts that may include a Caesar salad, a plate of chicken piccata, a few ears of roasted corn, braised short ribs and a selection of doughnuts, imported from Bob's Donuts around the corner, for dessert. 7458 Beverly Blvd., L.A. (323) 634-0700, evarestaurant.com. Lunch, Tues.-Fri., 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m., dinner, Tues.-Thurs., 5:30-10 p.m., Fri.-Sat., 5:30-11 p.m.; Sunday family dinner 3-9:30 p.m. AE, D, MC, V. Full bar. Valet parking. Location map here.
When Sang Yoon, a former Michael's chef, took over the Santa Monica beer bar Father's Office a decade ago, people (including me, I admit) were horrified by his formula of small plates, extreme beers, fights for tables that resembled rugby scrums, a refusal to admit children, and a flat insistence that the food be served without emendations or alterations, even if you would rather eat fried yak kidney than a burger frosted with blue cheese. I joked about strapping a bottle of Heinz ketchup to my thigh. But that cheeseburger ended up being the most imitated dish in Los Angeles: dry-aged beef on a French roll, dressed with onion jam, Gruyère and Maytag blue cheeses, smoky bacon, arugula and a tomato compote. And the most interesting restaurants opening this year have at least a bit of Father's Office in their DNA; F.O. was nothing if not the original L.A. gastropub, right down to the tapas. At both the Montana original and the larger bar in the Helms complex, dining is very much a full-contact sport. 1018 Montana Ave., Santa Monica. (310) 393-BEER, fathersoffice.com. Food served Mon.-Wed. 5-10 p.m., Thurs. 5-11 p.m., Fri. 4-11 p.m., Sat. 3-11 p.m., Sun. 3-10 p.m. 21 and over only. Beer and wine. Takeout. Difficult street parking. AE, M, V. Also at 3229 Helms Ave., Culver City. (310) 815-9820. Kitchen open Mon.-Thurs., 5-11 p.m., Fri.-Sat., noon-mid.; Sunday, noon-10 p.m. Amex, MC, V. Full bar. Lot parking. Patio. Nobody under 21 admitted. Location maps here: Santa Monica and Culver City.
The first thing you'll want to know about Fig is that it serves bacon-wrapped bacon, which is a warning shot fired over the heaving bow of S.S. Food. Fig, the lobby-level bistro in the Fairmont Miramar hotel, occupies a dining room that looks as if it could double as a cocktail bar, and is governed by the rhythms of the Santa Monica Farmers Market. There is not just butter with your bread at Fig, but army-green arugula butter; not just steamed potatoes with the grilled-tuna nicoise, but peewee Weiser Farms potatoes. Small print running along the bottom of the menu, where the news ticker would be on CNN, lists not only produce just coming into season and produce in peak season, but also produce coming soon, so that during a January cold snap, you can take comfort in the strawberries and green peas yet to come. The menu of L.A. native Ray Garcia is mostly in the straightforward, French-tinged, organic-casual style we have come to associate with dining on the Westside, with nods toward both the big-meat guys and the Gaia-worshipping yoga folk. But Garcia's cooking seems to carry within it more than a bit of aggression, and if I were a culinary therapist rather than a critic, I might take the slug of bacon in the "scorched" Brussels sprouts or the presence of tooth-cracking pig's ear in the frisee salad to be subtle cries for help. In the Fairmont Miramar Hotel, 101 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica. (310) 319-3111, figsantamonica.com. Lunch, Mon.-Sat., 11 a.m.-2 p.m.; dinner Tues.-Sat., 5-10 p.m.; Sunday brunch 11 a.m.-2 p.m. All major credit cards accepted. Full bar. Validated valet parking. Location map here.
Iranian restaurants, as any Persian is quick to tell you, completely miss the point of the cuisine. Iranian cooking is all about the intricate balance between fruit and spice, delicate breads, complex desserts and lovingly tended stews. Restaurants are for kebabs and rice. And while the stretch of Westwood Boulevard sometimes called Tehrangeles is lined with kebab restaurants, each of them serving decent polo and koobideh and tah dig, the soul of the cuisine lies at home. Yet it is hard to stay away from the shiny clay sphere at Flame's heart: the fiery tanor oven that issues smoking-hot flatbread almost continuously. Much of the produce is organic at Flame, and the meat is sustainably sourced. You will find the usual bowls of yogurt-based white-garlic dip, the vinegary Iranian pickles called torshi, and a few of the usual homestyle stews — the pomegranate-walnut concoction called fesenjon, the vegetable/salted lime stew gormeh sabzi, and the tomatoey split peas called ghemeh. But as long as you're eating kebabs, you might as well have good ones, so saddle up a rack of lamb, a shish kebab or a skewer of ground, grilled chicken, if only so you will have something to put on the enormous drifts of rice. Even at lunch, the customers tend to be better-dressed than they are anywhere this side of Spago and the Grill. 1442 Westwood Blvd., Wstwd. (310) 470-3399, flamepersiancuisine.com. Open daily 11:30 a.m.-10:30 p.m. No alcohol. Street parking. AE, MC, V. Location map here.
Forage was conceived, it seems, as a cross between a kitchen and an agora, the kind of place where a neighbor could bring in a few pounds of Florence fennel she'd grown and trade them for a couple of scones. And although the county put a stop to the practice — there are rules even for micro-scale urban farmers, it turns out — the restaurant still relies on what it calls its Home Growers Circle, whose certification the restaurant helped secure. Forage is an informal neighborhood canteen, an anti-restaurant, basically a big, stainless-steel serving counter and a long dining room narrow enough that you can touch both walls at once, populated with exactly the sort of Silverlakistas whom you might expect to be excited about consuming the produce of each others' backyards. If there is anyone here not talking about bands, websites, or websites run by bands, I still haven't met them.
Chef Jason Kim is an alumnus of the highbrow kitchen at Lucques, but the vibe here is of a first-class potluck, a motley, exquisitely seasonal collection of vegetable preparations having little to do with one another save freshness and the mark of a conscious omnivore; intrinsic veganism expanded to include ricotta cheese and the occasional slab of organic pork belly. It is fun to imagine the place as the hub of a great agricultural region, and almost as fun to imagine a forager leaping from backyard herb garden to backyard herb garden like the mesclun-gathering equivalent of the swimmer in the Cheever story. Every café serves food; what Forage offers is a new way to look at the Los Angeles dream. 3823 Sunset Blvd., Silver Lake. (323) 663-6885, foragela.com. Open Tues.-Sat., 11 a.m.-3 p.m., 5:30-9:30 p.m. Sunday brunch, 10 a.m.-3 p.m. MC, V. BYOB. Lot parking. Takeout. Location map here.
If you have been to enough Shanghai-style restaurants, you probably could navigate your way through the Giang Nan menu by heart: braised crab with rice cake, lion's-head meatballs, preserved vegetables with bean-curd sheets, fried spare ribs crusted with garlic and sweet, caramelized soy. The chef uses salted duck-egg yolk the way an Italian might use Parmesan cheese, including grated over a cold soybean timbale that has the eerie, chunky appearance of Soylent Green. The house specialty is probably a sweet dessert soup made with slippery sticky-rice balls and house-fermented rice wine. But if you are looking for cooking that smacks you over the head with strong flavors, Giang Nan is perhaps not your ideal restaurant. Even the giant braised pork knuckle, second cousin to the infamous pork pump — defatted, carefully degreased, simmered into sweet submission — comes across as delicate. And what could be better than Giang Nan's version of fried yellow fish with seaweed? The crisp, fragile composition of battered fillets is so tender it makes Mrs. Paul's fish sticks seem as challenging as raw eel liver. 306 N. Garfield Ave., No. A-12, Monterey Park. (626) 573-3421. Lunch Tues.-Sun. 11 a.m.-3 p.m., dinner Tues.-Sun. 5-10 p.m. No alcohol. Takeout. Lot parking. MC, V. Location map here.
We don't want to sound like a relationship columnist or anything, but if you happen to be on a third date with someone you like, and you happen to be on the Westside, and you happen to have just had a great cocktail at Copa d'Oro or someplace, the patio at Gjelina, out back around the firepit, among the cable TV stars, is probably a pretty good place to close. There are rustic French wines if you're leaning that way and IPAs on tap if you're not; a decent Piemontese steak and superthin pizzas topped with things like beet greens and taleggio; and roasted hen of the woods mushrooms on toast. The market fixations are as extreme as they are at Rustic Canyon or Wilshire, but nobody is going to lecture you about the terroir of the romanesco or the provenance of the black lentils. The chef, Travis Lett, is handsome enough to freelance as a model, but he tends to stay in the kitchen with his wood-roasted sunchokes, braised chickpeas with yogurt and saffron risotto with crab. 1429 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Venice. (310) 450-1429, gjelina.com. Open Mon.-Fri., 11:30 a.m.-mid.; Sat.-Sun., 9 a.m.-mid. Beer and wine. City lot behind restaurant. All major CC. Location map here.
We first discovered Golden Deli a million years ago when we took on the task of eating at every restaurant on San Gabriel's Las Tunas Drive. While most of the rest of them have faded into memory (Wasn't there a German gasthaus around here someplace?), the siren call of its cha gio, the best fried Vietnamese spring rolls in the observable universe, continues to reverberate — usually on Wednesdays, when the restaurant is closed, but that's a different story. Golden Deli may be as iconic as the San Gabriel Mission at this point, a noodle shop whose imitators have spawned imitators, a mini-mall citadel of banh hoi, bun thit and pho so popular that its customers wait up to an hour in the parking lot for a spot at one of the sticky, cramped tables. If you want beer, you'll have to visit one of the competitors down the street. 815 W. Las Tunas Drive, San Gabriel. (626) 308-0803, goldendelirestaurant.com. Mon.-Tues., Thurs. 9:30 a.m.-9 p.m., Fri. 9:30 a.m.-10 p.m., Sat. 9 a.m.-10 p.m., Sun. 9 a.m.-9:30 p.m. No alcohol. Lot parking. All major CC. Entrées: $4.25-$7.95. Location map here.
All restaurants, especially those powered by Scoops gelato and oceans of Craftsman ale, can inspire dissent. At Golden State, the arguments tend to focus on the cheeseburgers: whether they are the very best in this part of Los Angeles, or merely among the top five. The appearance of the cheeseburger in question, a vast, bloody lump of aged Harris Ranch beef and Fiscalini cheddar, tends to put the debate to rest, at least until it's time for another beer. The café's conceit is that everything comes from California, including the beer, which is less about fairy-dusted broccoli sprouts than it is about hot dogs from Let's Be Frank and sausages from Huntington Meats. The beer float is practically a sacrament, a scoop of splendid brown-bread ice cream from the cult gelateria Scoops, moistened gently with Old Rasputin Imperial Stout. Golden State, in the vanguard of the new beer-bar movement, may exist to serve ultrahopped, superboutique suds, but as a new institution in this heavily Jewish area, and a favorite of every kid within miles, what it sells is really evolved chazzerai. 426 N. Fairfax Ave., L.A. (323) 782-8331, thegoldenstatecafe.com. Open Tues.-Sun., noon-10 p.m. Beer and wine. Street parking. MC, V. Sandwiches $9-$10. Location map here.
You can find other Burmese restaurants in Los Angeles now, even some good ones. It has never been easier to lose yourself in a bowl of the garbanzo-flour-thickened catfish chowder moh hing ga. But Golden Triangle, an unexpectedly authentic Asian restaurant in Uptown Whittier, is still the best place in the Southland to experience the exotic cooking of Burma: alive with citrus and ginger and the musk of fermented shrimp paste, nutty with roasted mung beans and toasted coconut, crunchy with peanuts and fried garlic. The ginger salad is enchanting, biting shreds of the rhizome tossed with coconut, fried garlic, fried yellow peas peanuts and sesame seeds, like a dreamy Burmese prototype of a cocktail-party snack. The restaurant specializes in moh hing ga, the biryani-style rice dish called dun buk htaminh, and lap pad thoke, a salad made with pickled tea leaves that have the consistency of stewed collard greens and the caffeine kick of a double espresso. 7011 S. Greenleaf Ave., Whittier. (562) 945-6778. Open daily 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Beer and wine. Street and public lot parking. All major CC. Location map here.
Good Girl Dinette
Tucked into a storefront below an old Masonic lodge, in the pierced navel of the Highland Park art scene, Good Girl Dinette is so groovy that it hurts to think about it sometimes, a queercentric, family-friendly, vegan-tolerant storefront with a menu of Vietnamese-American comfort food. It's run by Diep Tran, who used to work at Blue Hen and whose family owns the Pho 79 chain of Vietnamese noodle shops. The neighborhood is obsessed with her biscuit-topped, curried-chicken pot pie, which tastes like something a homesick emigree might have made in Iowa in 1936.
If you have strong opinions on whether pig's feet should be admitted in a bowl of bun bo hue, this may not be the place for you. The chicken pho will not remind you of your favorite pho ga. The fresh spring rolls are stuffed with tofu instead of grilled pork and shrimp. The beef stew splits the difference between Vietnamese flavors and Depression-era diner cooking. And the best dish here may actually be the spicy fries, topped with the mince of cilantro, fresh chiles and garlic you usually see on Vietnamese-Chinese fried crab or squid. Somehow, this is exactly what this neighborhood, and the times, seem to demand. 110 N. Avenue 56, Highland Park. (323) 257-8980, goodgirlfoods.com. Lunch Sat.-Sun., noon-2 p.m.; dinner Sun. & Tues.-Thurs., 6-10 p.m., Fri.-Sat., 6-11 p.m. No alcohol. Cash only. Starters $4.75-$6.25; main courses $8-$10. Location map here.
The Grill on the Alley
Why, with so many restaurants, would you go to a restaurant whose menu hasn't changed since 1984? At the Grill on the Alley, it's the potatoes, we're telling you, the potatoes — French-fried and baked, hash browns and shoestrings, butter-soaked Lyonnaise potatoes with wisps of onion, and potatoes mashed with garlic, and, best of all, chunky O'Brien potatoes fried with both onions and peppers, which have the most marvelous crust if you ask for them well-done. If a lot of potatoes is never enough, you could supplement your O'Briens with an order of corned beef hash, also well-done, an order that the white-jacketed waiters take down without even rolling their eyes. It is easy to be happy in this dining room, a plutocrats' retreat washed in pale, masculine light. The ribeye is good, the Caesar salad is dependable and the steak tartare is sublime, an ideal companion for a clear, cold gin martini. If you can escape from the Grill without a taste of the essential rice pudding, you are a man, or woman, with more willpower than I. 9560 Dayton Way, Beverly Hills. (310) 276-0615, thegrill.com. Mon.-Thurs., 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m., Fri.-Sat., 11:30 a.m.-10:30 p.m., Sun., 5-9 p.m. Full bar. Takeout. Valet parking; free street parking before 6 p.m. All major CC. $19.75-$43.75 dinner. Location map here.
Twenty years ago, there wasn't a decent plate of mole to be found in Los Angeles. Today, the number of Oaxacan restaurants here trails only that in Mexico City and Oaxaca, and the power behind the boom has undoubtedly been Guelaguetza, the first serious Oaxacan restaurant in town, which expanded from a single tamale cart to something like an empire. With the opening of the tlayuda-slinging spinoff Pal Cabron in the original space, the primary location of Guelaguetza has shifted to a cavernous former banquet hall, complete with a mezcal-stocked bar and a stage for folklorico dances, that serves impeccable versions of Oaxaca's dense banana leaf-wrapped tamales, fluffy memelas and unstuffed enchiladas and enmoladas sprinkled with cheese. Guelaguetza's moles — the minty green mole, rich mole amarillo and the spicy goat barbacoa among them — are to ordinary chile sauces what Joel Robuchon's porcini cappuccino is to Campbell's cream of mushroom soup. The classic mole negro is black as midnight, black as tar, black as Dick Cheney's heart. 3014 W. Olympic Blvd., Mid-City. (213) 427-0608, guelaguetzarestaurante.com. Open Mon.-Fri., 9 a.m.-10 p.m., Sat., 8 a.m.-11 p.m., Sun., 8 a.m.-10 p.m. Full bar. Entertainment. Valet parking. AE, MC, V. Entrées $5.95-$15.95. Location map here.
If you ever visited Citrus, a restaurant that once lay at the heart of California dining, the new Hatfield's, nestled into the former Citrus location, is likely to make you gawk: The dining room has been scrubbed into its former glory, and there is a gravity, a sense of occasion about Hatfield's that never quite existed before it moved from smallish quarters a few blocks to the west. What used to seem quirky — Quinn and Karen Hatfield's unchanging menu of hamachi croque madame, date-crusted lamb and foie gras sautéed in gingerbread crumbs — now reads more like an artistic statement than it does one of chefly stubbornness, inspired by classic nouvelle cuisine but sparked with sharp Asian flavors. On dishes like seared prawns on a sort of Malaysian crab rice, or beef cooked two ways with fresh horseradish and smoked potatoes, or charred Japanese mackerel with dried pineapple and salsa, the pan-cultural touch of Hatfield's is assured. 6703 Melrose Ave., L.A. (323) 935-2977, hatfieldsrestaurant.com. Lunch, Mon.-Fri., 11:45 a.m.-2:15 p.m.; dinner Sun.-Thurs., 6-10 p.m., Fri.-Sat., 6-10:30 p.m. Full bar. All major credit cards. Valet parking. Location map here.
If you wanted to study 2010 Santa Monica, you could do worse than spend a Sunday morning at Huckleberry, observing the passive-aggressive ballet of khakis and Lululemon, the line to get into the line, and the children, dreaming of chocolate eclairs, who scout the goodies in the pastry case. Zoe Nathan, who also does the pastries at Rustic Canyon across the street, is the pastry chef of the moment, a scholar of the fine line between salt and sweet and a master of artfully homey desserts. Customers jostle for tables in front of the serene counterstaff, who have obviously done enough yoga to rise above the petty turmoil of the crowd. At Huckleberry, Tom Hanks and Arnold Schwarzenegger pour their own coffee, just like everybody else. And it is worth a certain amount of trouble to get a crack at Nathan's prosciutto-stuffed croissants, so buttery that they threaten to spurt like a well-constructed chicken Kiev, or her flaky bacon-maple biscuits, her crumbly rustic tarts stuffed with goat cheese or her ultrarich flatbread. Green eggs and ham is reinterpreted as pesto drizzled over sunnyside-up eggs nestled into La Quercia prosciutto on a housemade English muffin, and lunches see fried egg sandwiches, turkey with grapes, and warm braised brisket on ciabatta. Don't miss the fried Jidori chicken served Friday afternoons. 1014 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica. (310) 451-2311, huckleberrycafe.com. Open Tues.-Fri., 8 a.m.-7 p.m., Sat.-Sun., 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Street parking. Takeout and retail bakery. AE, MC, V. Breakfast main dishes $9.50-$14.50; sandwiches $8.50-$13.50. Location map here.
The Hungry Cat
Hollywood, you would imagine, is thick with places to drop into after a movie at the Arclight, slightly edgy places with delicious cocktails, amusing light suppers and music that doesn't make you want to toss the manager's iPod into a trash compactor. And you would be right — Delphine, Café Was and Cleo, not to mention Delancey and Bowery, are all a few steps away. So why is it that nine times out of 10 I end up at the Hungry Cat, sucking back a Greyhound and contemplating the next dozen clams? The Pug Burger — sure, there's the Pug Burger, which is to say a wad of loosely packed organic cow, bleeding profusely through blue cheese into a La Brea Bakery roll. Suzanne Goin and David Lentz's odd restaurant is a fishy, fishy place, home to oysters, chowder, pan-roasted skate, peel-and-eat shrimp, and marinated yellowtail with plums; also to the lobster roll, a buttery, abstracted version of the New England beach-shack standard transformed into a split, crisp, $20-plus sandwich that enrages parsimonious Red Sox fans as much as it delights everybody else. Lentz is from Maryland, which means his fetish object of choice is fried crab cakes, which Hungry Cat not coincidentally serves. 1535 N. Vine St., Hlywd. (323) 462-2155, thehungrycat.com. Mon.-Wed., noon-11 p.m., Thurs.-Sat., noon-mid.; Sunday 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Full bar. Validated parking. AE, MC, V. Location map here.
If we had anything to do with the revised DSM IV, we would add a significant new disorder: the compulsion to write about Jon Hamm on one's blog every Sunday night. Really — I have seen the best minds of my generation destroyed by Mad Men, etc. It makes me miss the simpler days when everybody wrote about their cats on their livejournals instead. But if you're going to plant your subconscious in the early '60s, you might as well eat there, too. And Suzanne Tracht's snazzy steakhouse Jar reads like a blast from the era: Hollywood Regency plus the Birth of the Cool, chefly riffs on the strip steak and the porterhouse, the hash brown and the french fry that occasionally incorporate every last pea tendril and star-anise infusion in the Asian-fusion playbook. Some people we know have never even tried the steak here — the braised pork belly, the glorious pot roast and the duck-fried rice are just too compelling. But the steak is about as good as it gets. 8225 Beverly Blvd., L.A. (323) 655-6566, thejar.com. Dinner daily 5:30-11 p.m., brunch Sun. 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, D, MC, V. Entrées $21-$42. Location map here.
God bless the ramen freaks, the guys whose life is measured in noodle tensility and the fineness of minced naganegi and the number of hours required to boil a bone. And God bless Jinya, a sleekly modern noodle shop, hidden behind a Studio City department store, just a few weeks out of Japan. The ramen? Big, earthen bowls of the house ramen with strong chicken stock and seed-studded chicken meatballs; of greenery-rich vegetable ramen; and of tonkotsu ramen, made from long-boiled pork bones and fortified with generous spoonfuls of pork oil that transform the dish into a flavor bomb. The noodles are long and springy, soaking up broth yet retaining a wheaty integrity. Best of all is an odd, strong-smelling tonkotsu ramen whose pork broth is pumped up with industrial quantities of dashi and dried fish, umami to the power of 10. Can tongues pant? After a few bites, you may feel as if yours had just run a half-marathon without bothering to notify the rest of your head. 11239 Ventura Blvd., Studio City. (818) 980-3977, jinya-la.com/ramen. Open Mon.-Sat., 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. MC, V. No alcohol. Underground lot parking.
JiRaffe is a pleasant space in a bright corner of Santa Monica, all neo-Palladian windows, white tablecloths and rustic Gallic décor. Raphael Lunetta's food tends to be elegant, almost ladylike, with the sort of seasonality you might expect from a serious restaurant located a few hundred yards from the best farmers market in Southern California, and careful, restrained presentations that tend to be inflected with powerful herbs. JiRaffe is a real California bistro, the kind of casual yet slightly formal place the Ivy only pretends to be, and with much better food. In restaurants as in architecture, sometimes less is more. 502 Santa Monica Blvd., Santa Monica. (310) 917-6671, jirafferestaurant.com. Mon., 6-9 p.m., Tues.-Sat., 6-10:30 p.m., closed Sun. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, MC, V. $24-$38. Location map here.
We know a woman who has made it her life's project to work through the typewritten addendum at the back of Jitlada's menu, 208 Southern Thai dishes almost mythical in their obscurity and their fierce chile heat. We wish her well: We can think of nothing more pleasant than revisiting Suthiporn Sungkamee's delicious, foul-smelling yellow curries of fermented bamboo shoots; delicate lemon curries; wild tea leaves cooked down like creamed spinach with bits of gluey-skinned catfish; and beef simmered with pickled buds of Asian cinnamon, even if the curried fish kidneys, which we love, aren't necessarily something you want to eat every day. Jitlada is that rare thing, a Thai restaurant frequented mostly by non-Thais who come not in spite of but specifically because of the difficult, thorny regional dishes. Sungkamee — call him Tui — and his sister Jazz Singsanong introduced Hollywood to the Songkhia-style rice salad; the fried sea bass with homegrown turmeric; and the infamous endorphin bomb khua kling Phat Tha Lung,a beef curry that in its purest form is spicy enough to strip the bark off a log. This is, after all, a restaurant whose walls bear not one but two photographs of the tree that produces sataw, a Southeast Asian vegetable sometimes translated as "stink bean." Will we usually go for the acacia-blossom curry served with a hard-fried Thai omelet over the lard na; and the fried morning-glory salad over the chicken satay? Of course. When you need to show visitors the diversity and wonder still possible in Los Angeles restaurants in 2010, Jitlada is Exhibit A. 5233½ Sunset Blvd., Hlywd. (323) 663-3104, jitladala.com. Mon., 5-10:30 p.m., Tues.-Thurs., 11 a.m.-10:30 p.m., Fri.-Sun., 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Beer and wine. Difficult lot parking. AE, MC, V. Location map here.
Have you encountered Shanxi knife-cut noodles — dao shao mian? Because if you haven't, you should really give them a try — thick, irregular things, frilled on one edge like the gills of an oyster where the noodle tapers to an edge. These noodles, shaved from a log of dough directly into boiling water, were the specialty of the late Dow Shaw, a café hidden behind a Rosemead appliance showroom, and then, until recently, at the renamed Heavy Noodling in Monterey Park. The new JTYH not only resembles Heavy Noodling, it is Heavy Noodling, slightly fancier, but with a full menu of steamed dumplings with leeks, fried dumplings with seafood, and Jing Dong meat pies prepared by the family that had run the late restaurant for so many years. Almost every table sports an order of a Shandong-style beef roll-up that may be familiar to fans of Alhambra's Noodle 101 Express, and the fried bao, ringed by a crunchy, translucent fringe of fried batter, come fragrant and crisp-bottomed from the pan. But you're here for the knife-cut noodles, slithery and plump in lamb broth or pan-fried with seafood, tossed with bean paste and cucumber or served under a thin omelet sizzled with tree ear mushrooms, dried lily buds and pork. The noodles are slippery and dense, nicely chewy but heavy enough to be used as sesame-smeared bondage implements should the need arise. 9425 Valley Blvd., Rosemead. (626) 442-8999. Open Wed.-Mon., 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m. D, MC, V. Beer. Lot parking. Cold appetizers $2.50-$3.50; noodles $4.75-$6.25; dumplings $4.95-$6.95. Location map here.
When wild Alaskan salmon comes into its brief season, there is only one sushi bar you need to keep in mind: Kiriko, where Ken Namba orchestrates a salmon tasting like a great fish sommelier, revealing more diversity of flavor than most chefs can with all the species in the sea. Kiriko may still be the great undiscovered sushi bar in Los Angeles; Kiriko is a secret address that traveling gourmands tend to pass to one another in Japan. Namba's traditional yet creative sashimi surpasses most of what is sold at three times the price. And after years of pulling up to the counter, I am still amazed by his sashimi of Copper River salmon: smoked over smoldering cherry wood, sliced thick, and wrapped around spears of ripe mango. The sashimi is soft and luscious, salty and sweet, penetratingly smoky yet delicate — one of the most magnificent mouthfuls of food imaginable. The sea bream pulled out of Japan's Inland Sea is almost gooey in its extreme freshness, dusted with the zest of a tiny yuzu, served with a tiny dish of salt grated to order from a pink, quartzlike stone. One of the gifts of a great sushi chef is nonchalance. Namba, who looks like he's dancing even as he turns out the food for an entire restaurant, is the Fred Astaire of raw fish. 11301 Olympic Blvd., No. 102, W.L.A. (310) 478-7769, kirikosushi.com. Lunch Tues.-Fri. noon-2:15 p.m.; dinner Tues.-Sun. 6-10 p.m. Beer and wine. Validated parking lot. All major CC. Location map here.
After several years and many gallons of soju devoted to the subject, I have determined that my favorite Korean dish is almost certainly bossam, a combination plate of steamed pork belly, raw oysters, special kimchi, raw garlic and a salty condiment that looks as if it is made by fermenting Sea Monkeys, all of which you wrap into a sort of cabbage-leaf taco. (Bossam restaurants tend also to specialize in jokbal, a truly nasty boiled pig's foot dish, but we can discuss that another time.) If you should find yourself thirsty and in need of a pork belly, you may as well hit up the Koreatown bossam specialist Kobawoo, a polished, respectable destination restaurant with some of the best food in Koreatown at prices almost unbelievably low. The restaurant has a decent version of samgyetang, a soothing chicken-in-the-pot stuffed with ginseng and sticky rice, and those pigs' feet of course, boiled and pressed into a terrine. The seafood pancakes, stuffed with improbable amounts of octopus, are a big draw — the pancakes are ethereal beneath their thin veneer of crunch. And the house bossam is an elegant preparation that like so many other Korean dishes seems almost custom-designed to ease down a bottle of soju. 698 S. Vermont Ave., Koreatown. (213) 389-7300. Mon.-Sun. 11-10 p.m. Valet, lot parking. Location map here.
"It's not worth it," grumbles the internet. "It's not worth it," grumble your friends when they see the length of the line. "It's over," grumble the food mavens, even as they peer down a street clotted with a dozen trucks that copy the formula right down to the sesame seeds. But while the idea of Korean tacos has undoubtedly percolated to Chad by now, and I suspect chef Roy Choi would rather play with the grills in his custom-built Scion than look yet another kimchi quesadilla in the face, it is always worth it to wait in that line, where you will hear some music, make some friends and become part of the living fabric of the city for a while instead of heating up waffles at home. The Kogi truck is a new paradigm of a restaurant, an art-directed, Mexican-style take on Korean street food. Kogi tacos, stuffed with grilled short ribs, spicy pork or marinated tofu, are cheap, unbelievably delicious and unmistakably from Los Angeles, food that makes you feel plugged into the rhythms of Los Angeles. And the regulars keep coming back to try things like Black Jack quesadillas; Kogi dogs; or steamed pork belly wrapped around leaves of dandelion and the Korean herb gaenip. Ask any Korean: Fresh gaenip is the key to happiness. Track current location of trucks at kogibbq.com or twitter.com/kogibbq.com. No alcohol, but often alcohol-adjacent. Takeout only. Cash only. Tacos $2; burritos $5.
If you hear of any real-estate deals in North Hollywood, let us know. Because we'd really like to move a little closer to Krua Thai, a Thai noodle shop whose pad kee mao and boat noodles keep rocking until the wee small hours. "Best Pad Thai in Los Angeles," says the legend on the menu, and in a city where great Thai noodle shops are all that keep some of us going some days, Krua Thai has a pretty fair title to the claim. Krua Thai could be the Thai equivalent of a delicatessen like Canter's: cheerful, fast, popular across ethnic lines and open very, very late. 13130 Sherman Way, N. Hlywd. (818) 759-7998. Daily, 11 a.m.-3:30 a.m. No alcohol. Takeout. Lot parking. All major credit cards accepted. Also at 935 S. Glendora Ave., West Covina. (626) 480-0116. Location map here.
La Casita Mexicana
In some parts of town, you can barely turn around without encountering chefs Jaime Martin del Campo and Ramiro Arvizu, who demonstrate recipes on Univision, open supermarkets and appear on billboards advertising Mexican avocados. They are omnipresent in local chefs' groups and at sustainable-food events, where they often can be seen chatting with Mayor Villaraigosa, and they just opened a small herb shop next to their restaurant. They have the presence in the food pages of La Opinión that, say, Michael Voltaggio does in the L.A. Times, and no local discussion of mole poblano, nopalitos or chilaquiles is complete until they have had their say. The two haunt communal farms, looking for huazontle, hoja santa and nopales as fresh and beautiful as they might be in the Jalisco villages they grew up in. When the Bell payroll scandal broke, I suspect, half the reporters covered the story mostly as an excuse to go to La Casita Mexicana for lunch. But mostly there is the cooking: a half-dozen different kinds of chilaquiles at breakfast, subtle soups, a beautiful purple-corn pozole, delicious enfrijoladas, and an impeccable version of chiles en nogada, the most famous dish of haute Mexican cuisine. There is no alcohol, but ask about the aguas frescas — you may luck into the alfalfa drink, green as envy and flavored with the tiny Mexican limes that grow in Jaime's mom's backyard. 4030 E. Gage Ave., Bell. (323) 773-1898, casitamex.com. Open daily 9 a.m.-10 p.m. AE, M, V. No alcohol. Street parking. Location map here.
I am the first to concede that coffee can be as expressive of terroir as wine, and no one surpasses La Mill in its ability to draw finely etched flavor from beans. It is even exciting when its roasters tease notes of blueberries or tomato soup out of the coffee with the vividness of hazelnuts in great Meursault. But while the cuisine at La Mill, with menus designed by Providence's Michael Cimarusti and Adrian Vasquez, has always been wonderful, there has always been a hitch — even beyond the Bugaboo-pushing, Pilates-toned, Prius-driving, iPad-toting gentrifiers in the dining room. No matter how happy you may be to encounter a first-rate bowl of Japanese eel over rice, and no matter how eager you may be to taste a siphon of Kenya AA Wanjengi Auction Lot, you may not want to sample them together. This is why it is so splendid that La Mill, after years in the darkness, is finally licensed to sell beer and wine. As you finish off the last bites of a Tasmanian sea-trout carpaccio, eggs en cocotte with fresh Dungeness crabmeat or a $12 ham-and-cheese sandwich, you may agree. The cooking, which verges on molecular gastronomy, is among the most exciting at this price point in Los Angeles, including a hanger steak with an impossibly complicated watercress purée, seared Arctic char with beech mushrooms, and a credible frisee au lardons in a coffee vinaigrette. The desserts — liquid-center lollipops, passionfruit gelee — are basically straight out of the Providence playbook. 1636 Silver Lake Blvd., Silver Lake. (323) 663-4441, lamillcoffee.com. Sun.-Thurs., 7 a.m.-10 p.m., Fri.-Sat., 7 a.m.-11 p.m. Beer, wine and sake. Takeout. Parking lot. AE, MC, V.
It doesn't seem like that long ago that my mother was offered crack practically in front of Langer's, and it also doesn't seem like it was that long ago that the notion that the delicatessen served the best pastrami sandwich in Los Angeles, not to mention the rest of the country, was brushed off as a bit of bravado. Within the deli itself, you wait for a table with customers speaking every language but Yiddish. But Langer's has finally become the institution it deserved to be all along: patronized by big shots, home to a radio show, beloved by the national food press, occupying a corner renamed Langer's Square. It has become common knowledge that the late Al Langer was among the last of the great deli men, a guy who traced the contours of a properly steamed pastrami the way a great sushi chef does a fresh yellowtail. His son Norm Langer maintains the legacy — a lesser mensch would long ago have moved the shop to Thousand Oaks. And bite into a Langer's pastrami sandwich: thick slices of hand-sliced beef, glistening with peppery fat, as dense and as smoky as Texas barbecue; thick-cut seeded corn rye, hot, crisp-crusted and soft inside, with a slightly sour tang that helps tame the richness of the meat; a dab of yellow mustard as important to the whole as a sushi master's wasabi. The fact is inescapable: Langer's serves the best pastrami sandwich in America. 704 S. Alvarado St., L.A. (213) 483-8050, langersdeli.com. Mon.-Sat. 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Beer and wine. Curbside service (call ahead). Validated lot parking (on corner of Westlake Ave. and Seventh St.). MC, V. Location map here.
You could probably club a man to death with the big smothered pork chop, but as a rule you are not going to see gigantic portions at Larkin's. Vegans will find more to eat than they may expect to at a soul food restaurant — you can even get the mac 'n' cheese with soy — and there is a bit of mint in the sweet tea. Southern food purists, and there are a lot of them, love to gripe about this modern juke joint, owned by chef Larkin Mackey, a shy, slender man who rarely leaves the kitchen, and the restaurant's constituency is probably less African-American than LGBT. But every dish on the menu is probably somebody's best recipe: The tart, creamy potato salad is credited to Aunt Carolyn; the ground-beef-intensive chile verde to the chef's grandpa; the caramelly-tasting banana pudding to Mama. And one thing is beyond argument: Mackey's fried chicken, tender-crusted and juicy, golden and singing with the taste of clean oil, is really, really good. 1496 Colorado Blvd., Eagle Rock. (323) 254-0934, larkinsjoint.com. Wed.-Sun., 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m.; brunch Sat.-Sun., 11 a.m.-3 p.m. No alcohol. Limited lot parking. AE, MC, V. Location map here.
Lazy Ox Canteen
If you are a man who enjoys a little Black Sabbath with his dinner, the Lazy Ox Canteen may be just the place for you, a new downtown restaurant where dinner may start with "Paranoid," end with "Iron Man," and include two dozen stoner classics in between. This is the sound track of a certain kind of male-oriented kitchen, but one that rarely leaks out into the dining room, where you are still probably hearing the greatest hits of Sade. The Lazy Ox has an open kitchen ∏ flames leaping, Le Creuset arranged on shelves, dudes whanging pans — which means that if the chef wants to listen to Sabbath, you're going to listen to it, too.
Like the best new restaurants at the moment, Lazy Ox is tinged with aggression, in this case served up by Joseph Centeno, a young Texas-born chef with all the prerequisites for stardom: a sweet smile, a working command of Mediterranean, izakaya Japanese and several Latin American cuisines, and a signature snack, the bäco, which is something like a cross between a flatbread and a taco. Centeno's vigorous, imaginative and not-quite-polished cooking is the sort of thing you want to dive into: flavors from a dozen food cultures ramming into and across and through each other, until a culinary Higgs Particle either comes into being or it doesn't. Is that Foghat blasting from the speakers? Are the tangerine-garnished fried baby pompano really as small as nickels? How many variety meats are there scrawled on the chalkboard, and what is a paleron with kumquats? And did I just miss out on the bäco? If you want bäco, which are available only a couple days a week, your job is to find them on the board, and then hope they haven't yet sold out. And you will hunt for bäco, which may or may not include beef, crunchy pork belly, scallions and something like a Catalan romesco sauce. If you manage to land one, it will be a little like bumping into Ozzy Osbourne in the elevator: an encounter you will talk about for weeks. 241 S. San Pedro Ave., Little Tokyo. (213) 626-5299, lazyoxcanteen.com. Lunch daily, 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.; dinner, Sun.-Wed., 5-11 p.m., Thurs.-Sat., 5 p.m.-mid. Beer, wine and sake. Street parking, city parking lots. All major CC. Location map here.
Little Dom's is a young person's idea of an old person's restaurant, all dark wood and dim lights, snappy waitresses and deep booths, a sound track of nonstop Sinatra. The mostly Italian wine list isn't bad, but everybody seems to be drinking highballs; you can get modish goat cheese salads, but the action seems to be with spaghetti and meatballs and the thick steaks. This isn't South Jersey: Chef Brandon Boudet grew up in New Orleans, and Little Dom's seems patterned after the neighborhood joints in that city, grown-up places where short, idiosyncratic menus may lean Italian, French or even Vietnamese, but the local preferences for anise, artichokes and fried seafood poke out where you least expect them. If an appetizer of fried shrimp and artichoke wedges isn't a New Orleans classic, it should be. I admit a grudging admiration for Boudet's unconventional oyster po' boy: fried, freshly shucked mollusks piled onto crunchy toasted focaccia with tomatoes, a crumpled sheet of fried speck and a peppery remoulade. If the little deli next door is open, duck in for a minute. The chocolate sugar sprinkle cookies are not to be believed. 2128 Hillhurst Ave., Los Feliz. (323) 661-0055, littledoms.com. Open daily, 8 a.m.-3 p.m., Sun.-Thurs., 6-11 p.m., Fri.-Sat., 6 p.m.-mid. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, D, DC, MC, V. Dinner appetizers $8-$15; main courses $15-$41; desserts $4-$8. Location map here.
What you should know about Jimmy Shaw is that he is 100 percent chilango, a Mexico City kid who grew up as obsessed with chicharrones and bad tamarind candy as anybody else from the Distrito Federal. And his spare, modern Loteria Grill, levered into a nightlife-district storefront, is if anything a blown-up version of a D.F. lonchería, built around taco-size portions of long-simmered guisos, or stews. The restaurant has a huge tequila selection and a first-rate nopales salad, a rotating selection of aguas frescas (try the cucumber), great chilaquiles and huevos rancheros at breakfast, and an array of soups, enchiladas and stewed meats inspired by Shaw's mentor, Diana Kennedy. Shaw's Mexican-style ice creams are extraordinary, and you would be foolish not to try the example studded with the sweet, curdled-milk cheese known as chongos. It's delicious, it's unique and, after your third tequila, the word chongos seems like the funniest thing in the world. 6627 Hollywood Blvd., Hlywd. (323) 465-2500, loteriagrill.com. Open Sun.-Wed., 9 a.m.-11 p.m., Thurs.-Sat., 9 a.m.-mid. Full bar. Valet parking. All major credit cards accepted. Also at 12050 Ventura Blvd., Studio City. (818) 508-5300; and at Farmers Market, 6333 W 3rd St., Mid-City. (323) 930-2211. Location map here.
Lou Amdur, a connoisseur of diaper-pail Burgundies, oxidative whites and Frappato, a man who talks more passionately about biodynamic wines than anyone who hasn't actually buried a dung-filled animal horn at midnight during a full moon, is the proprietor of Lou, a tiny, wonderful wine bar on the south end of Vine. It's home to both his list of organic country wines and the super-sustainable cuisine of his chef D.J. Olsen, as well as a pretty decent range of artisanal cheeses, the garlic-laced salamis of Seattle's Armandino Batali and house-made rillettes. Lou has a minor specialty in both long-braised meats and tasty vegetarian soups, and the elaborate Monday-night wine dinners revolving around, say, choucroute or the season's first Alaskan halibut should not be missed. Do we ever get past the pig candy, a chewy, crisp, smoky concoction made with Lou's house-cured bacon and a minor tonnage of brown sugar? Sadly, sometimes we do not. 724 N. Vine St., Hlywd. (323) 962-6369, louonvine.com. Mon.-Sat., 6 p.m.-mid. Wine. Lot parking. MC, V. Location map here.
The California-Mediterranean cooking of Suzanne Goin, which is feminine in all the best ways, is profoundly beautiful in its simplicity, and there is satori to be found in every bite of grilled fish, every herb salad, every roasted vegetable. When she's on, Goin teases out the flavor from a tomato with the precision of a sculptor, making textural contrasts dance and playing with bursts of acidity and the resinous flavors of fresh herbs. Lucques, named for a vivid green variety of French olive, is located in Harold Lloyd's old carriage house; it boasts an ultrasleek Barbara Barry design and one of the nicest patios in patio-heavy West Hollywood, but on loud weekend nights the restaurant can sometimes seem as if it is about 90 percent bar. Sunday family dinners are legendary. 8474 Melrose Ave., W. Hlywd. (323) 655-6277, lucques.com. Sunday nights feature three-course prix fixe dinners. Lunch Tues.-Sat., noon-2:30 p.m.; dinner Mon.-Tues., 6-10 p.m., Wed.-Sat., 6-10:30 p.m., Sun., 5-10 p.m. Full bar (limited bar menu available 10 p.m.-mid.). Valet parking. AE, MC, V. Location map here.
LudoBites is a restaurant scarcely imaginable just two or three years ago, a fluid space that exists as an intellectual construct instead of in plaster and tile and chrome. This week, LudoBites occupies a shuttered fine-dining restaurant in Sherman Oaks. Last year it camped in an art gallery, a diner and a bakery. Next year, maybe it will set up in an abandoned tire factory or the Goodyear blimp. Maybe it will set up in your yard.
Ludovic Lefebvre is an insanely gifted chef who rose through the French kitchens of Gagnier, Passard and Meneau, had brilliant runs here at l'Orangerie and Bastide, and spent a year overseeing spaghetti and meatballs in a new Las Vegas restaurant, one of the most successful in the world, where the food took second place to semi-nude girls wrestling in dining-room bathtubs. Most chefs in his position would have found a safe gig in a Four Seasons somewhere, sleepwalking through molecular cuisine for the swells. He, with wife Krissy in the front of the house, created a meta-restaurant that was closer to a DJ gig or a club residency. He tweets the dishes he's working on, which may or may not make the menu. The food press, including Sam Sifton of the New York Times, found him brilliant. His biggest fans, the self-described Ludobitches, come to the restaurant several times a week, like teenagers following the Grateful Dead. When Krissy opened the reservations for LudoBites 6.0, the thousands of would-be diners crashed Open Table. The seats for the run were filled within 20 minutes. It is haute cuisine at popular prices.
If you are lucky enough to land a chair at LudoBites, what do you eat? The easy answer is, everything. If your party is big enough, say four or five, you can order the entire menu. Maybe there will be a chorizo cream with cornichon ice, maybe panna cotta with caviar and caramel, maybe poached and roasted foie gras with rice vinegar and acacia honey, and maybe bruleed mackerel, but quite possibly none of the above. Lefebvre doesn't like repeating dishes much. You'll do just fine. No fixed address or phone. Follow Krissy Lefebvre on Twitter at twitter.com/FrenchChefWife for announcements and cancellations.
Whatever sort of Lebanese restaurant you may be thinking of at the moment, Mantee is the other kind, like a fussy dining room your great-aunt's bridge partner might suggest after her second 7 & 7, and the list of house specialties, which include filet mignon with cherries as well as sliced sujuk topped with fried quail eggs, reads like a catering menu. But Mantee is run by Jonathan Darakjian, whose family owns one of the best-known Armenian restaurants in Beirut, and who cooks as if he still lives there. So while the stuffed grape leaves may be exactly like every other stuffed grape leaf you've ever tasted, the raw, pounded-beef kibbe nayeh has a sinewy presence behind its smoothness, and a dish of baked feta is transformed into something like a pungent Levantine version of a Mexican queso fundido. The su-bourek, a flaky pastry of cheese-stuffed filo, crackles and oozes when you stab it with your fork, which is just what you expect a good bourek to do. And as you'd reasonably expect, Mantee's namesake dish is pretty spectacular: a white-hot gratin dish bubbling with garlic-infused yogurt and a handful of crunchy little beef dumplings shaped like tiny Napoleon hats. The comparison is inexact, but you may be reminded of the sensation, after years of eating polished Chinese dishes in the San Gabriel Valley, of running into the rough, sturdy cooking of a chef freshly arrived from Hunan. 10962 Ventura Blvd., Studio City. (818) 761-6565, ManteeCafe.com. Open Sun., Tues.-Thurs., 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m., Fri.-Sat., 11 a.m.-10 p.m. MC, V. No alcohol. Street parking. Location map here.
I have always aspired to be one of the guys who orders the homestyle daily specials at Marouch, organizing life around Tuesday stuffed eggplant, Wednesday baked kibbe and onion-intensive Friday moujadra. Unlike a lot of the regulars, I have no particular nostalgia for old Beirut, but if I'd grown up with an Armenian grandmother who cooked like Sossy Brady, there is no amount of samka harra that could fill the emptiness in my heart. But instead we go to Marouch for the intensely garlicked tabbouleh salad, the hommos with fool, the baba ganoush suavely tinged with smoke. The falafel, made from scratch, are exemplary, crisp-crusted and practically melting inside. There is crusty, fried Armenian-style sujok sausage, eye-rollingly spiced with cumin, and the tiny, gently spiced links called makanek — pronounced like the Charles Bronson movie — served awash in oil and lemon; the toasted-bread salad fattoush and grilled quail, Turkish coffee and the complicated Lebanese desserts. Year after year, Marouch becomes nothing but better. 4905 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A. (323) 662-9325, marouchrestaurant.com. Tues.-Sat. 11 a.m.-10 p.m., Sun., 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Beer and wine. Lot parking. All major credit cards. Location map here.
Formidable mustachios, women in bright saris gesturing with scraps of dosa, a flatscreen in the corner flashing Bollywood clips — it's a scene out of Cochin, not what you might expect a block or two from the big Culver City studios. Nowhere in California will you find another restaurant specializing in the cooking of Kerala, a strip of southern India shaped by a thousand years of spice trading. And even if you are familiar with other local southern Indian restaurants, a lot of the food may be new to you: saucer-shaped rice-flour pancakes called appam; the complexly spiced fish curry with undernotes of tamarind and garlic; and ven pongal, a peppery concoction of rice lashed with cumin, cashews and ungodly amounts of melted butter. If Mayura happens to be offering its special Kerala-style biryani, order it without question. The fluffiness of the rice and the sharpness of the spicing are superb.
As an Indian restaurant on the Westside, Mayura is a full-service establishment, not serving alcohol but not objecting when you bring your own; offering northern Indian dishes as out of place as sauerbraten would be on an Italian menu; and preparing dull but Halal-compliant plates of chicken tikka and lamb korma but cooking them in a separate kitchen so that vegetarians need not fear the errant bit of flesh in their bisi bele bath. Have another dosa instead. 10406 Venice Blvd., Culver City. (310) 559-9644, mayura-indian-restaurant.com. Open Mon., 5-10 p.m., Tues.-Sun., 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Beer and wine. Takeout, delivery and catering. Lot parking. AE, D, MC, V. Location map here.
Meals by Genet
It just keeps expanding, Little Ethiopia, a stretch of Fairfax dense with restaurants, coffeehouses and markets, maybe the most concentrated Ethiopian neighborhood west of D.C.'s Adams-Morgan district. If you drive down the block in a convertible at the right time of day, the different shades of incense flash past like a psychedelic lightshow for your nose. But as many venues as there are on the street to get Ethiopian food, it still comes down to Meals by Genet, an Ethiopian bistro with the sensibility of a chef, Genet Agonafer, whose flavors cut straight to the soul. The menu is short: a half-dozen stews and Agonafer's delicious version of kitfo, a dish of minced raw beef tossed with warm, spiced butter; also about a million small vegetable dishes that seem to show up with everything. Her famous version of the chicken stew doro wot is jaw-droppingly good, two days in the preparation, vibrating with what must be ginger and black pepper and bishop's weed and clove. 1053 S. Fairfax Ave., Mid-City. (323) 938-9304, mealsbygenet.com. Wed.-Sun., 5:30-10 p.m., Sat.-Sun. 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Beer and wine. Catering. Street parking. MC, V. Location map here.
When Michelin decided to bypass Los Angeles this time around, the most disappointed dude in town was probably Josiah Citrin, owner of two solid rosettes, who probably more than any other chef in town plays straight into the preferences of the guide. Sometimes Mélisse almost seems like a clubhouse for the multistarred, with oceans of caviar, hillocks of foie gras and mountains of truffles; oceans of Champagne; and frequent guest chefs from the ranks of the anointed. Citrin knows what a $105 tasting menu is supposed to look like (with the aforementioned truffles, considerably more), and his followers insist to their deathbeds that Mélisse is the best restaurant in town. 1104 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica. (310) 395-0881, melisse.com. Dinner Tues.-Thurs. 6-9:30 p.m., Fri. 6-10 p.m., Sat. 5:45-10 p.m. Full bar. Valet parking. All major CC.
Peruvian-Asian food is not hard to find here, from the meanest dives all the way up to Nobu, and a lot of the dishes that most people think of as Peruvian — lomo saltado, tallarin noodles and chaufa — turn out to be Asian dishes in disguise. So it may not be a surprise that Mo-Chica, possibly the most influential Peruvian restaurant ever in Los Angeles, has a background in sushi. What is unusual is that the chef in question, Ricardo Zarate, is a Lima native who became well-known preparing Japanese food in London, and worked for several years as the chef of a sushi bar here before opening this place. The ceviche at Mo-Chica is pretty phenomonal, cubes of sashimi-quality tuna in a thick vinegar emulsion sharp with chile, soft and tart and brutally spicy, served with the customary corn and potato. What Zarate is attempting here is professional Peruvian cooking at popular prices, and while the physical space may be just a few rickety tables plunked into a corner of the community-oriented Mercado La Paloma near USC, the crab-enriched potato salad causa is as carefully composed as a three-star appetizer and the stir-fry lomo saltado is made for once with the traditional filet mignon. In Mercado La Paloma, 3655 S. Grand Ave., L.A. (213) 747-2141, mo-chica.com. Open Mon., 11 a.m.-4 p.m. and 6-8 pm., Tues.-Sat., 11 a.m.-4 p.m. and 4-9:45 p.m. No alcohol. Guarded lot parking. MC, V. Location map here.
If you have been lucky enough to score a seat at a beefsteak dinner at Mozza, you know that it's an homage to Chianti's Officina della Bistecca, served at a Friday-only pop-up called Mangiare in Famiglia, in the Scuola di Pizza that serves as an annex to Mozza2Go, which is the retail arm of Osteria Mozza and Pizzeria Mozza next door. The last time you contemplated a setup like that, you probably were looking at either a set of Russian dolls or one of those charts showing interlocking directorships that the Nation likes to run.
Joe Bastianich and Mario Batali, who co-own the restaurant with Nancy Silverton, famously opened Eataly in Manhattan this year, an enormous foodspace serviced by more kitchens and boutiques than a Refosco-sozzled citizen could reasonably be expected to count. The hydra-headed Mozza complex is hardly less complex, oozing down its Melrose block and leaving nothing but smiling, garlic-scented customers in its wake. If it's Monday, do you wait in line for the pizzeria, or do you get takeout from Mozza2Go, knowing that it's the only day they bake focaccia? In the osteria, will it be stuzzichini at the bar, milky snacks from Silverton at the Mozzarella Bar, or a last-minute table way in the back, so remote you half-expect St. Bernards to arrive with kegs of Barolo around their necks? Mozza presents even seasoned observers with a single, overwhelming question: How can I get a reservation? As with Silverton's famous natural-starter bread recipe, if you want to eat Matt Molina's handmade pastas and roasted guinea fowl tonight, it is necessary to have begun the process last month.
Next door at the wonderful but oversubscribed Pizzeria Mozza, Silverton has more or less reinvented the very idea of pizza, airy and burnt and risen around the rim, thin and crisp in the center, neither bready in the traditional Neapolitan manner nor as wispy as you find it in Rome. (Standard disclaimer: Silverton is a family friend. A family friend who happens to make breathtakingly good pizza.) In addition to a full array of Pizzeria Mozza salads, antipasti, lasagne and panini, Mozza 2Go offers a few things not available in the restaurant proper, including a porchetta sandwich that practically explodes with fennel pollen and a flat, round, hot panino stuffed with greens and custom-made stracciatella cheese that is the closest thing to the legendary torta al testo of central Umbria you'll ever find in California. Pizzeria: 641 N. Highland Ave. (323) 297-0101. Osteria: 6602 Melrose Ave., L.A. (323) 297-0100. Daily, noon-10 p.m. 6610 Melrose Ave., L.A. (323) 297-1130, mozza2go.com. Takeout and delivery Tues.-Sun. Location maps here: Pizzeria and Osteria.
Musso & Frank Grill
It's late afternoon. The warm scent of wood smoke spreads across the room. A red-jacketed waiter comes over and pours a clear, cold martini, Hollywood's best, from a pony into a tiny frosted glass, then carefully spoons Welsh rarebit — rich and warm, if a little grainy — from a metal salver onto crustless toast. Here in these worn wooden swivel chairs beneath the ancient hunt-scene wallpaper, this seems very much the perfect gentleman's lunch. The service is solicitous, but mostly leaves you to your own thoughts. You can order coffee and a bread pudding and people-watch for hours during the pre-theater rush. Musso's, the oldest real restaurant in Los Angeles, is an easy place to be happy. 6667 Hollywood Blvd., Hlywd. (323) 467-7788. Tues.-Sat. 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Full bar. Validated parking in rear. AE, DC, MC, V. Location map here.
Nem Nuong Khanh Hoa
Nem nuong is the emblematic dish of the Khanh Hoa region of central Vietnam, a kind of bouncy pork meatball impaled on a skewer, grilled over an open flame, served smoky and sizzling and naked on a plate. Nem Nuong Khanh Hoa isn't much to look at, but the nem nuong is pretty spectacular, served as part of a combination platter, with tiny pork patties grilled in banana leaves, a heap of cha ram tom, crunchy cigarette-size egg rolls, the sour fermented pork lozenges called nem chua, and grilled lemongrass-marinated beef, among other things — all ready to be rolled up in rice paper with vegetables and Vietnamese herbs, in a rhythm you might have picked up backstage at a Burning Spear concert. After half an hour you are happy, full and stinking of garlic. 1700 W. Valley Blvd., Alhambra. (626) 943-7645. Open Wed.-Mon., 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Cash only. No alcohol. Parking lot. Location map here.
Newport Seafood has a lengthy menu, and you're free to riffle through it. It's Southeast Asian-inflected Cantonese food, we think, maybe Chiu Chow, although as far as I can tell, even the owners haven't quite figured it out. Then after you've studied up, you'll order the same things everybody else in the place is eating: Vietnamese-style sautéed beef, fried pea leaves with garlic, salt-and-pepper squid perhaps, and then the epic house-special lobster — a mammoth beast fried with chiles, black pepper and scallion, a dish that will live under your fingernails for weeks. The lobsters, generally 5 to 6 pounds apiece at about $15 per pound, are not cheap, but they feed many. 518 W. Las Tunas Drive, San Gabriel. (626) 289-5998, newportseafood.com. Open Sun.-Thurs., 11:30 a.m.-9:30 p.m., Fri.-Sat., 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Takeout. Beer and wine. Parking lot. All major CC. Location map here.
We can see past the Maple Glaze Bacon Doughnut, really we can. I mean we like it, but we don't like it, like it. OK, that's a lie: We do. Especially when we have a bourbon in our hands, which isn't usually possible, being as the Nickel Diner doesn't have a liquor license. We'd have to smuggle the doughnut into the King Eddy or something, and the doughnut wouldn't last a minute in there. That doughnut is a lovely thing, paved with crushed bacon and glistening with what Dr. Dean Ornish might interpret as pure evil. We're getting paranoid just thinking about it. Anyway, we love the Nickel: untouched 1950s wall mural, floor lamps glued to the ceiling and a menu of the pancakes and fried eggs and overcooked bacon without which there would be rebellion in the streets, not to mention the hash made with spicy pulled pork shoulder instead of canned corned beef. They don't serve hash at the King Eddy — or at the Varnish, for that matter. So if you're around at supper time, stop by the Nickel. The stack of fried catfish with corn pancakes and pecans is worth the trip. 524 S. Main St., dwntwn. (213) 623-8301, nickeldiner.com. Tues.-Sun., 8 a.m.-3:30 p.m., Tues.-Sat., 6-11 p.m. No alcohol. Takeout. Street parking only (or nearby paid lot). MC, V. Location map here.
If Oinkster weren't a diner, it could be the premise of a reality show, a fancy-restaurant chef converting an old burger stand to gleaming midcentury-modern loveliness, and serving streamlined takes on the burgers, pastrami and chicken already emblazoned on the sign. "Slow fast food," proclaims the sign outside: smoky Carolina-style pulled-pork sandwiches, chopped salad and fast-food-style Angus beef hamburgers with sweet house-made catsup. Andre Guerrero roasts chickens on a creaky rotisserie and smokes his own pastrami. Would you be willing to pay a couple dollars extra to experience artisanal soda pop, purplish Fosselman's-based ube milkshakes and other fast food with a chefly edge? Guerrero bets that you are. With all of the above, of course, it is necessary to have an order of Belgian fries, fried twice to leave them light and hot, their fluffy potato essence encased in a stiff, perfectly golden capsule of crunch. 2005 Colorado Blvd., Eagle Rock. (323) 255-OINK, theoinkster.com. Open Sun.-Thurs., 11 a.m.-10 p.m., Fri.-Sat., 11 a.m.-11 p.m. AE, D, MC, V. No alcohol. Takeout. Location map here.
101 Noodle Express
The beef roll — oh yes, the beef roll — a steroidal composition, straight out of Shandong, of fried Chinese pancakes, cilantro and great fistfuls of thinly sliced meat wetted with sweet bean sauce and formed into Chinese burritos the size of softball bats. A proper beef roll may be big enough to feed a family of four, but it's also oddly delicate; it may taste of crisped pastry and clean oil, but also projects the muscular minerality of the braised meat. The specialty of 101 Noodle Express, housed in a narrow storefront, is a wrinkly thing called Dezhou chicken, a slow-cooked bird with the odd skin color of John Boehner. The pumpkin-shrimp dumplings, the cold noodles with cucumber and bean sauce, and the cold Shandong chicken, hacked into random parts and arranged over what seems like equal parts cucumber and garlic, are not sad. But a meal at 101 Noodle without a beef roll is as unthinkable as a lunch at Langer's without pastrami. 1408 E. Valley Blvd. Alhambra. (626) 300-8654. Location map here.
Orris is the great marriage between California casual and the Japanese izakaya, a place to drop in for a beaker of daiginjo sake and a plate or two of smoked scallops garnished with salmon roe, seared tuna with sweet onion marmalade, or even what amounts to lamb sashimi. Its location, convenient to the Nuart and the manga-intensive shopping strip anchored by the Giant Robot complex, couldn't be better, and the small wine list is swell. 2006 Sawtelle Blvd., W.L.A. (310) 268-2212, orrisrestaurant.com. Dinner Tues.-Thurs., 6-9:30 p.m., Fri., 6-10 p.m., Sat. 5:30-10:30 p.m., Sun. 5:30-9 p.m. Beer, wine and sake. Lot parking (valet Wed.-Sat.). AE, D, MC, V. Location map here.
Palate Food + Wine
Does Palate still do its Offal Wednesdays? I think it may have stopped. Because after you cycle through bone marrow with kimchi and fried quail eggs, or brain ravioli with ricotta and sage, or sweetbreads with wild nettles, or split-pea soup with pig's ear croutons, you start to get into the squishy bits that may not go so well with a bottle of old Savigny-les-Beaune. Octavio Becerra, the chef who plays the ringleader of the multifaceted Palate complex, may be loco enough to serve tacos made from goat meat long-simmered in pig fat, but he knows the proper accompaniment is probably a cold can of Tecate.
A relaxed, butter-yellow space in Glendale's car-dealer district, Palate is a fever dream of a restaurant, a dining room flowing into a cocktail lounge, a wine bar, laboratories for curing meats and aging cheeses, and a well-curated wine shop that serves as a venue for some of the world's best DJs on Sunday afternoons. Palate, which occupies the ground floor of a huge wine-storage building, is intensely personal, and an evening there can feel a lot like stopping by a friend's house and having him show you some cool things he just picked up: lamb from the eccentric Sonoma farmer Don Watson; butter churned from scratch; some black-market cardoons. The menu is tiny, and seems even shorter than it looks — Becerra's best dishes are almost deceptively simple, built around an array of precisely seasonal produce. 933 S. Brand Blvd., Glendale. (818) 662-9463, palatefoodwine.com. Mon.-Sat., 5:30-10 p.m., Sun, 5-9 p.m., Fri.-Sat., noon-2:30 p.m. Full bar. Valet (and plentiful street) parking. AE, MC, V. Location map here.
As anybody who has witnessed a brawl outside the Blue House can attest, Koreans tend not to agree about much; contentiousness is as much a part of the national makeup as gritted-teeth harmoniousness is of Japan's. It's kind of what makes the culture so vital. But even with the hundreds of Koreatown restaurants serving barbecue, there is an odd consensus around Park's Barbecue, a palace of meat, all steel and glass, where the waiters resemble members of a martial-arts team more than they do restaurant workers, and the chefs source the meat as obsessively as they do at Spago. Park's Tokyo-X crossbred pork belly may be the best pig in Koreatown at the moment. At more than $30 for an order of sliced Kobe-style beef and nearly that for short ribs, this is the most expensive Korean barbecue in town, although not by as much as you might think. And the restaurant does not hold back on the array of panchan, the little egg pancakes, puréed squash, tiny fish, kimchi, spicy roots, broccoli and a half-dozen other things that are the measure of a Korean restaurant. 955 S. Vermont Ave., Koreatown. (213) 380-1717, parksbbq.com. Sun.-Thurs., 11 a.m.-mid.; Fri.-Sat., 11 a.m.-2 a.m. Beer and soju. AE, MC, V. Valet parking. Location map here.
Do you know why an engineering student might drop out of college to open a restaurant specializing in pho? Neither, it seems, do his parents. But Pho Minh's Eric Lam is something like an artist, and his pho bac is clearly the finest in town, a limpid, full-flavored broth, sprinkled with slivered fresh ginger and fortified with a delicious hunk of meat that looks something like a filet mignon that had just lost a bad razor fight, a delicate broth compelling enough to make the usual add-in seasonings of basil, lime and fresh sliced chiles seem almost unnecessary. The pho dac biet is great, too, although it seems almost vulgar in comparison. This is deeply old-fashioned pho, the stuff that probably was ubiquitous in the north before Saigon pleasure seekers tried to make it fun. 9646 Garvey Ave., #108, South El Monte. (626) 448-8807, phominhvietnameserestaurant.com. Mon-Thurs., 8 a.m.-8 p.m., Fri.-Sun., 8 a.m.-9 p.m. Cash only. No alcohol. Lot parking. Location map here.
The local scene is going through a spasm at the moment, producing lots of chefs who know their way around the farmers market and plenty of lardcore heroes, but relatively few restaurants working within the context of what's come to be known as "fine dining.'' It makes sense in a way: Why would an ambitious chef want to work in a labor-intensive genre with high overhead and low returns, when he (or she) could be cooking the food his friends want to eat? At these times, when we think about pushing the possibilities of food forward, we are thankful for Providence and Michael Cimarusti.
At this point in his career, Cimarusti has the chef thing down cold — poised when he addresses environmental forums and genial on TV, the first chef in town to embrace the new cocktailian movement, and an advocate for the coherence of Los Angeles cuisine. If you've recently come into a small inheritance, a sum invested in Providence's tasting menu will pay higher dividends than it would in the bond market. He changes his seafood-intensive menu more often than Brett Favre changes his mind, but you can expect the Japan-by-way-of-France thing to continue, things like wild salmon with sake and matsutake mushrooms, kanpachi with tiny rice crackers, or Dungeness crab with melon and shiso. The dessert tasting menu of pastry chef Adrian Vasquez is a five-course degustation that is demanding and ambitious enough to command the attention of an entire evening, a universe of puréed avocado and hot cider foam. 5955 Melrose Ave., Hancock Park. (323) 460-4170, providencela.com. Lunch Mon.-Fri., noon-2 p.m.; dinner, Mon.-Fri., 6-10 p.m., Sat., 5:30-10 p.m., Sun., 5:30-9 p.m. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, D, MC, V. Modern American seafood. Location map here.
What Rajdhani's owners like to call Gujarati dim sum might more properly be called a bottomless thali, the cooking of the Indian province overwhelming you with labyrinths of flavor and a profusion of perfumes, a 10-course combination platter constantly refilled in all of its components. After 45 minutes, your plate probably will look exactly the way it did before you started eating, save the odd drip of lentil dal. But when the waitress bearing khandvi — tart, fermented-batter crepes smeared thickly with puréed lentils and coiled into slender jelly rolls — comes around again, you probably will beg for another portion, no matter how full you are. The concept of too much khandvi simply does not exist. 18525 Pioneer Blvd., Artesia. (562) 402-9102. Tues.-Fri., 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m., 6-9 p.m., Sat.-Sun., 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m. Parking garage. All major CC. Location map here.
John Sedlar, it is becoming clear, is something like the Roberto Bolano of Los Angeles cuisine, mind spinning off in a hundred directions at once, leaving trails to follow as well as a body of work to be admired. There are four separate menus at Rivera now, for instance, exploring Latin America, Mexico, Spain and a category that perhaps only he is qualified to parse. One of his dishes, a pre- and post-Colombian gazpacho, attempts to express 500 years of history in a few tasty ounces of soup. He treats his tortillas, with flowers pressed into them as if into a scrapbook, as seriously as he does feijoada or sweetbreads with huacatay, and if you would be pleased to try snails with vinho verde and ham, this is the place for you. One would expect no less from a chef whose blend of French haute cuisine and Southwest flavors once inspired what became known as Modern Southwest Cuisine. And past the open kitchen, past the bar, past a casual-dining area where you can stop for a tapa or three after a game at nearby Staples Center, Sedlar's inner sanctum, a hushed, intimate dining room lined with glowing tequila bottles, is populated with a healthy cross-section of the local Latino power structure. And unlike every other chef working the Latin-fusion groove, when Sedlar prepares something like a banana-leaf tamale with short ribs and exotic mushrooms, he understands that the most important thing is that the tamale itself be first-rate. 1050 S. Flower St., #102, dwntwn. (213) 749-1460, riverarestaurant.com. Lunch Mon.-Fri., 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m.; dinner Mon.-Sat., 5:30-10:30 p.m., Sun., 5:30-10 p.m. Full bar. Valet parking. All major CC. Location map here.
Like so many other restaurants on the Westside, the food at the wine bar Rustic Canyon owes less to the standard bistro playbook than it does to the kind of cooking that French guys don't consider cooking at all: basically a compendium of what happens to be on the farmers market A-list that week, collated with artisanal cheeses, sustainable meats and lovingly handcrafted pastas. As cynics might say, that's not cooking, that's shopping. On the other hand, it is also more or less the strategy followed by places like Lucques and Chez Panisse. And when executed by a chef as skilled as Rustic Canyon's Evan Funke, whose goat cheese tortellone with fresh mint, duck breast with cherries, sliced sunchokes sautéed with garlic are so fine, it seems like the only possible way to eat. His roasted root vegetable shepherd's pie couldn't have been better if it were made with hare or blood sausage rather than roasted turnips and parsnips, and I don't think I have a higher compliment I can pay. Zoe Nathan is the hot young pastry chef in town at the moment, and when you taste her rustic tarts or hot doughnut spheres with stone-ground hot chocolate you will understand why. 1119 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica. (310) 393-7050, rusticcanyonwinebar.com. Open Sun.-Thurs., 5:30-10:30 p.m., Fri.-Sat., 5:30-11:30 p.m. Beer and wine. Valet parking. Location map here.
Salt's Cure — how can one begin to consider Salt's Cure? You could think of it as a rarefied butcher shop specializing in charcuterie, I guess, if one that tends to sell its wares to people sitting at tables in the dining room rather than to people looking for something to bring home for supper. It also could be a meat-intensive bistro with a tiny menu that happens to contain a lot of things like pork rinds, grilled marlin and goat chili with grits. The tiny deli counter is stocked with things like strong lamb-liver pâté and potted duck with blueberries; at weekend brunch, the evanescent grapefruit pie, delicate buckwheat pancakes and tall sticky buns haunt the brunch dreams of West Hollywood.
Although the house-cured corned beef in the weekend hash, the house-made chorizo and the silky house-smoked black cod are of extremely high quality, I can scarcely imagine what Chris Phelps and Zak Walters, recently of Hungry Cat, intend to pass through their curing chambers next. All I can say is that it would be a shame to endure even a single extra day without having experienced Salt's Cure's sweetly smoky bacon. I can't believe I'll have to wait until summer for another BLT. 7494 Santa Monica Blvd., W. Hlywd. (323) 850-SALT, saltscure.com. Lunch Mon.-Fri., 11 a.m.-3 p.m.; dinner 5:30-11 p.m. (closed Tues.); brunch Sat.-Sun., 11 a.m.-3 p.m.; butcher counter Wed.-Mon., 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Location map here.
Sapp Coffee Shop
There may be no end of Thai cafés in the neighborhood claiming to serve the best, the most authentic version of boat noodles, but the homely virtues of Sapp become more apparent by the year. Because Sapp's dense, gamy, blood-thickened broth with its payload of meatballs and sliced organ meats always emerges victorious — even if one of its competitors happens to have blown-up photographs on the wall of its founder selling the version from an actual boat. Sapp may be the best lunchroom in Hollywood, crowded at noon not with revelers but with people who have come to Thai Town to shop and eat the boat noodles, the grilled chicken and the bright-green "jade" noodles tossed with bits of Chinese barbecue. 5183 Hollywood Blvd., Hlywd. (323) 665-1035. 7 a.m.-8:30 p.m. Closed Wed. No alcohol. Takeout. Lot parking. Cash only. Location map here.
The original Spago on Sunset was to New American Cooking what Meet the Beatles was to rock & roll: the one that changed the rules. Designer pizza got its start in that Sunset Strip dining room, as did fusion cooking, the notion of the celebrity chef and the idea that fine dining could be fun. In Wolfgang Puck's glamorous Beverly Hills space, bolstered by imaginative executive chef Lee Hefter and pastry chef Sherry Yard, he's redefined our idea of what Spago might be — and the roasted-beet cake with goat cheese, the pan-roasted cod with chorizo and the 10-spice roast squab are good enough to make you forget the duck-sausage pizza and the chopped vegetable salad that originally made Spago famous. If a tasting menu is within your budget, it's probably the best way to experience what the restaurant can do. 176 N. Cañon Drive, Beverly Hills. (310) 385-0880, wolfgangpuck.com. Lunch Mon.-Thurs., Sat., noon-2:15 p.m., Fri., 11:30 a.m.-2:15 p.m.; dinner Sun.-Fri., 6-10 p.m., Sat., 5:30-11 p.m. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, D, MC, V. Location map here.
It is hard to go wrong with bacon, but Square One, a cheerful, brightly painted breakfast place in the L. Ron Hubbard district of East Hollywood, may have the city's best: Nueske's bacon, the well-regarded artisanal product from northern Wisconsin, sliced thick, laid on a rack and slow-roasted until it becomes crisp but pliable, sweet and deeply smoky, exploding under your teeth into gushers of fragrant juice. Still, even without the bacon, Square One is a pretty good place — epochal breakfasts; big salads for lunch made with roasted beets or house-cured salmon; pressed ham-and-cheese sandwiches; organic grits; fragile chocolate-chip cookies as big around as dinner plates. The chefs shop the same way you do, or at least the way you would like to think you would if your life were devoted to cooking breakfast rather than to such unimportant concerns as work, television and sex. 4854 Fountain Ave., Hlywd. (323) 661-1109, squareonedining.com. Open daily 8 a.m.-3 p.m. No alcohol. Valet parking on weekends. All major CC. Location map here.
In her Street, a hypercool restaurant on Hollywood's southern fringe, Susan Feniger revisits some of the transglobal ideas she and Mary Sue Milliken explored in her seminal '80s-era City Restaurant, but with a direct, accessible twist. Street is a virtual museum of world street food, snacks and savories from every part of Asia: Singaporean kaya toast; Korean-style mung bean pancakes studded with bits of anise-braised pork belly; hollow, potato-stuffed Indian ping-pong balls called paani puri; a juniper-laced salad of roasted beets and crumbled walnuts; even a delicious version of the do-it-yourself Thai bundles of roasted coconut, bird chiles, peanuts, tamarind jam and minced lime, among other things, but wrapped in bits of collard instead of the traditional la lot leaf. Half the menu is vegan-friendly, although you probably wouldn't notice that fact unless it was important to you, and at least as much attention seems to have been paid to the roster of rare beers. 742 N. Highland Ave., Hlywd. (323) 203-0500, eatatstreet.com. Open daily: lunch, noon-3 p.m., dinner from 5 p.m.; Sunday brunch 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Full bar. AE, MC, V. Valet parking. Location map here.
Tacos Baja Ensenada
Why is Tacos Baja Ensenada still on this list? Isn't it time to switch allegiances to Ricky's, or to the Best Fish Taco in Ensenada, or to any of the hundred other places that have learned how to make this glorious dish? I don't know — maybe next year. Because in East L.A., you still come no closer to the ideal than these crunchy, sizzlingly hot strips of batter-fried halibut folded into warm corn tortillas with salsa, shredded cabbage and a squeeze of lime, sprinkled with freshly chopped herbs and finished with a squirt of thick, cultured cream. Entire religions have been founded on miracles less profound. 5385 Whittier Blvd., E.L.A. (323) 887-1980. Tues.-Sun., 10 a.m.-9 p.m. No alcohol. Lot parking. Cash only. Location map here.
The Tasting Kitchen
The Tasting Kitchen, a newish trattoria on Abbot Kinney, feels more like a project art collective than it does a proper restaurant, a place at once both strange and familiar, where servers drift in and out like characters in a dream, where details that seemed minor at the beginning of a meal take on enormous proportions by the end of it — perhaps after a 90-minute discussion of Apulian earthquakes or the history of apiculture with strangers at a communal table. As with a surrealist museum show or a performance of Garcia Lorca, you come to experience something unsettling. The dining room is a study in social interaction that just happens to involve food.
Casey Lane came here from Portland's Clarklewis and surrounded himself with a group of his Portland friends. It's a new-breed, Oregon-style restaurant transplanted to a beach town, hundreds of candles, a loud sound track of post-rock and do-me R&B. Lane's style is simple, and over the course of a few meals you will notice an emphasis on toasted bread, strong cheese, braised meats, unaltered seasonal vegetables, grilled nuts and the distinct, bitter taste of char. The basic impression is of Italian cooking translated into an odd American dialect, not quite California dudespeak but something from an odd corner of the coast, where bruschetta of roasted figs and creamy fromage blanc, or melted fontina with bacon and trumpet mushrooms, come on airy slabs of grilled bread rather than on thin slices of baguette, pastas are correct, and grilled anchovies are laid so beautifully on their plate that you rather suspect an art director. Unless you are an expert on obscure Italian wines, you will not be able to choose a wine without consulting your waiter, which may be the point. 1633 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Venice. (310) 392-6644, thetastingkitchen.com. Open daily, 6 p.m.-close. All major CC. Full bar. Valet parking. Location map here.
If I were associated with Terroni, I'd probably be getting angry about now. Because while the original location of the southern Italian restaurant is famous in its native Toronto for its no-substitutions policy, in Hollywood, where we have sushi nazis, noodle nazis and ramen czars, Terroni's refusal to allow balsamic vinegar to touch its insalata Caprese barely rates a yawn. Ban spicy tuna rolls or catsup on French fries, and you've got a story on your hands. Force a 25-year-old man to cut his pizza with a steak knife, and not even Yelp finds it significant.
Terroni may actually feel more Italian than anywhere else in Los Angeles at the moment. There are terracotta serving dishes, decent Italian wines available in half-liter and quarter-liter carafes and a deft espresso pull. Terroni is one of the few restaurants in Los Angeles where you actually hear Italian spoken by both customers and cooks, and the Southern-style pastas are often very good, including possibly the first L.A. appearance of spaghetti ca'muddica, a Sicilian pasta a little like spaghetti alla puttanesca enriched with toasted bread crumbs. But Terroni specializes in pizzas — skinny, crunchy most of the way through, served as in Italy in individual uncut rounds, topped with things like broccoli rabe and crumbled sausage; Gorgonzola, honey and walnuts; or plain old mozzarella and tomato sauce. No substitutions are permitted. 7605 Beverly Blvd., L.A. (323) 954-0300, terroni.ca. Open Sun.-Thurs., 11 a.m.-10 p.m; Fri-Sat., 11 a.m.-11 p.m. AE, MC, V. Full bar. Valet parking. Location map here.
The buzz in Los Angeles dining belongs to restaurants that don't technically exist; the pop-ups, roving trucks, temporary residencies and secret feasts that have transformed dinner out into a competitive sport. So in a way, the most interesting opening of the season may have been Test Kitchen, which is less a restaurant than it is a club that happens to feature food instead of music, a venue where every night is opening night, the name chef is always behind the range, adrenaline is the drug of choice and cooking is a performing art. As LudoBites or Chicks With Knives functions as a restaurant without a physical space attached to it, Test Kitchen is a physical space without a restaurant, a loud, softly lit basement with a wine menu chalked onto a pillar; a big, open kitchen; a French maitre d'; and the feeling that anything could happen. Whole restaurant teams, including waiters and runners, may be booked into Test Kitchen for rehearsal runs before their own places open, or a wandering chef may be recruited to cook for an evening or two.
Is Test Kitchen any good? It depends on the chef. But in its scant months of existence, I have had stellar meals from Javier Plascencia and John Sedlar, and merely fine ones from chefs I won't mention. But if you're more interested in the creative chaos of a restaurant's first days than you are in the polished product of a kitchen that has worked together for years, Test Kitchen was designed for you. 9575 W. Pico Blvd., L.A. (310) 277-0133, testkitchenla.com. (Online reservations only.) Open daily, 6 p.m.-mid. Full bar. Valet parking. All major CC. Location map here.
The Gorbals, perhaps, is a restaurant that should not be seen by the light of day, when the boxy tables look like a shop-class project, the artfully scuffed floors look worn, and the backroom speakeasy vibe is overtaken by the thought that the dim space in the old Alexandria Hotel may have once served as an industrial laundry room. The music is still good, various Iggyisms and post Iggyisms and proto Iggyisms, but you get the feeling that chef Ilan Hall and his crew would rather be smoking cigarettes than flipping around matzo brei. If cooking is theater, and it occasionally is, what comes out of the Gorbals kitchen is the confrontational kind, food that challenges your belief systems about what cooking should be.
The menu's conceit, Scottish-Jewish food, is at first glance a transgressive fantasy cuisine designed to alienate as many people as possible: bacon-wrapped matzo balls, pork belly braised in Manischewitz, BLTs made with gribenes instead of bacon. Sacrilicious! Hall served chicken thighs stuffed with haggis, and then took them off the menu just before Burns Night, the one night of the year when people might want to eat them. Scottish-Jewish cuisine may be a construct that exists solely within Hall's perfervid imagination, but an order of his french fries, cooked with whole garlic cloves and great, aromatic handfuls of fresh dill, is, as they say, a fact on the ground. Do you eat them before, after or along with the bacon-wrapped matzo balls? That part is up to you. 501 S. Spring St., dwntwn. (213) 488-3408; thegorbalsla.com. Lunch, Mon.-Fri., 11 a.m.-3 p.m.; dinner Mon.-Wed., 6 p.m.-mid.; Thurs.-Sat., 6 p.m.-2 a.m.; Sunday brunch 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Full bar. Street and nearby pay-lot parking. All major CC. Location map here.
Atop a newish mini-mall in Artesia's Little India, Tirupathi Bhimas is a glowing, flying saucer of a restaurant, popular with the chic desi crowd but serving fairly orthodox Andhra Pradesh–style vegetarian cuisine, the heavy southern Indian stuff, without a Bombay mojito or a chakratini in sight. Tamil is spoken, and dishes are assumed to be searingly spicy unless specified otherwise. The standard order at Tirupathi Bhimas is the thali, the traditional combination plate of nine or so stews, soups and grain dishes, spooned into tiny bowls and arranged around the perimeter of a gleaming stainless-steel platter, garnished with a thin pappadum cracker, a pliable round of chapati bread and perhaps a wad of spiced potatoes rolled into a spliff-size dosa. Will you know what is in the bowls? Probably not, and nobody will bother to explain it to you. Suffice it to say that the spicy Andhra thali will be spicy and the non-spicy thali will be pretty spicy, too. After dinner, stop by the Saffron Spot downstairs for a dish of Indian ice cream. 8792 Pioneer Blvd., Artesia. (562) 809-3806, tirupathibhimas.com. Tues.-Thurs., 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. and 5:30-9:30 p.m., Fri., 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. and 5:30-11 p.m., Sat.-Sun., 11:30 a.m.-9:30 p.m.; closed Mon. No alcohol. Catering. Lot parking. All major CC. Location map here.
Valentino may be grander than Vincenti, and Giorgio Baldi may draw a more famous clientele, but Vincenti feels like the spiritual center of fine Italian cooking in Los Angeles, its hearth. And befitting a hearth, much of Nicola Mastronardi's food comes from the big, hardwood-burning ovens, flavored with the presence of smoke, forests, stone chimneys and chilly afternoons — a scallop, say, sprinkled with bread crumbs and baked in its shell until it sizzles; a magnificent veal chop; soft curls of cuttlefish tucked into an herb salad; a whole, truffle-laced squab. The adjacent rotisserie turns out the best restaurant version of porchetta I have ever tasted in California — loin and belly are wrapped into a spiral, seasoned with fennel and spit-roasted to a crackling, licorice-y succulence. It is certainly possible to eat several mediocre Italian meals elsewhere in this neighborhood for the price of a single superb one here. At these times, it is good to remember that on Monday nights, pizza also comes out of these ovens. 11930 San Vicente Blvd., Brentwood. (310) 207-0127, vincentiristorante.com. Mon.-Sat., 6-10 p.m., Friday for lunch, noon-2 p.m. Full bar. Takeout. Valet parking. AE, MC, V. Location map here.
Waterloo & City
It may be a stretch to consider Waterloo & City, a pool-shooting, darts-playing, ale-swilling, Ramones-blasting bar shoehorned into a rundown coffeeshop, to be much more than a glorified bar. The place is ostensibly a gastropub, whatever that has come to mean, and there is indeed a shepherd's pie; a burger with bacon; roast beef and Yorkshire pudding at Sunday lunch; and a maitre d' who is prepared to discuss the nuances of your glass of stout until cock's crow. But Brendan Collins is at heart a bistro chef — try the snails if they're on special — and the heart of the menu seems to lie with his terrines: complex, well-flavored masses of sweetbreads bound with pigs' trotters, rabbit with pistachios, smoked ox tongue with carrots, a smooth mousse of chicken livers whipped with foie gras. It's a virtuosic display of charcuterie. What may be most impressive is a big, seared pork chop, served medium rare ... under a huge, oozing, coagulated slab of English black pudding — not just an entrée but a clear case of meat-on-meat crime. Waterloo & City is to Culver City what Tavern is to Brentwood: the right restaurant in the right neighborhood at the right time. 12517 Washington Blvd., Culver City. (310) 391-4222; waterlooandcity.com. Dinner, Mon.-Sat., 6-10 p.m., Sun., 5-9 p.m.; lunch, Sun., 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m.; late night, Thurs.-Sun., 10-11 p.m., Fri.-Sat., 10 p.m.-mid. Full bar. Parking lot. All major CC. Location map here.
There may be no more universal pleasure in the world of meat than a well-made sausage, plucked straight from the fire, crackling under your teeth before it gives way with a pop, and your mouth is flooded with torrents of burning juice. Such a sausage demands beer. And then another sausage. And then another beer. Repeat until full. Wurstküche is the locus of sausage consumption in Los Angeles, a stripped-brick beerhall serving nothing but sausages and fries, perfumed with smoke and sputtering meat, equipped with honey mustard by the vatful and enough beer taps to please the most hardened hophead. Rattlesnake-rabbit sausage? Cajun alligator sausage? Duck-and-bacon sausage? You've got it, dude, even if what you're into tends more toward vegan kielbasa than smoked pork. Wurstküche aims to be all things to all people, at least to all people who think it might be a good idea to down a high-proof Unibroue La Fin Du Monde or two before going back to work. 800 E. Third St., dwntwn. (213) 687-4444, wurstkucherestaurant.com. Open daily 11 a.m.-mid., bar to 1:30 a.m. Beer and wine. Street parking. All major CC. Location map here.
Zelo is an islet of counterculture in a conservative part of town, a poster-encrusted suburban takeout joint that vibrates to the sound of surf music and vintage punk rock; if it weren't a pizzeria, it could be tweaked into an indie-record store in about a minute and a half. Zelo's pizza is a different sort of pie, its crust enriched with a little cornmeal, packed and crimped into a high-rimmed steel deep-dish pizza pan blackened from years in the ovens and baked to a high crunchiness. A vegetarian pizza, available in both vegan and cheese-bearing versions, is piled with baked eggplant, roasted peppers and mushrooms. Even the plain-vanilla sausage pie is plumped out with marinated peppers, tomato chunks and sautéed onions. This may be the great, undiscovered Los Angeles pizza restaurant. And as the sign by the cash register says, save your fork; there's cake — specifically a delicious Florentine-style zucotto. 328 E. Foothill Blvd., Arcadia. (626) 358-8298. Beer and wine. Parking lot. AE, MC, V. Location map here.