Cash in Your Chips

Border Grill. Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger don’t re-define Mexican food; they just prepare it well, transforming the taco, the tostada, the homely chile relleno — here a freshly roasted poblano crammed with Mexican cheese and fried in an egg-batter crisp and lacy as the coating on tempura shrimp — into creatures almost unrecognizable if you’re used to their Cal-Mex equivalents. The long, black dining room, delineated by a crazily skewed ceiling painted with rocket ships and wrestling-masked batmen, looks even better now than it did when the place first opened. An order of the black-bean-intensive nachos called Eulalia’s Chips is still exactly what you need with a hand-shaken artisanal-tequila margarita. Border Grill is the rare mainstream restaurant whose tacos don’t make you yearn for a truck parked by an auto-parts junkyard somewhere in East L.A. 1445 Fourth St., Santa Monica, (310) 451-1655. Open 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. AE, D, MC, V. $12–$26. Mexican. JG $$

Chip’s. Is the coffee-shop cooking at Chip’s as artfully updated as the menu at nearby Pann’s? Not quite. Do the eggs Benedict merit a long drive? Perhaps not. Is the full-on late-’50s exterior as museum-worthy as the Wich Stand, where a teenage Brian Wilson used to go for hamburgers? Not really, even if that old drive-in is a health-food joint now. But real, over-the-top Googie-style restaurants are getting to be as rare as condors here in their birthplace, and you could do worse than a Chip’s meal of patty melts and strawberry shakes. 11908 S. Hawthorne Blvd., Hawthorne, (310) 679-2947. Open 7 days 6 a.m.–8 p.m. Beer and wine. Takeout. Lot parking. AE, MC, V. American. JG $

Disney’s Soda Fountain & Studio Store. Bringing more than a hint of corporate suburban-mall kitsch to this part of Hollywood, the Disney Soda Fountain & Studio Store also brings the excellent ice cream imported from Dewar’s, a 1909 candy counter across from Bakersfield High School that looks straight out of the pages of an old Saturday Evening Post. Disney’s waitresses, whose smiles seem superglued to their shiny, shiny teeth, may not have quite the hometown charm of their Bakersfield counterparts, but they efficiently bring out black-and-white sundaes lubricated with hot fudge and whipped marshmallow, banana splits drowning in strawberry sauce, and milk shakes made with vanilla ice cream, chocolate syrup, fresh bananas and ground walnuts. The peppermint sundae, with its Dewar’s candy-stick-spiked peppermint ice cream, is especially good. And the sweet-studded chocolate-chip ice cream is always a sure thing. 6834 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood; Open daily 9:30 a.m.–10 p.m. No alcohol. Takeout window. Street parking. AE, MC, V. $6.75–$24.95. American. JG $

El Colmao. Start with the avocado salad — cool, ripe chunks garnished with thin slices of raw onion and dressed with splashes of vinegar and torrents of good Spanish olive oil; then a heaping plateful of thin, pounded circles of unripe plantains, fried crisp as potato chips and dusted with salt. Next, boiled yuca; a big plateful of moros y cristianos (Moors and Christians), a tasty miscegenation of black beans and rice fried with garlic and gobbets of fat pork; piles of fried fresh ham, pierna de puerco, crisp and brown on the outside and meltingly tender within, topped with an immoderate portion of caramelized onions. For dessert, good flan and torpor — and strong Cuban espresso. 2328 W. Pico Blvd., (213) 386-6131. Lunch and dinner 10 a.m.–8:30 p.m. Beer and wine. Lot parking. MC, V. Food for two $9–$28. Cuban. JG ¢

Jar. Any place in town can serve you a grilled T-bone, but Suzanne Tracht’s snazzy steak house is strictly postmodernsville, chefly riffs on the strip steak and the porterhouse, the hash brown and the French fry, that may or may not incorporate every last pea tendril and star-anise infusion in the Asian-fusion playbook, if that happens to be your desire. Some people we know have never even tried the steak here — the braised pork belly, the glorious pot roast, and the various and sundry wonders of Nancy Silverton’s Mozzarella Monday are just too compelling. But the steak is about as good as it gets. The décor is straight off the set of a Cary Grant movie. There’s banana cream pie for dessert. And at the bar — warm, homemade potato chips. 8225 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 655-6566. Dinner daily 5:30–11 p.m., brunch Sun. 10 a.m.–2 p.m. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, D, MC, V. Entrées $19–$29. California American. JG $$

Ye Olde King’s Head. Until the recent gastropub revolution, the food at most pubs in England may have fully justified everything ever muttered in a dark moment about British food. The King’s Head, a dank, overcrowded expat hangout near the Santa Monica Promenade, is no gastropub, but it does serve some of the best beer in town, which is to say the hand-drawn drafts of Real Ale that never seem to make it anywhere else. The food is, unfortunately, all too authentic, pasties and bangers and such, but the fish and chips are everything you could wish for, sweet fillets of North Sea cod, enrobed in light batter and fried to a delicate crunch. 116 Santa Monica Blvd., Santa Monica, (310) 451-1402. Mon.–Thurs., 10 a.m.–10 p.m., Fri. 10 a.m.–mid., Sat. 8 a.m.–mid., Sun. 8 a.m.–10 p.m. Full bar open daily until 2 a.m. Takeout. Street parking. AE, MC, V. JG $$

Tommy’s. There’s no way around it: Eating a Tommyburger is an aggressive act. You can’t stop at Tommy’s and expect to go back to the office; you can’t inhale a Tommyburger at 1 in the morning and expect your spouse to kiss you when you finally stagger home. A Tommyburger is an uncouth thing, a sloppy, stinking mess, oozing chili and raw onion, that takes over your system for the better part of a day. Tommyburgers can’t really be considered car food, unless you’re okay with orange grease spots on the upholstery and an aroma that lasts longer than most warranties, but you’ll eat it in the car after the bars close anyway, a double-size helping of Nirvana with a soda and a bag of chips. Beverly Blvd. at Rampart St., Los Angeles. Open daily 24 hours. No alcohol. Lot parking. ATM cards, cash. $4.20–$5.50. American. JG ¢

Top Thai. This restaurant, in central Reseda, is probably not the first place you would look for a bowl of transcendent Thai food. It looks like any suburban-Thai place, down to the glass-topped tables and the generic art on the walls. At most times of day, the customer base seems to tend toward locals intent on bland stir-fries. Yet there is a semisecret section of the menu crammed with Northern-style dishes — fresh chile dips served with chips of fried pigskin, and sticky rice, and sour sausages, and fragrant pork stews. Among the best dishes is a very passable version of khao soi, a giant bowlful of springy egg noodles in a curried chicken broth that would probably be intended to feed a family of six if you came across it in Chiang Mai. 7333 Reseda Blvd., Reseda, (818) 705-8902. Closed Wed. Mon.–Tues. and Thurs.–Sun. 11:30 a.m.–3 p.m., 5–9 p.m. Beer and wine. Takeout. Lot parking. AE, MC, V. JG $


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