Best of L.A.

Best Of 2009

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Best Of :: Food & Drink

BEST ROCKIN' BEEF ROLL
101 Noodle Express
Photo by Anne Fishbein

The beef roll served at 101 Noodle Express is perhaps the most raved about single item on any menu in the San Gabriel Valley — if not on any menu in all of L.A. Who would have imagined that such acclaim would come to such a humble dish, served at such an unassuming Alhambra hole in the wall? It turns out that the beef roll is also one of the area's best bargains. Big enough to serve two, it costs just $6.75. A deceptively simple concept, it arrives at your table looking something like a chimichanga cut into thirds. Its slightly crispy, though doughy exterior is filled with thinly cut beef, cilantro, onion and hoisin sauce. Dipped in chili oil, it makes a perfect appetizer or main course. It's practically restaurant policy to serve at least one to every group of diners — as you'll quickly infer by scanning the room — but don't forget there are other worthy dishes on the menu as well. The dumplings and noodle dishes get mainly good reviews and pack similarly good bang for the buck. There is, however, no confusing what the main draw is here.

—Nicolas Taborek
1408 E. Valley Blvd., Alhambra, 91801
MAP
626-300-8654
BEST 50TH STATE DATE PLACE
Local Place

The Local Place is the more casual of the two South Bay restaurants associated with sweet bread makers King's Hawaiian. Located on Western Avenue in Torrance, near the 405, this restaurant has lengthy lines, but the service is quick. Breakfast is the best bargain, with Spam and egg musubi for $2.05 and breakfast sandwiches for $2.85. For lunch or dinner, the Porky Boy combo ($5.95) consists of a good-sized pork sandwich on a fresh, sweet roll with fries and a drink. Specials, which include the teriyaki bento box ($8.45) featuring beef, chicken and pork, change daily. In addition, the Local Place's bakery is filled with cakes, cookies and pies stuffed with macadamia nuts and coconut. The paradise cake, made with guavas, limes, passion fruits, strawberries and peaches, is a local favorite. Of course, you can also stock up on King's Hawaiian bread here. 18605 S. Western Ave., Torrance. (310) 523-3233.

—Liz Ohanesian
18605 S. Western Ave., Torrance, 90504
MAP
310-523-3233
BEST AFFORDABLE ITALIAN WITH NO CORKAGE FEE
Colori Kitchen

Who says Italian food has to be expensive? Between the Mozza empire, the Drago empire, Il Moro and others, L.A. has an abundance of Italian dinner options to set you and your date back a hundred-plus bucks before you've even blinked. It's the wine, especially, that gets you. Yet while you could decide to go the fine dining route and skip the alcohol altogether, you'd also be missing out on an unequivocal truth of Italian culture: Booze goes with food. That's why the phrase "no corkage fee," when uttered in a public place, is guaranteed to prick up every ear within range. At Colori Kitchen, just a few blocks from Staples Center, you can nestle yourself into the spacious and oddly '90s-esque dining room, eat from a menu of basic Italian-American fare, and most importantly, drink freely from your own bottle (or bottles) of wine. Items like tricolore salad, spaghetti and meatballs and spinach ravioli are eaten freely and without judgment, and the cioppino, while one of the more expensive items on the menu, is also packed with enough seafood to make Poseidon weep. A slice of the ricotta cheesecake makes for a nice close to an utterly affordable evening.

—Noah Galuten
429 W. 8th St., Los Angeles, 90014
MAP
213-622-5950
BEST BACON-AND-AVOCADO BURGER
Howard's

If you're old enough to remember your parents taking you to a restaurant without consulting a Zagat for fear of choosing the "wrong" place, or not even thinking to ask who designed the interior, and you yearn for that kind of simplicity, Howard's is for you. If you were part of the more progressive, health-conscious generation born thereafter, and your mom never let your precious lips touch white bread, Howard's is for you. Now's your chance to experience this untouched-by-time diner, squat in the middle of an unattractive strip mall without a Starbucks (is that possible?) — where you can park right in front of the restaurant! — just like people did in the olden days. And for $5.35 you can get what the place is famous for: a gooey, drippy bacon and avocado burger tasting of the grill. It puts the Carl's Jr. version to shame. For $3.99 you'll get a classic BLT with four— count 'em—four slices of glistening bacon on toasted white bread. And trans fats be damned, here you can get the unadulterated full-fat version of French Fries ($2.10). In case you've got to know: Décor is by Howard. Go before it all becomes extinct. 11127 Venice Blvd., Ste. 7, Culver City. (310) 838-9111.

—Heidi Dvorak
11127 Venice Blvd., Los Angeles, 90034
MAP
310-838-9111
BEST BALL SLAPPING
La Piñata Tortilleria

Making tortillas by hand may be a dying art in East L.A., but La Piñata Tortilleria stubbornly refuses to yield to the machine. They spend three mornings a week slapping oblong balls of maize flour on the counter and pounding out hundreds of tortillas a mano for their customers. Yes, La Piñata does offer mass-market tortillas as an option. At $1.89 for a package of 36, these tortillas de maquina offer significant savings, especially if you eat them often. But as far as taste goes, they're not in a league with the softer, thicker, más Mexicana tortillas a mano, made Friday through Sunday mornings. Arrive early, because that's when the food's freshest and sells out fast. Handmade tortillas are $3 for a package of 10 on the day they're made. They get knocked down to half price on Monday and Tuesday — if there are any left at all. La Piñata also makes excellent tamales, which come in pork, beef, cheese, chicken or sweet varieties for $16 per dozen. 607 W. Whittier Blvd., Montebello. (323) 726-0327.

—Todd Krainin
607 W. Whittier Blvd., Montebello, 90640
MAP
323-726-0327
BEST BARGAIN-BASEMENT BURGER
Hawkins House of Burgers
Photo: Garret Snyder

Hawkins House of Burgers is most famous, perhaps, for its Hawkins Special, a truly absurd and behemoth creation consisting of three one-pound burger patties, cheese, bacon, chilies, onions, tomatoes, lettuce, fried eggs, pastrami, mustard, a butterflied hot dog, pickles and mayo. It weighs in at five pounds, costs sixteen bucks, and comes with fries and a soda. I'm not sure exactly how many people the monstrosity feeds, but let's hope it's more than one. Yet, while The Special is their claim to fame, it probably shouldn't be. Where else in Los Angeles can you pick up a delicious double cheese burger, an enormous pile of nicely prepared chili cheese fries and a tallboy of Olde English for around five bucks? Also, if you're really looking for a bargain, there's usually a guy on the patio outside selling bootleg DVDs for a dollar (not that we recommend that sort of behavior). And while you're there, take the opportunity to visit the Watts Towers just down the way. 11603 Slater St., Watts. (323) 563-1129.

—Noah Galuten
11603 Slater St., Los Angeles, 90059
MAP
323-563-1129
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BEST ROCKIN' BEEF ROLL: 101 Noodle Express

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