Best Of :: Food & Drink
For years, Robert Earl has been mesquite-smoking his meats in a hand-welded, four-barrel cooker hitched to the back of a miniature ice cream truck, which doubles as a catering van. On the back, a painted warning says, "BBQ so good make you slap mama." Maybe so, when you're talking about Earl's pork ribs and beef brisket so tender it can't even hold its sliced shape. The homemade cooker spends most of its time heating the daily offerings in the parking lot behind Earl's year-old namesake restaurant in North Long Beach, Robert Earl's BBQ, where ribs, pulled pork and brisket have been added to the long list of sinful specialties and his wife's vegetarian sides (you'd swear there was bacon grease in the greens) come included with most meals. So skip the lines at Bludso's and, in addition to competition-worthy, Texas-style BBQ, you'll be rewarded with the option of wolfing down one of Robert Earl Jr.'s signature "golden nugget" desserts: a scoop of banana pudding atop a pan-fried piece of cornbread. —Sarah Bennett
703 E. Artesia Blvd., Long Beach, 90805. (562) 726-1116, facebook.com/R.E.bbq.
Don't let Nancy Silverton's puffy-edged pies at Mozza sway you: The city's best wood-fired pizza may well be across town at Mother Dough in Los Feliz. At the least, the tiny brick storefront space along Hollywood Boulevard has more soul than perhaps any other pizza place in Los Angeles, thanks to Bez Compani, the Naples-trained, Iranian-born pizzaiolo who's been running Mother Dough with a quick wrist and quiet focus since 2011. There's little time to breeze through niceties when the sidewalk out front is packed with patient diners, the mozzarella di bufala is getting low and the oven's pulsing heat must be managed and maintained. Each night, Compani sweats to make sure that his pies arrive springy but with a crisp, slightly scorched crust that isn't overpowered by endless toppings. Don't bother making eye contact with the man to offer a silent nod of pure pizza bliss; he's too busy. -- Farley Elliott
4648 Hollywood Blvd., Los Feliz, 90027. (323) 644-2885, motherdoughpizza.com.
Every single day of the year, including holidays, you can find Mariscos Jalisco parked on the eastern stretch of Olympic Boulevard; thus every day of the year, especially holidays, you'll find folks from as far away as San Diego in line for the truck's near-legendary taco dorados de camaron. This would be a taco the size of a small clutch bag, stuffed until plump with a creamy mixture of shrimp and various secret ingredients, then deep-fried wholesale to a most satisfying crunch, with the charred edges being the most prized bites. Finished with thin slices of avocado and a bit of salsa, two or three of these, plus a bottle of Coke or Jarritos, inhaled while sitting on a nearby brick ledge alongside everyone else, is lunch. As these tacos have a way of inspiring cravings, this might be lunch tomorrow, too. And every day thereafter. —Tien Nguyen
3040 E. Olympic Blvd., Boyle Heights. (323) 528-6701. Additional location at 10th Street and Towne Avenue, dwntwn. (323) 309-1622.
No doubt the first place that comes to mind when you think of longtime L.A. chili dog stands is Pink's, the permanently crowded stand on La Brea. Perfectly understandable. But Art's Chili Dog Stand should come to mind almost as quickly. Opened by ex–New Yorker Art Elkind in the late 1940s, the tiny stand near the corner of Florence and Normandie was visited by food writers David Shaw and Ruth Reichl, who praised both the dogs and Art himself. Art died in 1990, but the chili dogs he named remain the same: casing-free, all-meat dogs (made specially for Art's by nearby Meadow Farms) that are loaded with chili and served on a steamed bun. The late, great Art believed in keeping it simple — a tradition that, thankfully, continues. —Jim Thurman
1410 W. Florence Ave., Manchester Square, 90047. (323) 750-1313.
What do we want from brunch? We don't want to wait on the sidewalk for a table forever. Rather, we want comfort food that's slightly more complex or elevated than what we'd make for ourselves at home. We want something that might tame a hangover — maybe served with something that might give us a brand new hangover. We also want something that's friendly, laid-back, relaxed and convivial. We get all of these things from Cooks County, the Beverly Boulevard restaurant from chefs Daniel Mattern and Roxana Jullapat, which excels in many things but brunch above all. Sip a sweet and tart rhubarb prosecco while chomping on fried eggs with chickpeas and harissa, served with yogurt and grilled olive bread. Or go the bagel route — they're chewy, made in-house and served with a generous heaping of cedar-smoked trout, capers and red onion. We've yet to have a dud on this menu. Plus, the wait is never too long. —Besha Rodell
8009 Beverly Blvd., Beverly Grove. (323) 653-8009, cookscountyrestaurant.com.
You can order many glorious things at a good Hunan restaurant, but the sine qua non is doubtless the fish head. This is the signature Hunan dish, and it's big and shareable and insanely tasty. It's also both an Instagram favorite and an enjoyable way to unsettle any less-than-adventurous members of your dinner party. What you get is a fish head in a bowl — and what a fish head it is. At Hunan Mao, a bustling restaurant in yet another food-intensive strip mall in the San Gabriel Valley, the fish head will be presented to you as the gift that it is, in a very large and pretty bowl, covered with a collage of diced chiles, intensely fragrant with sesame oil and copious bits of peppermint. You'll need to deconstruct your fish head: Just stack the bits of bone on a plate and keep working. The bowl of rice and repeating pots of tea should tame the heat of the chiles, which isn't really fire as much as the happy Novocaine of Sichuan cooking. If you order the house-smoked ham, which you absolutely should, you can take a break from fish work. And even if you manage to consume the whole fish (eyeballs included, please), be sure to take the last ladlefuls of broth home. It makes a terrific sauce for noodles. —Amy Scattergood
8728 Valley Blvd., #101, Rosemead, 91770. (626) 280-0588, no website.