Baa to the Bone

Ambala Dhaba. On a stretch of Westwood Boulevard thick with student coffeehouses and Iranian hair salons, Ambala Dhaba is an outpost of the Punjab, a branch of a restaurant on Artesia’s Little India strip noted for its fiery goat curries and the boiled-milk ice cream called kulfi. It’s probably the only thing resembling traditional Indian food on the Westside. Ambala Dhaba exemplifies the time-honored side of meaty northern Indian cooking: basic, direct food almost Islamic in attitude, Pakistani in intensity of flavor, but wholly Indian in its attention to fresh vegetables, crunchy snacks, and breads. But my favorite part of a meal at Ambala Dhaba may be dessert, several flavors of house-made kulfi-on-a-stick available by the piece and by the bag. 1781 Westwood Blvd., Westwood, (310) 966-1772. Open daily noon–10:30 p.m. No alcohol. Lot parking. Takeout. Food for two, $12–$20. MC, V. Indian. JG $

Birriera Chalio. Goat: The other, other, other white meat. If you’re in the mood for a lot of goat, practically goat by the yard, it might be difficult to do better than a long, goaty lunch among the mounted animal heads at the original Birriera Chalio on Calle Primero, where the waitresses will bring plate after plate of the restaurant’s signature Zacatecas-style birria — chewy riblets and soft chunks of shoulder and muscly knots of leg meat — until you practically have to beg them to stop. Hair of the dog? No, hair of the goat. Birriera Chalio on Calle Primero, 3580 E. First St., Los Angeles, (323) 268–5349. Mon.–Fri. 7 a.m.–8 p.m., Sat.–Sun. 7 a.m.–9 p.m. Beer and wine. Lot parking. Takeout. Latin. JG $

Caioti Pizza Café.
When the secret history of California pizza is finally written, a greasy volume inscribed in arugula, goat cheese and white truffle oil, former Spago pizza chef Ed LaDou’s name will be known across the land. The barbecue chicken pizza, with slivered red onion, smoked Gouda and barbecue sauce instead of tomato, is definitive nostalgia, a taste of multiculti post-Olympics Los Angeles . . . with a hunk of gooey chocolate cake for dessert. 4346 Tujunga Ave., Studio City, (818) 761-3588. Mon.–Thurs. 11 a.m.–10 p.m., Fri.–Sun. till 11 p.m.; brunch Sat. 9 a.m.–11 a.m., Sun. 9 a.m.–2:30 p.m. No alcohol. Takeout. Street parking. MC, V. $10–$15. Contemporary California. JG $$

Chang’s Garden. Chang’s Garden doesn’t always limit itself to Shanghai-style foods. There is a very nice rendition of the Szechuan dish of simmered beef and tripe in chile oil, and splendid fresh Chinese bacon with garlic and chile. The special goat-stew soup, which turns out to be made with lamb, is a strong, very northern concoction of meat, medicinal herbs and plenty of rice wine. Try the puddinglike slabs of Japanese eggplant cooked down with garlic and chile, or the cubes of tofu dusted with flour and fried until the inside becomes molten. 627 W. Duarte Road, Arcadia, (626) 445-0606. Open daily, 11:30 a.m.–10 p.m. MC, V. Beer and wine. Lot parking. Dinner for two, food only, $24–$38. Chinese. JG $

El Caserio. The cornerstone of the Ecuadorian kitchen is the fresh-chile sauce aji (pronounced ah-hee), whose tart, fiery taste accents Ecuadorian dishes the way the taste of smoked chiles sparks Mexican food and the saltiness of fish sauce does Thai. El Caserio’s aji is spicier than most, juiced up with onion and fresh tomato, one of the best salsas imaginable. There is a spicy, wonderful goat stew, sweet and concentrated; a similar stew of chicken; a nice version of the Peruvian dish lomo saltado, which involves strips of beef sautéed with onions and French fries. The shrimp dish sango de camarones revolves around a strange, thick sauce made with green plantains and peanut butter — probably unlike anything you have eaten before. 309 N. Virgil Ave., (323) 664-9266. Lunch and dinner Thurs.–Tues. 11 a.m.–9:30 p.m. No alcohol. Takeout. Lot parking. MC, V. Dinner for two, food only, $12–$18. Ecuadorian. JG ¢

El Parian. El Parian’s sweet, mild goat meat has crispy parts and stewy parts, just like carnitas. It clings to the tiny goat ribs, which you suck, then spit back into the bowl. The broth, basically amplified pan drippings, is rich essence of goat and the single best Mexican dish I’ve eaten in Los Angeles — it is the soul of Guadalajara. There’s a thicket of cilantro to flavor the broth, a heap of chopped onion, limes to squeeze and a fat radish to sweeten your breath. The thick tortillas are warm and smell of fresh corn. The beer is very cold. Birria is supposed to be somewhat aphrodisiac — and a palliative for hangovers too, which is a special bonus on a Sunday morning. 1528 W. Pico Blvd., downtown, (213) 386-7361. Open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Lunch for two, food only, $7–$12. Beer. Cash only. Mexican. JG ¢

Luna Park. “Serious” restaurants highlight jidori chicken on their menus, have somebody in the kitchen who knows how to work the mulberry lady at the Santa Monica Farmers Market, and feature at least two different preparations of foie gras. But Luna Park, the La Brea Avenue spinoff of a popular San Francisco café, occupies a spot on the food chain halfway between L’Orangerie and the local branch of the Cheesecake Factory. The 20-somethings who throng the restaurant for goat-cheese fondue, garlicky moules frites and grilled artichokes with aioli presumably couldn’t care less. 672 S. La Brea Ave., Los Angeles, (323) 934-2110. Lunch Mon.–Fri. 11:30 a.m.–2:30 p.m.; dinner Mon.–Thurs. 5:30–10:30 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 5:30–11:30 p.m., Sun. 5:30–10 p.m.; brunch Sat.–Sun. 11:30 a.m.–3 p.m. Full bar. Takeout. AE, MC, V. $9.50–$16.50. American Comfort Food. JG $$

Natraliart. This is real Jamaican food, you understand, not the stuff you find on cruise ships or at Ocho Rios resorts; strong, direct, sometimes nastily spicy cooking without a mango or a spicy lobster in sight; no prime rib, no sweet sauces, no fresh flowers posed on the plate. This is a place of tough, spicy curried goat, practically vibrating with the taste of ground cloves. And half the dreads in the city drift in and out over the course of a lazy afternoon — for to-go cartons of vegetarian food, or to buy tickets to any of the half-dozen concerts that the guys behind the counter happen to be selling at any one time. Try Natraliart’s jerk chicken — it is among the best versions in town. 3426 W. Washington Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 732-8865. Open for lunch and dinner Tues.–Sat. 11 a.m.–9 p.m. No alcohol. Takeout. Street parking. MC, V. Lunch or dinner for two, food only, $16–$26. Jamaican. JG $

Phong Dinh. If you have heard of Phong Dinh at all, it is probably because of its sizable game menu, which features characteristic preparations of every animal that has ever skittered through a Vietnamese swamp, and a few beasties — kangaroo, alligator, ostrich — that probably never made it farther than the royal zoo at Hue. If you would like to try sweet crispy-grilled wild-goat ribs, or cod-head hot pot (by request only), or the classic Vietnamese sauté called luc lac, made with cubes of alligator instead of beef, Phong Dinh is definitely for you. 2643 N. San Gabriel Blvd., Rosemead, (626) 307-8868. Daily 11 a.m.–11 p.m. Beer and wine. Lot parking. Dinner for two, food only, $15.95–$35. AE, D, MC, V. Vietnamese. JG $