Our 99 Essential Restaurants issue came out this week. In celebration, we're highlighting some of the spots for their special attributes. Today: restaurants that are good for kids.
Even with wars brewing, a nation divided by politics, droughts and polar vortexes, one of the most contentious battles on the Internet continues to be this: kids in restaurants. There is no topic you can bring up (with tipping as a close second) that will get people more agitated.
We here at The Weekly commiserate with both sides of this deep divide, and we'd like to help. There are places in Los Angeles that almost anyone would admit are perfectly acceptable to bring children, as long as those children aren't total monsters. And some of those places are also good enough to make it onto the 99 Essentials list. So here are five essential L.A. restaurants where kids should be perfectly welcome. (Yes, we're assuming your kids might be into stuff like udon and mole — if they aren't yet, it's high time you introduced them.)
Of all the notable Lebanese restaurants in L.A., Carousel is, arguably, the best — although how much you enjoy the place might have something to do with how much you like live entertainment with your excellent plate of kebbeh nayyeh. On weekends at the Glendale Carousel (the original East Hollywood location being not nearly as pretty or as fun), there are dancers outfitted alarmingly like Laker girls on the dining-room stage — maybe reason enough to take male relatives with you to dinner. With or without the dancing, though, Carousel is a fantastic place to eat. The mezes are outstanding, particularly the many variants of kibbeh and labneh and kebabs, and the larger plates are just as good, making this a wonderful place for a family gathering (Shawarma! Yogurt-style kebabs! Frog's legs!), or even just to pick up a tub of excellent muhammara on your way home. 304 N. Brand Blvd., Glendale; (818) 246-7775.
Driving by, you can't help but notice Guelaguetza, the Oaxacan restaurant in the midst of Koreatown. The dazzling orange paint job added last year blots out everything around it. Inside, there's also something new, a yellow tiled open kitchen and grill, where you can watch the preparation of grilled meat platters and tlayudas, the outsized tortillas topped with black beans, Oaxacan meats such as tasajo and cecina, and the shreddy cheese quesillo. In this location since 2000, Guelaguetza is a gathering spot for the Oaxacan community, not just to eat but to listen to Oaxacan and Latin jazz. Trendy drinkers gather at Mezcalería, the mezcal bar, for tastings. If they want to eat, the bar has an appetizer menu. Apart from these innovations, Guelaguetza runs a traditional kitchen. It's the place to eat the famous Oaxacan moles - there are six on the menu. The most festive is mole negro, or black mole, which is served as a main dish, as tamale filling or as the sauce for mole enchiladas. After eating, you can shop. The store in the restaurant sells three of the Guelaguetza moles in jars, along with chocolate from Oaxaca and the spicy beer cocktail michelada to put in the fridge at home. 3014 W. Olympic Blvd., Harvard Heights; (213) 427-0608.
How good can a pastrami sandwich be? How quintessentially Los Angeles can an L.A. restaurant be? These questions and more can be answered with a trip to Langer's, the deli that serves the universe's best pastrami sandwich. And while Langer's wouldn't have its fame or glory without that sandwich, the restaurant is also so much more. Langer's is amazing for its worn brown decor, for its brusque but comradely service, and for the construction workers and slick gangsters and little old ladies who all sit at the counter elbow to elbow, gleefully eating sandwiches and chopped liver and slices of very good cheesecake. The walls are plastered with awards and recognition: Everyone from the City of L.A. to the James Beard Foundation recognizes the value of a deli that has barely changed since 1947. It's a glimpse back into how L.A. used to feel, yes, but perhaps more important, it's a glimpse into how L.A. still feels, if you know where to look. 704 S. Alvarado St., Westlake; (213) 483-8050.
2. Marugame Monzo
Fatter than ramen, heartier than soba, udon is one of America's least-fetishized Japanese noodles. But at Marugame Monzo, udon is the star of the show. Handmade by chefs in an open kitchen, it's carefully cut and batched as diners happily slurp the finished product from a bar facing the action. More than 20 varieties are on offer. For a noodle joint, this is a sleeker, more upscale spot, and much of the menu is dedicated to itameshi, the Italian-Japanese fusion that's currently all the rage in Japan. You could go for the udon carbonara, an insanely rich and smoky dish, which pays homage to the eggy delight of the Italian version but also obviously serves the emperor of Japanese cuisine: umami. You could make a pilgrimage to try the uni cream udon, which has already become a cult dish. But Monzo's real value is in its traditional udon dishes: The noodles are just firm enough, the dashi is comforting and pure, and the grated daikon, scallion and wispy bonito add texture and allure. Don't forget the Jidori egg. 329 E. First St., Little Tokyo; (213) 346-9762.
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With a few notable exceptions, part of the problem with Los Angeles' abundance of pastrami and burger joints is the quality of the ingredients in the kitchen. That's where Oinkster comes in. It's a restaurant that takes all that history - the sloppy burgers, the towering sandwiches — and adds the care and ingredient sourcing that's the hallmark of our new wave of chefs. Indeed, chef/owner Andre Guerrero has dubbed the cuisine served by his refurbished midcentury burger stand "slow fast food." Lest you think this means high prices or pretension, think again. This is still a spot where cops mingle with bikers over towering sandwiches, and where a side of hand-cut Belgian fries costs only a little more than your standard fries at a chain restaurant, even though Oinkster's are a big improvement. The Oinkster serves one of the city's better pulled pork sandwiches, one that's actually true to its Carolina roots, and a bunch of giant entree salads that showcase exactly why better produce is ... well ... better. Another bonus? There's a great selection of craft beers on tap, many of them local. 2005 Colorado Blvd., Eagle Rock; (323) 255-OINK.