Little Bangladesh is one of L.A.’s more recently designated neighborhoods — it got official recognition in 2010, and signage went up in January 2011. Drawn by the proximity to L.A. City College and the nearby Islamic Center of Southern California, immigrants from the South Asian country now known as Bangladesh began settling in the area in the 1960s. It’s also one of the city's smallest designated neighborhoods, composed of just four blocks of Third Street abutting Koreatown.
March 26 marks the annual celebration of Bangladesh Independence Day, with a local parade and festival, which is an especially good time to enjoy the neighborhood's Bangladeshi food.
First, a bit on the cuisine. Most Bangladeshi restaurants in L.A. serve a mix of Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi items. Bangladeshi cuisine is dominated by freshwater fish curries and basmati rice; many Bangladeshis like their curries hotter than most Indian curries, but other than a couple of dishes, the heat shouldn’t be a problem for those sensitive to spicy food. Goat, lamb, beef and chicken are also popular in curries, and there’s a wide range of biryanis and post-meal sweets.
With most doubling as markets — selling everything from cleaning supplies to DVDs — these restaurants are no-frills, featuring homestyle comfort food from steam trays, served on paper plates on cafeteria-style trays with plastic utensils. Be aware that with many curries, meats are bone-in. If this doesn’t appeal to you, it’s your loss, as you’ll be missing out on some wonderful curries.
Four of the five restaurants listed below have been open for between 10 and 22 years. There’s nothing new about them — but with so much time spent chasing the next big thing, much of what makes eating in Los Angeles so special gets overlooked or lost.
Aladin Sweets & Market: Dishes here are served on actual plates with silverware, and one menu highlight is the hilsha fish, considered Bangladesh's national fish. Here it's bathed in a rich, yellow curry made from mustard seed and coconut milk. Another favorite: rohu (carp) covered in a deep, rich curry that isn’t spicy in terms of heat but packs bold flavors. As the restaurant's name implies, it has a good selection of desserts, too. Aladin Sweets & Market, 139 S. Vermont Ave.; (213) 382-9592.
Bangla Bazar: Daily specials, including breakfast, are posted on small signs behind the counter, and there are always various types of biryani to be had. The highlight here is jhal piaji, a spicy chicken curry. Bangla Bazar & Restaurant, 4205 1/2 W. Third St.; (213) 380-4070.
Biryani Kabob House: Far and away the newest restaurant on the list (and the only one that doesn’t double as a market), Biryani Kabob House features its namesake items, biryani and kabobs, along with a slew of posted specials. Try a cham-cham, a traditional Bengali sweet, or a misthy doi, Bengali-style sweetened yogurt with a distinctive beige hue. Biryani Kabob House, 3525 W. Third St.; (213) 384-3570, biriyanikabobhouse.com.
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Deshi: Combo plates featuring a choice of meat curry, veggie and rice are the main draw here, as are a wide range of biryanis. If you’re not Bangladeshi, you might be told the fish is not for you because it has too many little bones. If so, try some goat, lamb or chicken and adjourn to the small seating area, where there’s a TV showing Bangladeshi programming. If you’re lucky, you might catch a cooking show. Deshi Food & Groceries, 3723 W. Third St.; (213) 389-9644.
Swadesh: A favorite for cab drivers stopping by for a quick bite, Swadesh has at least three fish curries available at all times. These might include pangush (catfish) or one made from small fish. Vegetable selections might range from cauliflower to green papaya curry to bitter melon. Swadesh, 4153 W. Third St.; (213) 386-7799.