Big Ass Mound o’ Starch
Photo by Anne Fishbein
This may be the loudest place in Hollywood on Saturday mornings, with taped marimba music bouncing off the walls, sticky toddlers caroming off glass bakery cases, counterpeople barking orders into microphones, and waves of Central American locals sloshing, smushing and spilling food and drink onto and into themselves and their kids. And while Guatemalan chiles rellenos — soft, pale blobs stuffed with sweetened ground beef, pork and vegetables — are probably not what you dream of when you wake up in the morning, Guatemalan tamales — big, soft pillows of masa, stuffed with chicken and steamed in banana leaves — are just about the perfect accompaniment to coffee and an airy Guatemalan roll. 1080 N. Western Ave.; (323) 462-2624. Open daily for breakfast and lunch. Breakfast for two, food only, $6–$8. Takeout. No alcohol. Lot parking in rear. AE, DC, MC, V.
Danaian’s Bakery/Uncle Jack’s
Over in East Hollywood, Uncle Jack’s lahmajune is a wafer-thin round thing, about the diameter of a hand-patted tortilla, smeared with a few grams of a garlicky tomato-meat stew. The edges of the pie are slightly burnt and crisp, with a faint matzolike flavor. The stew is spiked with still-crisp bits of green pepper and onion, and has a clean taste of fresh vegetables. There’s a wholesome, handmade quality to this pie, like something somebody’s mom could be famous for whipping up for PTA meetings. Zahtar bread, also known as manaish, is more of a pizza sort of deal, a bubbly, thick round crust spread with a lemon-tart mixture of thyme and ground sumac berries, dusted with sesame seeds, chewy and crunchy as a good bagel, pungent with a spice fragrance unique to the Middle East. Armenians usually eat zahtar bread for breakfast, and in the Arab world it is customarily consumed as a snack. The bread — crisp, consistent and complexly flavored — tastes especially good with hot tea. 1108 N. Kenmore Ave., Hollywood; (323) 664-8842. Open Mon.–Sat. 7 a.m.–5 p.m. Lahmajune 50 cents apiece. Takeout only. Cash only.
Gladstone’s chocolate cake not big enough? Arnie Morton’s 3-pound porterhouse too wee? Check out the oven-baked German pancake at the Westchester-proximate coffee shop Dinah’s — a satellite dish of a pancake, the batter-and-butter equivalent of Dodger Stadium. One pancake feeds three, and it’s brown around the edges, crisp and spongy like a giant Yorkshire pudding, thickening into a dense, moist, springy crepe as you descend into the pancake’s interior. (Two paper pill-cups of whipped butter, a small bowl of powdered sugar and half a dozen lemon wedges will give the pancake a sort of Keebler-creme effect if you work it right.) Less voracious appetites may wish to try the extra-cinnamony apple pancakes, or the thin, crisp Swedish pancakes, or French pancakes that come rolled around flavored butter, or the potato pancake, sour, lacy-edged crepes that happen to have a little grated potato stirred into them. 6521 Sepulveda Blvd.; (310) 645-0456. Open daily 6 a.m.–10 p.m. Breakfast for two, food only, $6–$14. Beer and wine. Takeout. Lot parking. AE, CB, DC, MC, V.
Lu’s classic porridge-house cooking tends to be the sort of homey fare you might see at dinner at a Chinese friend’s house, but rarely in restaurants: whole tiny squid sautéed in dark soy sauce; ground pork simmered with a handful of winter pickles; briskly garlicked seaweed salad; cold, chopped mustard greens. And it’s easy to order — you get three items per person for the lunch special; at supper time, when the portions are three times the size, you order the dishes one by one to be shared family style. Go for fish, a pickle and a vegetable; try something you’ve never seen before. The women behind the counter are always helpful, eager to explain that the sliced pig’s belly with leeks is a better bet than the stewed pork stomach, to subtly guide you toward a plate that’s both balanced in flavor and nutritious. 534 E. Valley Blvd., San Gabriel; (626) 280-5883. Open daily 11:30 a.m.–1 a.m. Lunch for two, $6–$7; dinner for two, $12–$15. Beer only. Lot parking. Cash only.
Isaan cuisine, the cooking of northeastern Thailand, is fresh and clean and blisteringly hot, dominated by the flavors of lime juice, garlic and toasted rice, grounded by animal pungencies and the bite of fresh herbs. Authentic Isaan cooking is not, to put it mildly, what you’d expect to find a paper airplane’s toss away from the apple-cheeked hordes at Knott’s Berry Farm, but here it is, set into a converted steak house. The first thing about Isaan cooking is the chile-hot salads, larbs, in which the primary ingredient is minced fine with herbs, and yums, which are more like traditional salads. Thai Nakorn has a superbly gamy grilled-beef salad; a minced-catfish salad with a richly marine taste; a spicy tongue salad. Nam sodis sort of a garlicky, salty pork salad that’s crunchy with toasted rice and tart with lime, shot through with toasted peanut nubs — it’s like the world’s best bar snack, perfect with a cold Singha beer. There are warm, sour strands of shredded bamboo-shoot salad, gritty with dried chile, that you roll into a ball with sticky rice and eat in the traditional Isaan way with your fingers (actually, all the salads are pretty good wadded up with sticky rice). And if you ask your waiter to translate the specials from the menu board, you might wind up with tiny grilled Thai “tuna,” fried blackfish sauced with a tasty mint-chile goop, or stir-fried fresh belly pork. 8674 Stanton Ave., Buena Park; (714) 952-4954. Open daily for lunch and dinner. Dinner for two, food only, $15–$25. Beer and wine. Takeout. Lot parking. MC, V.
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