Cook Your Own Damn Dinner!
The basic unit of currency at El Chamizal is the parrillada, a squat iron brazier shimmering from the heat of the charcoal within, brought to your table piled high with thin grilled steaks, pork chops marinated in chile, hunks of chorizo sausage, fried bananas and whole jalapeños burnt black, little ramekins of melted cheese, and scallions bronzed and wilted to a superb sweetness. The meat is terrific, well-marinated, rich with crunchy carbonized bits, very nice folded into a little taco with the house's fine smoked tomato sauce and a spoonful of the smoky bacon-stewed beans. Half the parrillada combinations include crispy, well-done tripitas (small intestines), which may not be to everyone's taste. The baby lamb chops, like the swell "burn your fingers" chops they serve in small restaurants in Rome, are ä crisp, spicy and full of juice. You can get enchiladas here, and you can get fried fish, but basically, El Chamizal is a palace of grilled meat. 7111 Pacific Blvd., Huntington Park; (323) 583-3251. Open daily 8 a.m.2 a.m. Dinner for two, food only, $20$28. Full bar. Entertainment and dancing. Lot parking. AE, ATM, Disc., MC, V.
Behold the Szechuan hot pot, a pint or so of scarlet liquid frothing in a chafing dish, spitting up bloody geysers, roiling and bubbling around bits of meat and tofu like a sulfurous brimstone pool. When you manage to convince the waitress at Lu Gi that you can handle the heat, she will fetch a big stainless-steel vessel fitted with two half-moon-shaped bowls, one filled with an innocuous clear broth, the other with the Disco Inferno. The chile broth is the perfect medium in which to cook gamy shavings of mutton, gelatinous chunks of beef tendon, quivering blocks of tofu, all of which pick up and amplify the strong undertones of garlic and spice. Delicate little fish balls, fillets of bass and fresh shrimp dumplings are best simmered in the clear medium, and that hyperactive waitress may hover for a few moments to make sure you don't drown them in the overpowering sea of red. Vegetables -- try the crunchy slices of Chinese winter melon -- go anywhere, as do slithery rice noodles, which cook surprisingly quickly in the boiling soup. 539 W. Valley Blvd., San Gabriel; (626) 457-5111. Open daily 11 a.m.mid. Dinner for two, food only, $20$25. No alcohol. Lot parking. MC, V.
Shabu Shabu House
When you sit down at the counter at Shabu Shabu, a man takes your drink order and sets potfuls of water to bubbling on electric burners in front of each stool. A second man in a gargantuan green toque slices an enormous rib eye as thin as prosciutto. You are brought a platter of the sliced meat and a dish of vegetables: daikon and carrots, stiff white fans of Chinese cabbage, bundles of tiny enoki mushrooms, elegant snips of scallion tops. For the end of the meal, when the water has absorbed flavor from the vegetables and beef, there are cubes of tofu and tangles of yam and udon noodles. If you have not eaten shabu shabu before, Yoshi, the owner, will instruct you in the intricacies of the art. 127 Japanese Village Plaza Mall (on Second Street), Little Tokyo; (213) 680-3890. Open for lunch and dinner Tues.Sun. Dinner for two, food only, $20$25. Beer and wine. MC, V.
Soot Bull Jeep
Soot Bull Jeep is the archetypal big-city Korean barbecue: noisy, smoky, always crowded, with all the bustle you'd expect in the heart of a great city and one of the few such restaurants in town that use the traditional live coals for their tabletop barbecue, giving the meat a delicious savory tang. Short ribs turn nicely chewy but retain their juice on the grill; pork loin is marinated in a spicy chile paste that blackens and turns crisp; slabs of eel become sweet, crisp and pleasantly oily over the flame; bits of marinated Spencer steak are sweet and tender at their peak, but be careful, they overcook in a flash. When a bit of meat is cooked to your liking, you can drag it briefly through a soy-based dip, or wrap it in a scrap of lettuce leaf with perhaps a few shreds of marinated scallion. 3136 W. Eighth St.; (213) 387-3865. Open daily 11 a.m.11 p.m. Dinner for two, food only, $20$24. Full bar. Valet parking. MC, V.
Okonomiyaki, sometimes called "Japanese pizza," is perhaps the most popular of Japanese street foods, a thick, circular pancake the size and shape of a small stack of 45s, made from eggs, vegetables, meat and ghost-white batter: crisp on the outside, substantial on the inside, the local equivalent of an Italian frittata or a Spanish tortilla. A lot of the fun in okonomiyaki comes in tending your pancake, patting it flat with a big metal spatula, sliding it to a cooler part of the griddle when you sense it is starting to scorch, glazing its surface with a sticky syrup flavored with Worcestershire sauce. When the mass is done, or at least brown and crisp on the bottom, you cut it into wedges, squirt it with mayonnaise and hot mustard from squeeze bottles, and season it with a thick dusting of powdered seaweed and bonito shavings. (If your pancake looks as if it has been tarred and feathered, it should be about right.) The standard okonomiyaki comes with three added ingredients -- say, oysters, kimchi and pork -- but you can get more elaborate custom combinations. 2106 Artesia Blvd., Torrance; (310) 324-5190. Open Tues. Sat. for lunch and dinner, Sun. for dinner only. Dinner for two, food only, $14$20. Beer, sake and wine. Lot parking. MC, V.
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