Culver City Cuisine
Mostly, you'll find grilled animals at Café Brasil: pork chops, lamb chops, steak, shrimp and fish, all profoundly salty and resonant with garlic, charred at the edges, fragrant with citrus and a little overcooked. Even the vegetarian plate, which consists mostly of various slivered squashes sautéed with vast quantities of garlic, has the belly-filling quality of Big Meat. With all this protein comes what seems like a truckload of rice glistening with oil, a couple of sweet fried plantains, spicy black beans and a bowl of "spiced" bean soup. And Café Brasil, it almost goes without saying, serves wonderful feijoada, less offal-intensive than some versions of the black-bean stew, but meat-fragrant in the best possible way, served with the traditional garnishes of fried yucca flour, herbed salsa and well-garlicked shreds of sautéed collard greens. 10831 Venice Blvd., Culver City; (310) 837-8957. Open daily 11 a.m.10 p.m. Lunch or dinner for two, food only, $14$26. No alcohol. BYOB. Takeout. Lot parking. ATM, MC, V.
While Isola Verde's Eritrean cooking may be remarkably similar to basic Ethiopian food -- rich with butter, hot with red pepper, complexly spiced with cardamom, ginger and clove -- it seems lighter somehow, a vegetable-intensive, Mediterranean-style version of Ethiopia's heavy high-plains cuisine. As at any Ethiopian restaurant, a meal at Isola Verde revolves around vast sheets of fresh bubble-pitted injera bread. And while the selection of entrées isn't large -- the meat dishes, for example, consist essentially of the spicy sauté of beef and onions called tibs, the lavishly buttered Ethiopian steak tartare kitfo, plus the only intermittently available lamb sauté zigni -- they can all be had fitfit, that is, tossed with still more injera. And be sure to try the Eritrean vegetable combination plate, a sort of ratatouille of spicy spinach, cabbage and string beans dyed yellow with turmeric. 6001 W. Washington Blvd., Culver City; (310) 202-7425. Open daily 10 a.m.11 p.m. Dinner for two, food only, $10$13. Beer and wine. Street parking. MC, V.
At JJ's, you'll find the holistic groove-mongering of avocado-and-sprouts sandwiches on honey-wheat sourdough bread and the caloric wallop of half-pound patty melts; the gardenburgers and the grilled-hot-link sandwiches with chili and (canola-cooked) fries; the Chinese chicken salad and the bacon-avocado burger. Croutons, something of a specialty here, are little squares of fried bread that practically squeak with butter. They outnumber the leaves of lettuce in the house salad; provide soft, numbing nodes of richness with spinach, cheese and eggs in the richest of the "scrambletts"; and are even sold bagged to go. And you probably shouldn't miss the Happy Dog, a jumbo frank wrapped in bacon and smothered in cheese -- an outsize version of the "francheezies" that were standard cocktail-party snacks in the '50s. 3599 Hayden Ave., Culver City; (310) 837-3248. Open Mon.Fri. 6 a.m.3 p.m. Lunch for two, food only, $9$15. Beer and wine. Parking lot. AE, MC, V.
Johnnie's is a cool, ancient, '50s-style restaurant on a strip of cool '50s-style motels, all slanted roof and giant windows, jutting angles and garish neon. Inside, you can slide into a booth and blast Ozzy and Dino all night from the tabletop juke. Outside, you can cluster around a fire pit and feel as if you're in a Frankie Avalon movie. Nobody in town does a frostier Coke, with real old-fashioned chipped ice. Nobody has more-motherly waitresses. The pastrami itself is sort of stringy here, but with a good, garlicky flavor; the roll is toasted before it's dipped, so there's a nicely crisp textural contrast around the edges. You have to apply your own mustard, which is all right because the bun is sturdy, and though the pickles don't fit on the sandwich -- they're big chunks of crunchy kosher dills, served deli-style in crocks -- it doesn't really matter. 4017 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Culver City; (310) 397-6654. Open Sun.Mon. 10 a.m.1 a.m., Tues.Thurs. till 2:30 a.m., and Fri.Sat. till 3:30 a.m. Pastrami for two, food only, $20. Beer. Takeout. Cash only.
Here is the best Mexican shrimp cocktail in town, a big parfait glass of crustaceans, cool and tart, elusively smoky, topped with a fan of sliced ripe avocado. Carne asada is exemplary, well-marinated, crusted with black pepper, chewy, beefy and hot; the carnitas are lean and moist, but full of flavor. The first-rate pozole has the funk of hominy, the bite of hot chile and the slightly gamy undertaste of long-stewed meat, but the chunks of boiled pork taste freshly cooked, and the soup has flavor even without the usual additions of chopped onion and oregano. The pork chile verde is spicy, tart, balanced, and there's a wonderful albondigas soup flavored with mint. And, oh yes, did I mention that Mi Ranchito serves birria? 12223 W. Washington Blvd., Culver City; (310) 398-6106. Open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Dinner for two, food only, $11$23. Full bar. Takeout. Parking lot. AE, DC, MC, V.
The menu at Tito's, on a wall behind the counter, is not long: tacos and tamales, two kinds of burritos (with beans and without), tostadas and chile con carne, rice and beans. Enchiladas are cheesy and goopy -- the cheese being the bright-orange, salty kind that seems to exist solely to turn rubbery when it melts -- the tamales uncheesy and goopy. Inside, the burritos are meat and beans and cheese (35 cents extra), the meat being the same stewed ("100 percent steer") chunks in a mild red chile sauce that used to be served everywhere from El Coyote to the cafeteria in the UCLA co-op, my favorite restaurant in the world when I was 8. For an extra six bits or so, you can get a little Styrofoam cup of "guacamole," which probably contains about as much actual avocado as "Krab" does crab, but which serves the essential purpose of turning things tart and green. What you'll actually eat are tacos. With cheese. 11222 Washington Place, Culver City; (310) 391-5780. Open daily 9 a.m.11:30 p.m. Lunch or dinner for two, food only, $3$6. No alcohol. Takeout. Cash only.
At Zabumba, you will find competent versions of the usual Brazilian appetizers, a mild (if ecologically appalling) heart-of-palm salad, gamy fritters of pounded salt cod, nubs of garlicky chicken. The fried dumplings called coxinha de galinha, filled with a mixture not unlike chicken potpie and molded into the shape of drumsticks, are crisp, chewy and steamy, somehow more like something from a dim sum cart than anything recognizably Latin. At dinner time, the kitchen slings out crock after crock of its version of the famous Rio dish feijoada, a black-bean stew simmered with various sausages and cuts of fat pork. The feijoada is served authentically, accompanied by plates trisected into mounds of rice, fried manioc and shredded, undercooked collard greens. You apparently spoon the beans into the middle and muddle it around a little bit -- the collards are too bitter to eat on their own but are indispensably good when meted judiciously into the feijoada. 10717 Venice Blvd., Culver City; (310) 841-6525. Open Tues.Sun. for dinner. Dinner for two, food only, $14$25. Beer and wine. Street parking only. AE, CB, DC, Disc., MC, V.
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