Finally, Enough Garlic
Brooklyn Bagel Bakery
The bagels are fresh here in the a.m., sometimes still hot from the oven, fragrantly sweet, soft without being bready, ready to ripen into the moist, day-old chewiness most people associate with their morning bagel. You can stop by, watch the women from the secretarial school down the street do stretching exercises, and drink a cup of freshly brewed Yuban from pots the bakery keeps going. Downtown attorney types march up to the glass counter and grab a dozen for the boys in the office; locals get a couple to go, neatly buzz-cut in two, ready to schmeer with cream cheese. Sometimes you can tell just by looking who's going to ask for an oat-bran bagel (which is better than it sounds), or a blueberry bagel, or a highly antisocial bagel sticky with odoriferous bits of caramelized garlic. 2217 W. Beverly Blvd.; (213) 413-4114. Open daily 7 a.m.-11 p.m. Bagels $4.95 a dozen.
Here you will find various Cantonese classics, most of them done extremely well: steamed rock cod drizzled with crackling oil, searing-hot clay pots of chicken with caramelized eggplant, Hong Kong-style shrimp with sweet mayonnaise and candied walnuts, shrimp-stuffed bean curd steamed to a puddingy softness. The blue ribbon, however, goes to the steamed Dungeness crab with garlic and flat noodles. The meat, which has that high vanilla sweetness you hope to find in utterly fresh crustaceans, is swollen with the taste of the fresh chopped garlic that blankets the a dish in snowy-white drifts but also manages to work its way into the deepest recesses of the creature, rewarding the most perfunctory sucking. 988 N. Hill St., Chinatown; (213) 617-9898. Open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Dinner for two, food only, $22-$56. Full bar. Separate dim sum takeout. Validated lot parking. AE, MC, V.
Behold fufu de platanos, a compact beige mound rising from its plate like a miniature Great Western Forum constructed of fried pigskin, garlic and green plantains, oozing oil and melted lard, fragrant enough to make the guy across the room look up from his Investors Daily when the waitress brings it to your table. In addition to the fufu of plantains, Las Palmas has the best fried green plantains I've had since the lamented Cuban-Chinese restaurant Chaos closed a decade ago, crunchy on the outside but quickly giving way, like a perfect bagel, to a resilient softness inside, tasting of starch and salt and clean oil, without a trace of the usual fishiness . . . These are postgraduate French fries. 11671 Victory Blvd., North Hollywood; (818) 985-5455. Open for lunch and dinner Tues.-Sun. Dinner for two, food only, $15-$25; $3.50 lunch specials on weekdays. Beer and wine. Takeout and catering. Lot parking. AE, MC, V.
As in most great Thai places, finding the restaurant's actual specialties requires a bit of persistence. Non-Thai customers are routinely brought a roster of the familiar cooking of suburban Thai restaurants - or you can request a second menu, which includes most of Palm Thai's best main dishes, fiery salads, Isaan-style bar snacks and elaborate soups. Try the red curry of wild boar, quite hot but tempered with coconut milk and flavored with lime leaves, galangal and unripe green peppercorns still on the branch. Or maybe, just maybe, the pepper-garlic frog, crunchy fried bits of the amphibian set on a layer of fried minced garlic so thick that it looks at first like a plateful of granola, as much garlic as even a Thai person could want. The third time we ordered this dish, the frog was garnished with thin, moss-green, disconcertingly crunchy croutons of deep-fried frog skin. Yum. 5273 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood.; (323) 462-5073. Open daily 11 a.m.-1 a.m. Dinner for two, food only, $18-$40. Beer and wine. Takeout. Guarded lot parking. MC, V.
The Armenian cured beef called basturma may be the most powerfully flavored cold cut in the world, less a foodstuff than a force of nature, with a bit of the chewy translucence of first-rate Italian bresaola, a ripe, almost gamy back taste, and then - pow! - the onslaught of the seasoning, a caustic, bright-red slurry of hot pepper, fenugreek and a truly heroic amount of garlic that hits the palate with all the subtle elegance of a detonated land mine. The best place to try basturma in Los Angeles, or perhaps anywhere, is at Sahag's, a small, fragrant Armenian deli in the heart of East Hollywood. 5183 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood; (323) 661-5311. Open Mon.-Sat. 8 a.m.-8 p.m., Sun. till 4 p.m. Lunch for two, food only, $6. No alcohol. Takeout. Lot parking. Cash only.
Sa Rit Gol
Sa Rit Gol is locally famous for its pork barbecue, thin loin strips marinated in a sauce of red chile and garlic that cook up brick-red on the tabletop grills. Dab the pork with a bit of fermented yellow-bean paste, fold it into a crisp leaf of romaine and eat the package with your fingers. Or grill fat slices of belly pork - or sweet marinated slices of flank steak, or snipped wedges of marinated short-rib meat - until they are charred and crisp, then dip them into a little saucer of sesame oil and salt. There's also a delicious casserole of baby octopuses, braised shiitake mushrooms with spinach, eggy pancakes enclosing aromatic shredded vegetables, and giant bubbling casseroles of crab. Dessert will inevitably be a thin, chilled broth, garnished with pine nuts, tasting almost like a tea made from gingersnaps. 3189 W. Olympic Blvd.; (213) 387-0909. Open daily 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Dinner for two, food only, $18-$28. Beer and wine. Takeout. Lot parking. MC, V.
The ramen here is almost everything you dream about when you rent Tampopo from the video store: vast bowls of yardslong noodles, freckled with golden specks of toasted garlic, immersed in a superheated, vaguely southern Japan-style broth made with chicken, pork and beef. To one side comes a serrated pinwheel of fish cake; in the middle are simmered bamboo shoots. Topping everything, on a floating raft of bean sprouts, is a stack of thin pork slices, a little salty but with a clear, concentrated taste as if it had been simmered in strong stock. And maybe the perfect thing to eat with a bowl of ramen is a ball of sushi rice, about the size and shape of a peanut-butter sandwich, wrapped in sheets of toasted seaweed and thinly filled with Japanese pickles, shaved bonito or salmon eggs. 15462 S. Western Ave. (in Tozai Plaza), Gardena; (310) 323-7882. Open daily 11:30 a.m.-4 a.m. Lunch or dinner for two, food only, $9-$20. Beer and wine. Lot parking. Takeout. MC, V.
This is what you eat at Zankou: rotisserie-chicken sandwiches, excellent falafel, shawarma carved off the rotating spit and served warm with superbly caramelized edges, sweetly gamy as only properly overcooked lamb can be. The hummus is fine and grainy, and the spit-roasted chickens are superb: golden, crisp-skinned and juicy, with developed chicken flavor, the kind of bird that makes you want to scour the carcass for stray bits of carbonized skin and delicious scraps of flesh. Such chicken really needs no embellishment, although a little bit of Zankou's Armenian garlic sauce - a fierce, blinding-white paste, the texture of pureed horseradish, which sears the back of your throat, and whose powerful aroma can stay in your head (also your car) for days - couldn't hurt. 5065 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood; (323) 665-7842; open daily 10 a.m.-mid. 1415 E. Colorado St., Glendale; (818) 244-2237; open daily 10 a.m.-11 p.m. Dinner for two, food only, $5-$9. No alcohol. Lot parking. Cash only.
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