I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream
Agung, near downtown, has become the one place to go when you want avocado in your coffee. Iced coffee and the creamy fruit go pretty well together, especially when blended into the fluffy consistency of a malted. (If Tuscan peasants had stumbled across the combination, people would be lining up outside Melrose coffeehouses to drink the stuff from little cups.) Agung is also famous for its other beverages: a weird, Bordeaux-colored drink called es cincau that tastes a little like jellied Robitussin; a rosewater-scented drink called es kelapa muda that's spiked with gelatinous shreds of baby coconut. And everybody seems to like the sweet, cool drink that's made with coconut, jackfruit and avocado. 3909 Beverly Blvd.; (323) 660-2113. Open Mon.Sat. noon9 p.m. Dinner for two, food only, $18$30. No alcohol. MC, V.
The spectacular, bhangra-blaring restaurant Ambala Dhaba exemplifies the time-honored side of meaty northern Indian cooking: basic, direct food almost Islamic in attitude, Pakistani in intensity of flavor. It is hard to imagine a better dish than the goat curry, a brilliant red stew that practically vibrates with cumin; the Ludhiana chicken is a smoky, tandoor-roasted bird, as encrusted with coarsely ground spice as a first-rate order of Jamaican jerk. Even the dal is wonderful, as complex, as deeply seasoned as great creole red beans. And the pistachio "milk shake" made with the housemade kulfi, Indian ice cream, is just grand. 18413 Pioneer Blvd., Artesia; (562) 402-7990. Open Tues.Sun. for lunch and dinner. Dinner for two $9$18. No alcohol. Takeout. MC, V.
The cornerstone of the Ecuadorian kitchen is the fresh-chile sauce aji (pronounced ah-hee), whose tart, fiery taste accents Ecuadorian dishes the way the taste of smoked chiles sparks Mexican food and the saltiness of fish sauce does Thai. Still and all, the first thing you should know about El Caserio is that the fruit drinks are among the best in town, icy, foamy glasses of tart guanabana or naranjilla juice and such that are quite refreshing on a hot day. The nicest of all is mora -- mountain blackberry -- juice, which is violent purple and which has the strong, complex vanilla-berry taste of young red wine drawn directly from a new oak barrel. Since El Caserio's food is pretty salty, you'll probably go through a couple of glasses at least. 309 N. Virgil Ave.; (323) 664-9266. Open Thurs.Tues. 11 a.m.9:30 p.m. Dinner for two, food only, $12$18. Beer and wine. Takeout. Lot parking. Disc., MC, V.
At Guelaguetza, you'll find the sort of Oaxacan dishes you've only read about in travel magazines: the dense, banana-leaf-wrapped tamales filled with pungent mole, the unstuffed enchiladas sprinkled with cheese and bathed in a musky red-chile sauce, the homemade drink tejate, served in a gourd, or the rice drink horchata, garnished with chopped pecans and topped with an inch of a syrup that may remind you of melted Popsicles. When you show up late in the afternoon, everybody is sipping horchata and eating clayudas, sort of pizza-size Oaxacan tostadas smeared with black beans, sprinkled with lettuce, topped with crumbles of white cheese and a few squirts of smoky pasillas salsa. On top of the clayuda, more as a garnish than anything else, is a bit of meat: the salt-dried beef called tazajo, the salt-dried pork cecina, or four tiny spheres of mellow Oaxacan chorizo. 3337 1/2 W. Eighth St.; (213) 427-0601. Open daily 8 a.m.11 p.m. Lunch or dinner for two, food only, $9$12. No alcohol. Street parking. Cash only.
The snow cones here, while refined, are less the smooth, shaved stuff you find in the Asian places than crunchy, supercold crystals. There are layers to these raspados, first loose ice scooped into the plastic cup, then syrup, a packed-down dome of ice on top, with a conical hole poked through the center, then syrup again. The two densities of ice lend the raspados the sort of textural complexity you usually don't find in a snow cone; the packed ice also melts much more slowly than the loose ice, which means that it stays crunchy for a fairly long time, even on hot afternoons. The syrups are homemade from pineapples, mangoes, papayas, boiled down to their essence, still a little bit pulpy -- especially the strawberry and excellent guava -- and not too sweet. There is rompope, eggnog traditionally made by nuns; a delicious syrup made with shredded coconut; an intense, runny Mexican boiled-milk caramel, cajeta, that oozes down between the fissures in the cracked ice like butter into hot toast. A syrup made from walnuts steeped in milk brings out the bitter, winy flavor of the nut in a way you may not have experienced outside the context of an expensive French-pastry shop: spectacular. 422 N. Ford Blvd., East L.A.; (323) 264-7651. Open daily. Raspados $2. No alcohol. Street parking. Cash only.
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