Photos by Anne FishbeinLos Angeles is a different kind of restaurant town, a city where the arty-looking guy across the room may actually be Dennis Hopper, where the presence of Ashton Kutcher may mean more than the presence of Wolfgang Puck behind the stoves, where it is possible to run into Wilmer Valderrama in so many restaurants on so many nights that you wonder where he finds the time to deflower underage starlets. Los Angeles may be less a restaurant scene than a rerun of That ’70s Show, a place where a dude, straining mightily to keep his eyes open as his date motors into her third hour of chakra-talk, can find that little bit of nirvana in his seared day-boat scallops with white-bean-shiitake ragout. As in the more visible bistros in London and Lower Manhattan, dinner out in Los Angeles can be more about surfing the groove of the evening than it is about the cooking, though what you eat is likely to be pretty good.
Still, Los Angeles may be the best place in the world to eat at the moment, a hive of creative chefs who have grown up with Thai food and Iranian food and sushi as their birthright, where you will find a checkerboard of immigrant communities large and self-contained enough to support their own Yellow Pages as well as their own restaurants, where the farmers-market produce is superb enough to inspire even the most blockheaded of cooks. Wine country? There are several to choose from within a few hours’ drive. Esoteric ingredients? Los Angeles is the country’s biggest port and, in some area codes, well-stocked Asian markets threaten to outnumber the regular kind.
In the mid-1980s, Los Angeles chefs were at the forefront of many things that the rest of the world now takes for granted — Asian fusion, designer pizza, urban rustic cuisine. But where there were a handful of truly wonderful restaurants in the region 25 years ago, today there may be hundreds. Or at least, I submit, 99.
A wine bar, simply put, is a place you drop into for a glass of vino and maybe a bit of octopus, then a glass of Sancerre and a few grilled sardines, then a glass of Friulian Tocai and a plate of sliced prosciutto, then a glass of Corbières and the tiniest plate of skewered grilled lamb with mint. Until you spot the bacon-wrapped dates with Parmesan on the bar menu, which would go so nicely with one of those big southern Italian reds, or fixate on the idea of ripe Crozier blue with a late-bottled port, or try to figure out just what Suzanne Goin is going to put romesco sauce on next. You could drink and eat like this all night if A.O.C. didn’t unreasonably stop serving at 11. 8022 W. Third St., Los Angeles, (323) 653-6359. Mon.–Fri. 6–11 p.m., Sat. 5:30–11 p.m., Sun. 5:30–10 p.m. Beer and wine. Valet parking. AE, DC, MC, V. À la carte $6–$14. Mediterranean.
Nehari is more or less the Pakistani national dish, an intense, mahogany concoction of lamb shanks flavored with garlic, chiles, and an immoderate amount of shredded fresh ginger. Nehari can sometimes be as genteel as a country French ragout, but the nehari at Al-Noor — also a respectable venue for Pakistani breads, spicy stews and smoky, tandoor-cooked meats — is simmered down to a steaming, creamy mass with the density of a dwarf star, bubbling and glistening with red-tinted oil, a stew substantial enough to fortify three hungry men after a day of hard labor. 15112 Inglewood Ave., Lawndale, (310) 675-4700. Tues.–Sun. 11 a.m.–9:30 p.m. No alcohol. Takeout. Valet parking. D, MC, V. $12–$25. Indian.
Amuse may consume more farmers-market produce per customer than any business on the Westside, but Brooke Williamson and Nick Roberts’ café is an ambitiously unambitious establishment, whose menu is composed mostly of small plates — lentil “hummus,” black rice with baby octopods, a deliciously funky onion and Gruyère tart, and wonderful drippy hamburgers made from chopped rib-eye steak. As in the early days of City Café, when Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger were also trying to figure out what it means to be a classically trained chef in a city that would rather eat big salads than quenelles de brochette, there is the feeling of experimentation, collaboration, fun — as if a good grilled chicken-and-Brie sandwich is no less worthy than a truffled fillet. Weekend brunches are a zoo, but the spare, sun-washed upstairs dining room (which often seems filled with trysting couples and Europeans on vacation) is a great place for a long, lubricious weekday lunch. Amuse, after a rigorously enforced, yearlong prohibition, finally has both evening hours and a license for wine and beer. 796 Main St., Venice, (310) 450-1956. Brunch Fri.–Sun. 9 a.m.–3 p.m., dinner Wed.–Sun. 5:30 p.m.–10 p.m. Closed for remodeling, but Williamson and Roberts’ culinary handiwork can be experienced in the meantime at Beechwood, 822 Washington Blvd., Venice, (310) 448-8884.
Twenty years ago, Evan Kleiman’s caffe crystallized the affinity of Angelenos for casual Italian cooking — the spaghetti alla checca, roast chicken and minimally garnished pizza that a Sienese teenager might eat for dinner at the trattoria down the block on the nights his mother didn’t feel like turning on the stove, but which was essentially unobtainable to those of us on this side of the Atlantic. Its popularity may have inspired hundreds of restaurants featuring salads dressed with balsamic vinegar, but Angeli’s rustic simplicity is still the benchmark. And Evan Kleiman’s pastas are beyond remarkable. 7274 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles, (323) 936-9086, www.angelicaffe.com. Lunch Tues.–Fri. 11:30 a.m.–2:30 p.m. Dinner Tues.–Sun. 5 p.m.–closing. Beer and wine. Takeout. Valet parking. Entréss $8.50–$24. AE, D, MC, V. Rustic Regional Italian.
Angelini Osteria is a loud, reasonably priced Italian caffè with reasonable versions of Roman trattoria classics like saltimbocca, spaghetti and pollo alla diavola, a place to go for a decent scottadito, a glass of Chianti, or a crisp, sparely dressed pizza. The newer, more formal La Terza seems closer to chef Gino Angelini’s sensibilities, but sometimes you crave the challenging textural complexities of smoked sea bass smeared with bottarga, and sometimes you just want a quick plate of spaghetti carbonara. If the nightly specials include Angelini’s braised oxtails, do not hesitate. 7313 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 297-0070. Beer and wine. Valet parking. Lunch Tues.–Sat. noon–2:30 p.m., dinner Tues.–Sun. 5:30–11:30 p.m. AE, MC, V. Entrées $12–$30. Italian.
See “Raw Power: Los Angeles sushi chefs reinvent the modern kitchen.”
Shrimp Topolobampo may still be the single fieriest invention in the history of Los Angeles cuisine, a citrusy sauté of white wine, tomatoes and diced habanero peppers that takes over its victims’ bodies like an ebola infection — searing lips, closing throats, blasting tongues, and bringing forth great bursts of panic-induced sweat that subside only a few minutes after the last shrimp is safely swallowed. The sensation isn’t anguish, exactly — the endorphin rush tends to kick in before the pain receptors realize something has gone terribly, terribly wrong — as much as it is total, irrevocable loss of control. Chef Roberto Berrelleza, who spent decades as a maitre d’ before he ever picked up a pan, is a modern master of Mexican cuisine; and his fish-stuffed yellow chiles, his seared fish with huitlacoche vinaigrette, and his oozy, porky chiles en nogada are worth the drive across town. 1823 S. San Gabriel Blvd., San Gabriel, (626) 288-7265. Lunch Mon.–Fri. 11:30 a.m.–3:30 p.m. Dinner Sun. and Tues.–Thurs. 5:30–9 p.m.; Fri.–Sat. 5:30–10 p.m. Beer and wine. Takeout. Street parking. AE, DC, D, MC, V. $11–$28.95. Mexican.
Ludovic Lefebvre may be the perfect chef for the media-saturated world of Los Angeles kitchens, a young, great-looking Burgundian guy with a classical background, seriously avant-garde inclinations and an ingredient fetish, as comfortable on a surfboard as he is behind a stove. Bastide has all the bells and whistles you’d expect in a Michelin-starred French restaurant, and when you eat Lefebvre’s food, stirring frothy almond fizz into a truffled cauliflower soup, for example, or digging into a yolk-yellow risotto through a sprinkling of freeze-dried coffee, you are forced to consider each flavor as an individual entity — the sizzle of licorice root, or the powerful funkiness of puréed broccoli — rather than just another bit of sauce to scoop up with the fish. You will pay dearly for the tasting menu at Bastide, and grandmotherly types are unlikely to enjoy the experience, but Lefebvre’s is a brave new cuisine. 8475 Melrose Place, Los Angeles, (323) 651-0426. Open Tues.–Sat., 6–10 p.m. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, D, MC, V. Dinner for two, food only, $124–$222; chef’s menu $130. French.
Beacon: An Asian Cafe
Beacon marks the triumphant return to form of Kazuto Matsusaka, who was chef for almost a decade at Wolfgang Puck’s Chinois in the ’80s. His current versions of miso-marinated cod, vegetable nabemono and grilled shisito peppers are all fine. Grilled-chicken skewers are powerfully flavored with the herb shiso and the tiny Japanese apricot called ume.
Sushi on a roll: Beacon’s
signature albacore B.L.T.
You’d probably never find anything like Matsusaka’s salad of perfectly ripe avocado dressed with toasted sesame seeds and minced scallions in Tokyo, but the salad follows classical principles, and it is luscious. The hanger steak with wasabi is so successful, the searing tang of the horseradish doing something wonderful to the tart, carbonized flavor of grilled meat, that you might wonder why nobody thought of the combination until now. 3280 Helms Ave., Los Angeles, (310) 838-7500. Lunch Mon.–Sat. 11:30 a.m.–2 p.m., dinner Tues.–Wed. and Sun. 5:30–8:30 p.m., Thurs.–Sat. 5:30–9:30 p.m. Beer and wine. Lot parking. AE, MC, V. Lunch for two, food only, $18–$35. Dinner for two $30–$60. Asian Fusion.
Blair’s is an adult restaurant for people who don’t really consider themselves to be grownups even into their late 40s, a civilized refuge of caesar salads and crab cakes and shrimp cocktails that are served with a side of deviled eggs, a sort of roadhouse where the pepper steak comes with oodles of farmers-market vegetables, the salmon comes with lentils, and the roster of artisanal beers is nearly as long as the wine list. I would be surprised if anybody’s parents ate this well at Rotary Club meetings. 2903 Rowena Ave., Silver Lake, (323) 660-1882. Open Sun.–Thurs. 5–10 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 5–11 p.m. Full bar. Takeout. Street parking. AE, D, MC, V. $16–$32. New American.
Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger don’t re-define Mexican food; they just prepare it well, transforming the taco, the tostada, the homely chile relleno — here a freshly roasted poblano crammed with Mexican cheese and fried in an egg batter crisp and lacy as the coating on tempura shrimp — into creatures almost unrecognizable if you’re used to their Cal-Mex equivalents. The long, black dining room, delineated by a crazily skewed ceiling painted with rocket ships and wrestling-masked batmen, looks even better now than it did when the place first opened. Border Grill is the rare mainstream restaurant whose tacos don’t make you yearn for a truck parked by an auto-parts junkyard somewhere in East L.A. 1445 Fourth St., Santa Monica, (310) 451-1655. Open Sun.–Thurs. 11:30 a.m.–10 p.m., Fri.–Sat. till 11 p.m. Full bar open till mid. Takeout. Street and valet parking. AE, D, MC, V. $12–$26. Mexican.
Wolfgang Puck’s restaurant in the Hollywood & Highland complex may not have much in common with a brasserie, is as restrained-looking as a corporate canteen, and isn’t even green. But Vert is a useful restaurant, a Hollywood bastion of mussels and fries, the Provençal pizza called pissaladiere, steak frites with vivid-yellow béarnaise sauce, and a delicious sole grenobloise with tiny croutons and bits of lemon pulp. Drop in for a Green Bellini, a platter of fritto misto and a shot at the best desserts in Hollywood — the apple tart is formidable. 6801 Hollywood Blvd., Suite 411, Hollywood, (323) 491-1300. Mon.–Fri. 11:30 a.m.–10 p.m., Sat.–Sun. noon–10 p.m. Full bar. Takeout. Lot parking. AE, D, DC, MC, V. Entrées $16–$24. French/Italian.
Caioti Pizza Café
When the secret history of California pizza is finally written, a greasy volume inscribed in arugula, goat cheese and white truffle oil, former Spago pizza chef Ed LaDou’s name will be known across the land. If a pizza in Denmark or Ohio has smoked Gouda and pine nuts on it, it is in no small part due to LaDou. And Caioti Pizza Café is a shrine to LaDou’s creations. The barbecue chicken pizza, with slivered red onion, smoked Gouda and barbecue sauce instead of tomato, is definitive nostalgia, a taste of multiculti post-Olympics Los Angeles . . . with a hunk of gooey chocolate cake for dessert. 4346 Tujunga Ave., Studio City, (818) 761-3588. Mon.–Thurs. 11 a.m.–10 p.m., Fri.–Sun. till 11 p.m.; brunch Sat. 9–11 a.m., Sun. 9–2:30 p.m. No alcohol. Takeout. Street parking. MC, V. $10–$15. Contemporary California.
The basic premise of urban rustic cuisine is the perfection of Mediterranean peasant dishes, often in ways that may be incomprehensible to the Mediterranean peasants in question. Campanile’s Mark Peel reinterprets this sunny cuisine by using the best farmers-market ingredients, assembling them with chefly skill, and illuminating the spirit of each dish as if from within. Peel is Jascha Heifetz of the grill. 624 S. La Brea Ave., Los Angeles, (323) 938-1447. Lunch Mon.–Sat. 11:30 a.m.–2:30 p.m. Dinner Mon.–Thurs. 6–10 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 5:30–11 p.m. Brunch Sunday 9:30 a.m.–1:15 p.m. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, CB, DC, MC, V. Entrées $25–$38. California/Mediterranean.
Of all the neighborhood pizza parlors in Los Angeles touted as the best this side of Brooklyn, one of them actually has to be the best. And my vote goes to Casa Bianca, especially if the pizza happens to include the fried eggplant, the sweetly spiced homemade sausage — or both. The lines are extremely long, but the crust is chewy, and speckled with enough carbony, bubbly, burnt bits to make each bite slightly different from the last. Remarkable. 1650 Colorado Blvd., Eagle Rock, (323) 256-9617. Dinner Tues.–Thurs. 4 p.m.–mid., Fri.–Sat. 4 p.m.–1 a.m. Beer and wine. Street parking. Cash only. Entrées $8–$12. Italian.
Cha Cha Cha
It is hard to imagine a better introduction to Los Angeles than brunch on the thatched-roof patio at the original Cha Cha Cha at the eastern end of Melrose: strong coffee, suave music and the cooking of Toribio Prado, the undisputed baron of upscale Caribbean food in Los Angeles. The noise and the sceniness can be a little much at dinner, but on Sunday morning, when locals vastly outnumber screaming Corona bibbers, the buzz is exactly right. And the chilaquiles are the best in town. 656 N. Virgil Ave., Los Angeles, (323) 664-7723. Mon.–Thurs. 9 a.m.-10 p.m., Fri.–Sun. 8 a.m.–11 p.m. Beer and wine. Takeout. Lot parking. AE, D, MC, V. Entrées: $20–$30. Caribbean.
Chameau, which is more midcentury modern than a garden of earthly delights, may describe itself as French-Moroccan, but the food is quite different from both the plain cooking you’ll find at the fashionable couscous slingers in Paris’ Marais and the new-style cuisine you’ll find in restaurants that happen to feature a tagine or two on their menus. Chef Adel Chagar’s flavors may be modern, lightened and fresh, but his techniques, many of them, come from the traditional Moroccan kitchen, whose methods tend to be fairly languid: chicken-stuffed b’stilla made with incredibly time-consuming warka, couscous made by hand, and lamb shoulder tagines cooked until the meat almost dissolves into a lamb-scented cloud. 339 N. Fairfax Ave., Los Angeles, (323) 951-0039. Dinner Tues.–Sun. 6–10 p.m. Beer and wine. Street parking. AE, D, DC, MC, V. Dinner for two, food only, $42–$66. Moroccan.
Chichén Itzá, a small counter restaurant in a communal mercado south of downtown, is the most serious Yucatecan restaurant in town at the moment, its menu a living, habanero chile–intensive thesaurus of the panuchos and codzitos, sopa de lima and papadzules, banana-leaf tamales and shark casseroles that make up one of Mexico’s most thrilling cuisines. From the delicious banana leaf–baked pork called cochinito pibil to the cinnamon-scented bread pudding called caballeros pobres, Chichén Itzá, named for the vast temple complex north of Cancún, is as fresh as a marketplace restaurant in Mérida. In Mercado La Paloma, 3655 S. Grand Ave., Los Angeles, (213) 741-1075. Breakfast, lunch and dinner Sun.–Wed. 8 a.m.–6:30 p.m., Thurs.–Sat. 8 a.m.–9 p.m. No alcohol. Takeout. Lot parking. AE, MC, V. Food for two $12–$22. Yucatecan.
From a series of stainless-steel vats in the center of the room, the counterman at Chili John’s scoops out pinkish beans, mounding them high in a yellow plastic bowl, then he carefully spoons thick, brick-red chili over the beans until the bowl nearly brims over onto the counter. With a flourish, he tops off the chili with a splash of bean water. He cocks an eyebrow, which means: “Would you like an extra little drizzle of orange grease with that?” Of course you do. 2018 W. Burbank Blvd., Burbank, (818) 846-3611. Lunch and dinner Tues.–Fri. 11 a.m.–7 p.m., Sat. till 4 p.m. Closed July and August. No alcohol. Takeout. Lot parking. Cash only. Lunch for two, food only, $9–$12. Chili.
If Chuck Jones had ever decided to draw something spicy for the coyote to injure himself with, it probably would have looked a lot like Chung King’s fried chicken with hot peppers, a knoll of crunchy dark-meat cubes subsumed under a blizzard of dried chiles that are the red of silk pajamas, the red of firecrackers, the red of the Chinese flag. Chung King is the gritty, grungy star of the minicorridor of Sichuan restaurants in Monterey Park, for the pungent, cured Chinese bacon fried with leeks, for the little eels stir-fried with fermented peppers, for the cold, hacked chicken with chile, for the great, multiflavored beef casseroles that are so spicy they attack the nervous system like a phaser set to “stun.” 206 S. Garfield Ave., Monterey Park, (626) 280-7430. Lunch and dinner seven days 11 a.m.–9:30 p.m. BYOB. Lot parking. Cash only. Dinner for two $13–$22. Chinese/Szechuan.
Cuchifritos at happy hour. Fatally strong mojitos. Peruvian-style ceviches and Bolivian-style tamales, Caribbean paella and a classic pescado Veracruzana, Bahia-style moqueqas and a fritanga that would knock them silly in Managua. Ciudad, the Pan-Latin downtown outpost of Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger, may be all things to all people, but especially to all people whose pleasures include bending an elbow every now and then. Daytime is for office workers; at night, two-thirds of the customers are dressed in black. 445 S. Figueroa St., downtown, (213) 486-5171. Mon.–Tues. 11:30 a.m.–9 p.m., Wed.–Thurs. 11:30 a.m.–10 p.m., Friday 11:30 a.m.–11 p.m., Saturday, 5–11 p.m., Sunday 5–9 p.m. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, D, MC, V. Entrées $17–$28. Pan-Latino.
At lunchtime, there may be no happier place in Los Angeles than Annie Miler’s cheerful takeout café across from the Century City Shopping Mall, home to Southern ham biscuits, a showcaseful of carefully composed roast-vegetable salads, and an anthology’s worth of grilled cheese sandwiches crisped in an Italian sandwich press. The Angelina-style hot chocolate is a local legend. 1751 Ensley Ave., Los Angeles, (310) 552-1080. Mon.–Fri. 7 a.m.–7:30 p.m., Sat. 8 a.m.–5 p.m. No alcohol. Parking in rear lot and on street. AE, CB, DC, MC, V. Entrées $7–$10. California.
Cobras & Matadors
Steven Arroyo is the Bill Graham of tapas in Los Angeles, the impresario who made the concept of Spanish drinks ’n’ snacks as popular as sushi platters after dozens of others had tried and failed. And his dark, buzzy tapas parlors are teeming dens of olive oil and garlic, octopus and cured pig, grilled meats and pungent concoctions of seafood and paprika and beans rushed to the table still crackling in unglazed crocks. The Los Feliz restaurant has a nicely curated list of Spanish and South American wines; at the Hollywood restaurant, you buy your wines from the wine store conveniently located next door. When you bring your prize back to the table, don’t be surprised if the counter guy is standing right there, corkscrew in hand. 7615 W. Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 932-6178. 4655 Hollywood Blvd., Los Feliz, (323) 669-3922. Dinner Sun.–Thurs. 6–11 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 6 p.m.–mid. BYOB. Valet parking. MC, V. Tapas $3–$15. Spanish.
Cora’s Coffee Shoppe
After decades in service as a prototypically grungy beach dive, Cora’s was chopped and channeled by Bruce Marder into a vision of what its former customers feared most: a pretty patio café fueled by well-made frittatas, truly spicy tacos given a not-inappropriate expensive-restaurant gloss, goopy $12 hamburgers made with ground Kobe-style beef, and astonishingly good house-made caramel ice cream. There goes the neighborhood. 1802 Ocean Ave., Santa Monica, (310) 451-9562. Breakfast, lunch and dinner Tues.–Sat. 7 a.m.–9 p.m. Closed Sun.–Mon. No alcohol. Takeout. Lot parking. AE, MC, V. Meal-size dishes $5–$14. American.
Sooner or later, all ramen lovers end up at Daikokuya, a loud, steamy noodle shop just a few blocks from the Music Center. Most ramen shops offer an endless list of possibilities; at Daikokuya, the choice is taken out of the equation — you will have the thin, curly noodles in pork broth, or you will have them stamina-style, in even stronger pork broth, a formidable liquid, opaque and calcium-intensive, almost as rich as milk. Floating with the noodles are plump slabs of simmered pork, slices of seasoned bamboo shoots and a dusky, soy-simmered egg. When you’re in the mood, you can improve on the kitchen’s excesses by spooning in minced garlic from a tabletop jar. 327 E. First St., downtown, (213) 626-1680. Lunch Mon.–Sat. 11 a.m.–2:30 p.m., dinner Mon.–Sat. 5–10 p.m., Sun. noon–8 p.m. Beer and wine. Takeout. Street parking. AE, MC, V. Food for two $13–$25. Japanese.
I can’t think of a better way to spend a couple of hours on a Sunday than meeting friends here for dim sum. Pace it out, so you won’t risk missing the little short ribs in a glorious black-bean sauce, or any of the exquisite and varied steamed dumplings, so transparent you can easily read the contents: shrimp and greens, chicken and mushrooms. My favorite is a boiled “water dog,” a bird’s-nest-soup dumpling the size of a small bowl; break into it with your spoon, and you’ll find a broth so concentrated it tastes as if 10 chickens have been boiled down to get one cupful of soup. But dinners are pretty fine too: If you’re lucky, the Dungeness crab steamed with noodles and about half a ton of fresh garlic will be on the menu. Bamboo Plaza, 988 N. Hill St., Chinatown, (213) 617-9898. Lunch and dinner Mon.–Fri. 9 a.m.–10 p.m., Sat.–Sun. 8 a.m.–10 p.m. Full bar. Takeout. Validated parking. AE, DC, MC, V. $1.85–$4.80 per plate, $12–$15 per person. Chinese.
In New York City, Italian wine bars are multiplying like mosquitoes. In Los Angeles, the most serious Italian wine bar is probably the posh Enoteca Drago, an outpost of Celestino Drago’s pasta-driven empire, where you can chase a plate of prosciutto, a mess of baby octopods, or even the elusive lardo — cured pig fat in the style of northwestern Tuscany, melted onto a slab of fried bread — with a glass of crisp Verdicchio from the Marches. Some of the wines are served in flights — sets of small pours arranged by grape or by region. Enoteca Drago does function as a full restaurant, although it is occasionally hard to remember this when you’re floating in the middle of a Brunello reverie, but you will also find great pasta with pesto and one of the few proper versions of spaghetti carbonara in town. 410 N. Canon Drive, Beverly Hills, (310) 786-8236. Open Mon.–Sat. 11:30 a.m.–11 p.m., Sun. 11:30 a.m.–10 p.m. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, DC, MC, V. Entrées. $13.50–$18. Italian.
A good croissant is a joy forever, crisp, airy and saturated with butter, large enough to take the sting off a double cappuccino but not so large that you’d be tempted to use it for anything so vulgar as a “croissandwich.” On a good day, Europane’s magnificent croissants could be mistaken for France’s best in a police lineup — the crisp, buttery almond croissant could make you swoon. Toss in the homemade granola, the epochal bread pudding and the gooiest egg-salad sandwich in town, and it’s no wonder that Europane’s regulars treat the bakery more as a permanent residence than as a café. 950 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena, (626) 577-1828. Mon.–Sat. 7 a.m.–5:30 p.m., Sun. till 2 p.m. No alcohol. Street parking. MC, V. Pastries and sandwiches $5.75–$7.50. California Bakery.
At the microbrew fiefdom known as Father’s Office, whose baseball caps read “F.O.,” dining is a full-contact sport. There are no reservations, no minors allowed, and no menu substitutions permitted. There is also no line, no wait list, and nobody keeping track of seating, so that if you want one of the few tables in the bar (and practically speaking, it is impossible to eat the bar’s food standing up), you will have to circle the room until somebody gets ready to leave, then plunge into a scrum. The signature burger is dry-aged beef cooked exceptionally rare, dressed with onions cooked down to the sweetness of maple syrup, Gruyère and Maytag blue cheeses, smoky bacon, arugula and a tomato compote, all on a French roll. Is the Father’s Office cheeseburger delicious? Of course. Does the effort required to acquire it resemble something out of Fear Factor? Definitely so. 1018 Montana Ave., Santa Monica, (310) 393-2337, www.fathersoffice.com. Food served Mon.–Wed. 5–10 p.m., Thurs. 5–11 p.m., Fri. 4–11 p.m., Sat. 3–11 p.m., Sun. 3–10 p.m. 21 and over only. Beer and wine. Takeout. Difficult street parking. AE, M, V. Dishes $4–$15. European Bar Food.
Monique King’s Firefly Bistro — which she runs with husband and co-chef Paul Rosenbluh — is a comfortable restaurant, the kind of neighborhood place you drop into a couple of times a month because you like the idea of cornmeal-fried anchovies in your caesar salad, or of a paella that tastes more like an uptown version of jambalaya, or of a strawberry shortcake that just happens to be frosted with a superior lemon curd. Asian touches pop up now and again, and a few Mexican things, and quite a few folky flavors from Spain. (The tapas served to coincide with the Thursday-evening farmers market right outside the bistro’s doors have become a South Pasadena tradition.) But King’s culinary specialty is probably the food of the African-American diaspora, and the best dishes on the menu run toward things like crawfish jambalaya, and the pecan-crusted catfish fillets stacked up like poker chips. 1009 El Centro St., South Pasadena, (626) 441-2443. Beer and wine. Street parking. AE, D, MC, V. $14–$27. Modern American.
Fogo de Chao
Churrascerias, southern Brazilian steak houses, are not new in Los Angeles. But Fogo de Chao is less a restaurant than a sizzling theme park of meat, a quarter-acre of sword-wielding gauchos, smoldering logs, and soaring walls perforated with bottles of the heartier red wines. It is a land of razor-sharp knives and double-weight forks, A1 sauce and chimichurri, and all the dripping, smoking flesh you can eat carved off swords at your table: $48.50, cash on the barrelhead. 133 N. La Cienega Blvd., Beverly Hills, (310) 289-7755. Open for lunch Mon.–Fri. 11:30 a.m.–2 p.m. and for dinner Mon.–Thurs. 5–10 p.m., Fri. 5–10:30 p.m., Sat. 4:30–10:30 p.m., Sun. 4–9:30 p.m. Full bar. Valet parking. All major credit cards accepted. Prix fixe, food only, dinner $48.50 per person. Southern Brazilian.
Gingergrass, a sleek Vietnamese bistro in Silver Lake, is probably the polar opposite of a place like Golden Deli, citified where the San Gabriel noodle shop is rustic, timid where the food at the other roars with flavor. There is pho, but it’s not really the point here. And the spicy fish steamed in banana leaves, the shrimp in fishy Vietnamese caramel sauce and the lemongrass chicken tend to be sluiced down with basil-spiked limeade instead of, say, salty lemonade or tepid tea. But the chef, Mako Antonishek, tends to cook in a way not unfriendly to wine (the restaurant has a symbiotic relationship with Silverlake Wine Merchants across the street), and her multicourse Mako Monday blowout dinners are already legendary in the neighborhood. 2396 Glendale Blvd., Silver Lake, (323) 644-1600. Sun.–Thurs. 11:30 a.m.–3 p.m. & 5–10 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 11:30 a.m.–3 p.m. & 5–10:30 p.m. No alcohol. Takeout. Lot parking. AE, D, MC, V. $6–$18. Vietnamese.
Golden Deli’s spring rolls are crusty golden things, 4 inches long and as thick as a fat man’s thumb, five to an order, crudely rolled in a manner suggesting rustic abundance rather than clumsiness, and perfectly, profoundly crisp. You wrap them with leaves of romaine lettuce into bursting green “tacos,” along with fistfuls of mint, cilantro and basil, also a few shreds of marinated carrot and turnip, a slice of cucumber, a squirt of hot chile paste. Golden Deli has a long and complicated menu of delicious and ultra-specialized noodle combinations, but it is difficult to contemplate a meal without an order of these spring rolls. 815 W. Las Tunas Drive, San Gabriel, (626) 308-0803. Mon.–Tues., Thurs. 9:30 a.m.-9 p.m., Fri. 9:30 a.m.–10 p.m., Sat. 9 a.m.–10 p.m., Sun. 9 a.m.–9:30 p.m.. Closed August. No alcohol. Lot parking. Cash only. Entrées: $4.95–$6.95. Vietnamese/Thai.
If Los Angeles restaurants are like rock bands, Neal Fraser is the glamorous indie-rock hero, a chef with a wobbly, idiosyncratic style that couldn’t be further from the finish-fetish crowd pleasers, a detailed, market-oriented sort of New American cuisine, heavy on French technique and inspired by the strong flavors and intricate presentations of New York chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten. The cooking can still be a little rough around the edges at Grace, but Fraser is clearly aspiring to greatness here — this is tremendously ambitious food. And there are freshly fried jelly doughnuts for dessert. What more could you want? 7360 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 934-4400. Tues.–Thurs. and Sun. 6–10 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 6–11 p.m. Full bar. Valet parking; difficult street parking. AE, MC, V. $20–$30. American.
The Griddle Café
On a Sunday morning, the Griddle is really loud: clattering pans, a hundred shouted conversations, amplified rock & roll bouncing off the high ceilings. Actors from what seem like half the shows on Fox and the WB are rubbing sleep out of their eyes. And the woman next to you at the counter is eating a stack of berry pancakes so large that it looks like a movie prop, like three large pizzas piled on top of one another and smothered in powdered sugar. The enormous pancakes are available blanketed in cinnamon streusel, or spiked with Kahlua and Baileys, or smothered under an improbable mass of whipped cream and crumbled Oreos. They are not the best pancakes in Los Angeles, but they are good enough. 7916 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood, (323) 874-0377. Breakfast and lunch Mon.–Fri. 7 a.m.–4 p.m., Sat.–Sun. 8 a.m.–4 p.m. Beer, wine, champagne, martinis. Takeout. Lot parking. AE, D, MC, V. Food for two $12–$18. American.
The Grill on the Alley
Yes, the steaks are good; yes, the martinis are perfect; yes, the corned-beef hash (well-done, thank you very much) is sublime. But within the decidedly non-soothing confines of the Grill, where show-business moguls still pack into the booths in the front dining room as thickly as commuters on a rush-hour MTA bus, you will also find this town’s essential rice pudding: touched with cinnamon, drizzled with heavy cream, coaxing the nutty, rounded essence out of every grain of rice. If Musso’s rice pudding is a lullaby, the Grill’s is a lullaby as sung by Renée Fleming. 9560 Dayton Way, Beverly Hills, (310) 276-0615. Mon.–Thurs. 11:30 a.m.–10:30 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 11:30 a.m.–11 p.m., Sun. 5–9 p.m. Full bar. Takeout. Valet parking; free street parking before 6 p.m. AE, DC, D, MC, V. $20–$35. Traditional American Steak House.
Oaxacan cooking is among the most exciting cuisines in Los Angeles at the moment, and at Guelaguetza, the best of them by far, you’ll find the sort of Oaxacan dishes you’ve only read about in cookbooks or glossy magazines. At the original Koreatown location of Guelaguetza, not far from the biggest concentration of Oaxacan restaurants and bakeries this side of Oaxaca itself, you’ll find chile-fried grasshoppers, tlayudas the size of manhole covers and delicious, mole-drenched tamales. The black mole, based on ingredients the restaurant brings up from Oaxaca, is rich with chopped chocolate and burnt grain, toasted chile, and wave upon wave of textured spice — it’s as simple yet as nuanced as a great, old Côte Rôtie. 33371?2 W. Eighth St., Los Angeles, (213) 427-0779. Open daily 8 a.m.–10 p.m. No alcohol. Street parking. AE, MC, V. Entrées $5–$13.50. Oaxacan.
The Hungry Cat
The Hungry Cat is the restaurant a lot of us in Los Angeles have been waiting for, a local answer to Swan Oyster Depot in San Francisco or New York’s Pearl Oyster Bar, a place to drop into for a dozen oysters or a bowl of shrimp, a boiled crab or a bowl of chowder. The wine list is tiny, but includes a ton of obscure seafood-friendly wines — Picpoul de Pinet, anyone? — and everything is available by the glass. The crab cake, more crab than cake, is tasty if modestly portioned, made from what the establishment claims is a 100-year-old Baltimore recipe. The primary object of desire here is the lobster roll, an abstracted rendition of the New England beach-shack standard transformed into a split, crisp, rectangular object about the size of a Twinkie. In Cape Porpoise, the $22 it costs would buy you a lobster the size of a small pony. But we are in Hollywood, where the next acceptable lobster roll may be 2,800 miles away. 1535 N. Vine St., Hollywood, (323) 462-2155, www.thehungrycat.com. Mon.–Sat. 5:30 p.m.–mid., Sun. 5:30–10 p.m. Beer and wine. Validated parking. AE, MC, V. Small plates $8–$22. Seafood.
A certain breed of well-groomed Angelenos like to look at East Coast media people looking at Angelenos, which is why they flock to the Ivy, a pretty, sun-bleached patio restaurant that looks the way Los Angeles is supposed to if your experience of the town comes from the movies. The food — crab cakes, corn chowder, New Orleans–style barbecued shrimp — is acceptable though expensive, down-home food at uptown prices. But the Ivy may thrive because it caters to the sort of whims legion in this part of town. If South Beach and Atkins were national cuisines, the Ivy would be an ethnic restaurant. 113 N. Robertson Blvd., Los Angeles, (310) 274-8303. Lunch and dinner Mon.–Fri. 11:30 a.m.–10:30 p.m., Sat. 11 a.m.–10:30 p.m.; brunch Sun. 10:30 a.m.–3:30 p.m. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, CB, DC, MC, V. Entrées $25–$39. American.
Any place in town can serve you a grilled T-bone, but Suzanne Tracht’s snazzy steak house is strictly postmodernsville, man, chefly riffs on the strip steak and the porterhouse, the hash brown and the French fry that may or may not incorporate every last pea tendril and star-anise infusion in the Asian-fusion playbook, if that happens to be your desire. Some people we know have never even tried the steak here — the braised pork belly, the glorious pot roast and the various and sundry wonders of Nancy Silverton’s Mozzarella Monday are just too compelling. But the steak is about as good as it gets. The décor is straight off the set of a Cary Grant movie. And there’s banana cream pie for dessert. 8225 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 655-6566. Dinner daily 5:30–11 p.m., brunch Sun. 10 a.m.–2 p.m. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, D, MC, V. Entrées $19–$29. California American.
JiRaffe is a pleasant space in a bright corner of Santa Monica, all neo-Palladian windows, white tablecloths and the kind of minimal Gallic décor you see in the restored farmhouses they feature in Elle Decor. Raphael Lunetta’s food tends to be elegant, almost ladylike, with the sort of seasonality you might expect from a serious restaurant located a few hundred yards from the best farmers market in Southern California, and careful, restrained presentations. JiRaffe is a real California bistro, the kind of casual yet slightly formal place the Ivy only pretends to be, and with much better food. In restaurants as in architecture, sometimes less is more. 502 Santa Monica Blvd., Santa Monica, (310) 917-6671. Mon. 6–9 p.m., Tues.–Thurs. 6–10 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 6–11 p.m., Sun. 5:30–9 p.m. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, MC, V. $23–$28.50. French.
Everybody loves an underdog, and at Joe’s, which has been an institution since it was the size of a rent-controlled studio beach apartment, half of Venice has a crush on Joe Miller’s uncomplicated cuisine. You may not have a transcendent experience at Joe’s, and you’ll spend more than you think you should, but there is this to be said for the restaurant: The kitchen never, ever screws up the fish. 1023 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Venice, (310) 399-5811. Lunch Tues.–Fri. noon–2:30 p.m., dinner Tues.–Fri. 6–11 p.m., Sat.–Sun. 6–11 p.m., brunch Sat.-Sun. 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, MC, V. Entrées $10–$25, plus $38–$45 prix fixe dinner. California.
John o’ Groats
The restaurant is named after a town at the northernmost point in Scotland, but give or take an order of fish ’n’ chips or two, the menu is pretty much all-American, with baking-powder biscuits, fluffy omelets, smoked pork chops and stretchy buckwheat pancakes. And although there seem to be no actual groats on the menu — which is kind of a relief — the steel-cut Irish oatmeal with bananas and heavy cream is fine. The best breakfasts on the Westside. 10516 W. Pico Blvd., West Los Angeles, (310) 204-0692. Breakfast and lunch daily 7 a.m.–3 p.m. Beer and wine. Street parking. MC, V. Entrées $9–$14. American.
Josie LeBalch, who spent her 20s as the chef of an Italian restaurant but cooks with a French accent, is most famous for game dishes but may be as deft with a dish like baby squid and lentils as she is with all-American preparations of duck, wild boar and elk — although her guinea fowl with wild rice is pretty special. She is large. She contains multitudes. And there’s chocolate bread pudding for dessert. 2424 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica, (310) 581-9888. Dinner Mon.–Thurs. 6–10 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 6-11 p.m., Sun. 5:30–9 p.m. Full bar. Takeout. Valet parking. AE, MC, V. Entrées $18–$32. Progressive American with French and Italian.
Shabu shabu is pretty basic: a slice of prime meat swished through bubbling broth for a second or two, just until the pink becomes frosted with white. If you’ve done it right — and if the quality of the ingredients is as high as it is at Little Tokyo’s superb (and expensive) Kagaya — the texture is extraordinary, almost liquid, and the concentrated, sourish flavor of really good beef becomes vivid. 418 E. Second St., downtown, (213) 617-1016. Mon.–Sat. 6–10:30 p.m., Sun. 6–10 p.m. Wine, beer, sake. Lot parking. DC, MC, V. $38 fixed price. Japanese.
See “Raw Power: Los Angeles sushi chefs reinvent the modern kitchen.”
See “Raw Power: Los Angeles sushi chefs reinvent the modern kitchen.”
Like any respectable Thai joint in this part of Los Angeles, Krua Thai features a sign outside boasting of the Best Noodles in Town, but unlike the rest of them, Krua Thai has a pretty fair title to the claim. In a city where great Thai noodle shops are all that keep some of us going some days, when the anguish of a sick cat or a Laker collapse can be eased, at least a little, by the knowledge of a great bowl of boat noodles, Krua Thai’s pad Thai and pad kee mao and rad na and pad see ew may be the very best of all. In its way, Krua Thai could be the Thai equivalent of a delicatessen like Canter’s: cheerful, fast, popular across ethnic lines, and open very, very late. 13130 Sherman Way, North Hollywood, (818) 759-7998. Open daily 11 a.m.–3:30 a.m. No alcohol. Takeout. Lot parking. All major credit cards accepted. Lunch or dinner for two, food only, $12–$24. Also at 935 S. Glendora Ave., West Covina, (626) 480-0116. Thai.
La Luz del Dia
The last place you’d expect to find a real Mexican joint is among the maraca vendors and befuddled German tourists of Olvera Street, but there it is (and has been for decades), La Luz del Dia, serving cactus salad to the hordes. La Luz is a simple place, and most of what it serves are basic permutations of the two or three things it does best. So whatever you think you ordered — soft tacos, tostadas, whatever — you’ll probably get at least one helping of carnitas or picadillo, the chunky Mexican beef stew that, with its carrots and potatoes, looks like a stew somebody’s mother might have made . . . provided that somebody’s mother has an industrial-size garlic press and a Thai tolerance for chile heat. 1 W. Olvera St., downtown, (213) 628-7495. Open Mon. 10 a.m.–3 p.m., Tues.–Thurs. 11 a.m.–9 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 11 a.m.–10 p.m., Sun. 8:30 a.m.–10 p.m. Beer only. Lot parking. Cash only. $10–$15. Mexican.
The best pizza in America may be in New Haven, the best hot dogs in Chicago, the best espresso off Pioneer Square in Seattle. But the best pastrami sandwich is right here in Los Angeles, slapped together by the truckload at Langer’s Delicatessen. The rye bread, double-baked, has a hard, crunchy crust. The meat, dense, hand-sliced, nowhere near lean, has the firm, chewy consistency of Parma prosciutto, a gentle flavor of garlic, and a clean edge of smokiness that can remind you of the kinship between pastrami and Texas barbecue. 704 S. Alvarado St., Los Angeles, (213) 483-8050. Mon.–Sat. 8 a.m.–4 p.m. Beer and wine. Validated lot parking (on corner of Westlake Ave. and Seventh St.). Curbside service (call ahead). MC, V. Entrées $8.95–$12.95. Jewish Deli.
There is an entire school of cooking sometimes called Cal-Italian, but this isn’t that — although dishes like cool, sliced veal tongue slicked with puréed herbs, thick, smoky grilled rib steaks served with Umbrian rice beans, and farro salad with pecorino cheese may well qualify as such. What chef Gino Angelini is attempting at La Terza may be no less than re-imagining California food through the prism of his advanced Italian technique, re-imagining California as an Italian province that happens to have a few agricultural virtues of its own. La Terza is a modern Italian restaurant, perfumed by a wood-fired rotisserie, powered by Angelini’s earthy sauces thickened with vegetable purées, and lubricated by a sharp wine list put together by former Campanile executive Claudio Blotta. 8384 W. Third St., Los Angeles, (323) 782-8384. Open daily for breakfast 7–11 a.m., for lunch 11:30 a.m.–2 p.m., for dinner 5:30–11 p.m. Full bar. Takeout. Valet parking. AE, D, MC, V. $18–$29. Italian.
Lawry’s the Prime Rib
Like the Tudor castles springing up in Bel Air and the half-timbered manors of Hancock Park, Lawry’s exists as an homage to a British institution its owner had never seen: the London restaurant Simpson’s in the Strand. And like those mansions, fitted out as they are with central heating, screening rooms and black-bottomed swimming pools, Lawry’s is actually better than the original: vast barons of good American beef cut to order tableside on enormous silver carts, and served with horseradish and Yorkshire pudding. Relocated across the street and restored to what it must have looked like in the ’30s, Lawry’s is that perfect Los Angeles thing, a simulacrum of a simulacrum of a simulacrum. 100 N. La Cienega Blvd., Beverly Hills, (310) 652-2827. Mon.–Thurs. 5–10 p.m., Fri. 5–11 p.m., Sat. 4:30–11 p.m., Sun. 4–10 p.m. Full bar. Takeout. Valet and street parking. All major credit cards. $26–$40. American.
The California-Mediterranean cooking of Suzanne Goin, which is feminine in all the best ways, is profoundly beautiful in its simplicity, and there is satori to be found in every bite of grilled fish, every herb salad. When she’s on, Goin teases out the flavor from a tomato with the precision of a sushi master, makes textural contrasts dance, plays with bursts of acidity, deep, fleshy resonance and the resinous flavors of fresh herbs. Lucques, which is named for a vivid-green variety of French olive, is located in Harold Lloyd’s old carriage house, boasts an ultrasleek Barbara Barry design and is home to one of the nicest patios in West Hollywood; but on loud weekend nights, the restaurant can sometimes seem as if it is about 90 percent bar. 8474 Melrose Ave., West Hollywood, (323) 655-6277. Sunday nights feature three-course prix fixe dinners. Lunch Tues.–Sat. noon–2:30 p.m., dinner Tues.-Sat. 6–11 p.m., Sun. 5:30–10 p.m. Limited bar menu available 10 p.m.–mid. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, MC, V. Entrées $21–$30. French.
“Serious” restaurants highlight Jidori chicken on their menus, have somebody in the kitchen who knows how to work the mulberry lady at the Santa Monica Farmers Market and feature at least two different preparations of foie gras. Luna Park, the La Brea Avenue spinoff of a popular San Francisco café, is more of a place to drop by for a salad with Green Goddess dressing, a glass of Shiraz and a pretty good piece of salmon with mashed potatoes — which is to say, it occupies a spot on the food chain halfway between L’Orangerie and the local branch of the Cheesecake Factory. The 20-somethings who throng the restaurant for goat-cheese fondue, garlicky moules frites and grilled artichokes with aioli presumably couldn’t care less. 672 S. La Brea Ave., Los Angeles, (323) 934-2110. Lunch Mon.–Fri. 11:30 a.m.–2:30 p.m.; dinner Mon.–Thurs. 5:30–10:30 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 5:30–11:30 p.m., Sun. 5:30–10 p.m.; brunch Sat.–Sun. 11:30 a.m.–3 p.m. Full bar. Takeout. AE, MC, V. $9.50–$16.50. American Comfort Food.
Mama’s Hot Tamales Café
On weekends, a line of elegant wooden tamale carts runs along the eastern edge of MacArthur Park, each run by a vendor from a different part of Latin America, each selling its own particular kind of tamales: banana-leaf-wrapped Oaxacan tamales oozing black mole sauce, wet chicken tamales from Honduras, green-chile tamales from Acapulco, densely sweet little torpedos from El Salvador and grainy tamales from Michoacán. The driving force behind the vending district is Mama’s Hot Tamales Café, a sprawling, brightly painted complex across the street from the park that provides the kind of curatorial services and logistical support to the district’s tamale masters that in a better world MOCA would be providing to Los Angeles artists, and also happens to sell each variety of the handmade tamales themselves. 2124 W. Seventh St., Los Angeles, (213) 487-7474. Breakfast and lunch Sat.–Sun. 8 a.m.–3:30 p.m., lunch Mon.–Fri. 11 a.m.–2:30 p.m. No alcohol. Coffee bar. Takeout. Validated parking around the corner on Lake Street in the Unified parking lot. AE, MC, V. Breakfast or lunch for two, food only, $7–$14. Mexican.
Mama Voula, who commands her namesake kitchen as if she were commanding a nuclear submarine, is an overwhelming presence in this family-owned Greek restaurant. Expect the sharp funk of garlic and charring meat, decent seafood, and a killer gyro that combines the virtues of extreme lambiness with a delicate, carbonized crunchiness. 11923 Santa Monica Blvd., West Los Angeles, (310) 478-9464. Mon.–Sat. 11 a.m.–10 p.m., Sun. 11 a.m.–9 p.m. BYOB. Lot parking. MC, V. Entrées $7–$13. Mediterranean/Greek.
It is hard not to be a little awestruck by the Lebanese restaurant Mandaloun. Because while the local Middle Eastern restaurant scene is no stranger to grandeur, there has never been anything like this place, a gilded gastrodome of massive kebabs, pita made to order and outdoor terraces devoted to the smoking of apple-flavored tobacco. And it’s all tucked away on the second floor of a complex that from the outside looks better suited to a parking structure. 141 S. Maryland Ave., Glendale, (818) 507-1900. Lunch and dinner Tues.–Thurs. 11:30 a.m.–10 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 11:30 a.m.–11:30 p.m., Sun. noon–9 p.m. Full bar. Takeout. Street parking; valet and lot parking on weekends. All major credit cards. Entrées $12.95–$22. Lebanese.
If you wanted to imagine you were in Beirut, you could stop by this place a few times a day, easy — midmornings for a piece of baklava and a thimbleful of Turkish coffee, lunch for a kebab and a bottle of Lebanese beer, late afternoons for a bowl of dense lentil soup. At dinner, it’s a splendid, wild-thyme-dusted version of the toasted-bread salad fattoush, unsurpassed makanek sausages dressed with lemon and oil, the fine hummus with pine nuts, the grilled quail, and the complicated Lebanese desserts. Year after year, Marouch becomes nothing but better. 4905 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 662-9325. Open Tues.–Sun. 11 a.m.–11 p.m. Beer and wine. Lot parking. AE, CB, D, DC, MC, V. Lunch entrées $8.50–$11.50, dinner entrées $10–$16. Middle Eastern/Lebanese/Armenian.
Fusion chefs, even the best of them, tend to fall on one side of the spectrum or the other, either dressing up essentially Western techniques with Asian flavors and exotic ingredients or supercharging existing Asian dishes with professional French technique. Chef Andre Guerrero, who is Filipino-American, seems to split the difference about as adroitly as anyone in town. So where his “ahi towers” are nothing like traditional sushi, for example, the perfectly engineered cylinders of fried sticky-rice cake, seaweed, pickled ginger, wasabi-flavored flying-fish roe and raw fish have all the sensations of a great, trashy tuna roll. This is a midlevel restaurant, not a temple of cuisine. But Guerrero’s formidable chicken adobo is a remarkable, remarkable dish. 13355 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks, (818) 784-2915. Sun.–Thurs. 5:30–10 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 5:30–11 p.m. Full bar. Takeout. All major credit cards. $18–$28. California Asian.
Meals by Genet
At the heart of Fairfax Avenue’s Little Ethiopia, Meals by Genet is more or less an Ethiopian bistro, which is to say a homey, soft-lit dining room that looks at least as French as it does African. The menu is short: crisp-skinned fried trout, half a dozen stews, and Genet Agonafer’s delicious version of kitfo, a dish of minced raw beef tossed with warm, spiced butter. And her dorowot is jaw-droppingly good, vibrating with what must be ginger and black pepper and bishop’s weed and clove, but tasting of none of them, so formidably solid that the chicken, which is well-cooked, becomes just another ingredient in the sauce. Even an Ethiopian grandmother would approve. 1053 S. Fairfax Ave., Los Angeles, (323) 938-9304, www.mealsbygenet.com. Lunch and dinner Wed.–Sun. 11:30 a.m.–10 p.m. Beer and wine. Catering. Street parking. MC, V. Dinner for two, food only, $19–$27. Ethiopian.
Mei Long Village
Even if Mei Long Village served nothing but dumplings — terrific steamed bao stuffed with sweet red-bean paste, flaky sesame-flecked pastries filled with root vegetables and bits of pork, flying saucers of what seems like Chinese filo dough surrounding a meager but intense forcemeat of sautéed leeks — it would be worth a visit. Mei Long Village is also the perfect place to try any of the famous Shanghai standards: sweet fried Shanghai spareribs dusted with sesame seeds, garlicky whole cod braised in pungent hot bean sauce, big pork lion’s-head meatballs, tender as a Perry Como ballad, that practically croon in the key of star anise. The new-wave Shanghai classic jade shrimp, stir-fried with a spinach purée, is especially good, firm, subtly garlicked, garnished with deep-fried spinach leaves improbably glazed with sugar. And did we mention the stir-fried jellyfish head with ginger? Oops! Must have slipped our minds. 301 W. Valley Blvd., No. 112, San Gabriel, (626) 284-4769. Open daily 11:30 a.m.–9:30 p.m. Beer and wine. Takeout. Lot parking. MC, V. Entrées $8–$12. Chinese.
At first glance, Metro Café might be one of the least promising restaurants in Los Angeles, a faux-’50s diner attached to a stucco chain motel. But the strange, fragrant dishes everybody seems to be eating bear little resemblance to the food listed on the menu. Metro Café is basically an informal Serbian restaurant disguised as an American diner, or at least an American diner that sometimes serves a Serbian dish or two: white-bean soup, flavored with ham imported from a Santa Monica deli; spareribs grilled with lots of garlic; or a grilled trout, nothing fancy, plopped on a bed of garlicky greens. If the owners are feeling charitable, there may be crepes for dessert, special, secret crepes stuffed with Nutella and raspberry jam. 11188 Washington Place, Culver City, (310) 559-6821. Breakfast and lunch 7 a.m.–3 p.m., dinner 6–10 p.m. No alcohol. Parking in Travelodge lot. MC, V. Lunch or dinner for two, food only, $12–$24. Serbian.
Look around you, man. Art, the real stuff — Rauschenberg, Stella, Graham, Hockney. Luxury foodstuffs identified by port of origin. A garden patio like all of us dream of having between the lanai and the swimming pool. Heavy silver, Christofle. And organic pork chops, and grilled quail, and sautéed shad roe in season, and a cellar full — full! — of older Zinfandels and obscure Merlots and oaky, buttery Chardonnays that would be beautiful enough to make you weep if you ever got to taste them, because Michael’s, whose cooking under chef Nadav Bashan is nearly as Italian as it used to be French, still feels a little like an exclusive party that somebody forgot to invite us to. 1147 Third St., Santa Monica, (310) 451-0843. Mon.–Fri. noon–2:30 p.m. & 6–10 p.m., Sat. 6–10:30 p.m. Full bar. Takeout. Valet and street parking. All major credit cards. $28–$40. California.
In an era where two splashy new restaurants out of three try to re-define cooking as we know it, there is a certain guilty pleasure in Jean-Pierre Bosc’s thoroughly unambitious restaurant: steak-frites instead of wok-charred escolar; chicken-liver pâté instead of seared foie gras with honey and figs. Few Food Network scouts are likely to get excited about the “tarte tatin” of pungently herbed tomatoes on a buttery puff-pastry tart shell smeared with pesto, though it’s the sort of dish you’d like to eat every night; or the Alsatian-style tarte flambée, a thin, crisp pizza crusted with an eggy cheese custard and a few slivers of smoked ham; or the thick, proper Provençal fish soup; or the plate of French charcuterie. In fact, Mimosa resembles an ordinary restaurant in almost every way except one: The food is really good. 8009 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 655-8895. Dinner Tues.–Sat. 6–10:30 p.m. Beer and wine. Valet and street parking. AE, D, MC, V. Reservations recommended on weekends. Entrées $11–$26. French Bistro.
Mission 261: Choose
to accept it. Mission 261
Mission 261 may be the most ambitious Chinese restaurant ever to open in the United States, a mammoth Cantonese banquet hall fitted into a sprawling adobe complex built 100 years ago as San Gabriel’s city hall. The suckling pig, a house specialty, is made from an animal so young it is practically prenatal; the braised pork belly is the essence of melting fat; the fried whole chicken with fermented taro is practically a sacrament. The steamed rock cod is the standard by which all local Chinese kitchens should be mentioned, and if you’re into plundering the endangered species list, Mission 261 does that too. And the dim sum is extraordinary, possibly the best in California at the moment — less a teeming mass-feed than a sort of aestheticized dim sum meal, where you sit with a pot of really great chrysanthemum tea and a few small plates of attractive, exquisitely prepared food, the clatter of plates replaced by the contemplative sounds of live Chinese music. 261 Mission Drive, San Gabriel, (626) 588-1666. Mon.-Fri. 10:30 a.m.-3 p.m., 5:30–10 p.m. Sat.-Sun. 9 a.m.–3 p.m, 5:30-10:30 p.m. Full bar. Takeout. Lot parking. AE, D, MC, V. Entrées $10–$13. Cantonese.
Musso & Frank Grill
Before Musso & Frank Grill became a martini-fueled Hollywood clubhouse, the place where Faulkner blew out his liver and generations of character actors learned to show up on Wednesday for the chicken pot pie, the restaurant was practically a showcase for what was then considered California cuisine, a genteel marriage of the local produce, abundant local fisheries and masculinized lunchroom cooking: avocado cocktails smeared with sweet, pink dressing and frigid bowls of chilled consommé; great, naked planks of boiled finnan haddie and dainty plates of crab Louie; creamy Welsh rabbit served over crustless triangles of toast and kidneys Turbigo. This is what the cosmopolitan life was like, before cosmopolitans. 6667 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood, (323) 467-7788. Open Tues.–Sat. 11 a.m.–11 p.m. Full bar. Validated parking in rear. AE, DC, MC, V. Entrées $15–$40. American.
In a bland, ultrahotel setting like Noe’s, you might expect the food to be as blandly generic as the nondescript art on the walls. But Robert Gadsby nurtures this sense of dislocation, playing with the inside of your skull in ways that Gerhard Richter or Thomas Pynchon might recognize. Take his triptych of foie gras, for example: one part prepared au torchon in the French manner; the next whipped into a mousse glazed with a Coca-Cola gelatin, in the fashion of D.C. chef Jose Andres; the third fried like country ham and served on a tiny skillet of truffled scrambled eggs. Noe is a strange place for a talent to flower, but in this rocky soil, perhaps Gadsby’s food has found its home. 251 S. Olive St. (inside the Omni Hotel), downtown, (213) 356-4100. Sun.–Thurs. 5–10 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 5–11 p.m. Full bar. Takeout. Valet parking. AE, MC, V. Entrées $18–$32. Progressive American With Japanese Aesthetics.
Sometimes you get the feeling that the owners of Nook are running less an American bistro than a joke about an American bistro. As faithfully as they reproduce the fundamentals of the kind of fancily unfancy restaurants that pepper every urban neighborhood from San Diego to Augusta, Maine, they are also poking fun at it with every dried-cranberry garnish and each day-boat scallop, each obscure Belgian beer and each boutique Oregon Pinot Noir, each crusty roast chicken and dish of iconic macaroni and cheese. Almost every aspect of the restaurant, from its double-height communal table to the admonition on the menu that cell-phone use interferes with the controls on the deep fryer, is as ironically pitch-perfect as the Neil Diamond songs on a Silver Lake DJ’s iPod. 11628 Santa Monica Blvd., No. 9, West Los Angeles, (310) 207-5160; www.nookbistro.com. Lunch Mon.–Fri. 11:30 a.m.–3 p.m., dinner Mon.–Sat. 5–10 p.m. Beer and wine. Lot parking. AE, MC, V. Dinner for two, food only, $30–$60.
Norman Van Aken’s style of cooking, sometimes called Floribbean cuisine, processes Caribbean recipes through the matrix of French technique, often inflecting a dish with an Asian flavor or two: the kind of French toast you’d hope to find in an $800-per-night Antigua resort, for example, piled with seared foie gras and gingered lime zest, or duck cracklings served with a loose polenta that can’t decide whether its flavors come from Valencia or the Yucatán. Craig Petrella must have been the most talented chef in Van Aken’s restaurant empire, because it is impossible to discern where Van Aken’s ideas ease off and his own ideas begin. Except that I think I like the West Hollywood restaurant much better than the Florida original. 8570 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood, (310) 657-2400. Tues.–Thurs. 6–10 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 6–10:30 p.m. Lounge open Tues.–Sat. at 5:30 p.m. Full bar. Takeout. AE, MC, V. $27–$39. New World.
Hideo Yamashiro’s Orris is sometimes described as an Asian “tapas bar,” a place to drift in for a glass of Viognier and a snack. Orris is something else, closer to a Mediterranean take on new-wave izakaya, a Japanese pub, than to anything you might ever come across in Spain — sweet shisito peppers sprinkled with shaved Parmesan cheese and crunchy bits of fried proscuitto; smoked scallops garnished with fat salmon eggs; Dungeness crab salad in a sweetish ginger dressing. This is food to wash down with sake, not with a glass of sherry — don’t miss the lamb tataki with rosemary and sheep cheese. 2006 Sawtelle Blvd., West Los Angeles, (310) 268-2212. Lunch Mon.-Fri. 11:30 a.m.–2 p.m.; dinner Mon.–Thurs. 6–10 p.m., Fri.-Sat. 5:30–10:30 p.m. AE, MC, V. Beer, wine and sake. Limited lot parking in rear. Small plates $6.50–$14.
If you are a fan of intimate, dungeon-like restaurant spaces, dining rooms so dark that diners are issued little flashlights along with their menus, and presentations that extend to mushroom soup served in test tubes and fish seared on hot river rocks, then Ortolan may be the restaurant for you. Actually, Ortolan’s basic premise — high-level French cooking served in a supper-club setting — is a fairly attractive one. And chef-owner Cristophe Eme, who comes to the restaurant from L’Orangerie, is remarkably skilled: the squab, served as a roasted breast paired with a leg confit, is exceptional, as are the crisp langoustines. 8338 W. Third St., Los Angeles, (323) 653-3300. Mon.–Thurs. 6–10 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 6–10:30 p.m. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, MC, V. Entrées $29-$39. French.
Philippe the Original
The place is so much a part of old Los Angeles that sometimes it feels as if it isn’t really a part of Los Angeles, as if it belongs to an older city without chrome. The French-dipped sandwiches of lamb or beef are wet and rich, with something of the gamy animal pungency of old-fashioned roast meat. And if you enjoy the sight of eyes bulging and nostrils flaring as people encounter depth charges of ultrahot mustard in their sandwiches, there’s even something of a floor show. 1001 N. Alameda St., Los Angeles, (213) 628-3781. Open daily 6 a.m.–10 p.m. Beer and wine. For takeout, must call ahead and order must be over $40. Lot parking. Cash only. Sandwiches $4–$5. American.
Vat’s incredible! Mr. Phillips
stirs the sauce. Phillips’ Barbecue
Crusted with black and deeply smoky, the spareribs at Phillips’ Barbecue are rich and crisp and juicy, not too lean. Beef ribs, almost as big around as beer cans, are beefy as rib roasts beneath their coat of char, tasty even without the sauce. They are the best ribs in Los Angeles, perhaps the only ribs that can compete on equal terms with the best from Kansas City or Tuscaloosa. And the extra-hot sauce, so crowded with whole dried chiles that the ribs occasionally look as if they have been embellished with Byzantine mosaics, can be pretty exhilarating. Tucked into a mini-mall between a liquor store and the local chapter of Alcoholics Anonymous, the original Phillips’ might be a little hard to find, although if you keep your window open, you should be able to sniff it out from half a mile away. But the newest location, in the well-scrubbed chalet-style Crenshaw building that until recently housed the well-regarded Leo’s Bar-B-Q, is only a couple of blocks south of the 10. 4307 Leimert Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 292-7613. 2619 S. Crenshaw Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 731-4772. Mon. 11 a.m.–8 p.m., Tues.–Thurs. 11 a.m.–10 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 11 a.m.–mid. No alcohol. Takeout. Lot parking. Cash only. $11–$14. Barbecue.
Consider the Pink’s dog, uncouth and garlicky, skin thick and taut, so that when you sink your teeth into it, the sausage . . . pops . . . into a mouthful of juice. The bun is soft enough to achieve a oneness with the thick chili that is ladled over the dog, but firm enough to resist dissolving altogether, unless you order it with sauerkraut. And why wouldn’t you? Avoid the fries. 709 N. La Brea Ave., Hollywood, (323) 931-4223. Open Sun.–Thurs. 9:30 a.m.–2 a.m., Fri.–Sat. 9:30 a.m.–3 a.m. No alcohol. Lot parking. Takeout. Cash only. Dogs $3–$6. American.
Pollo a la Brasa
If you are anywhere near Koreatown when the need for takeout chicken strikes, follow your nose to Pollo a la Brasa, a Peruvian chicken joint all but concealed behind a fortress of hardwood logs. The smoky, crisp-skinned chicken here, sizzled over a hot wood fire and served with the incendiary Peruvian herb sauce aji, is what happens when you cross a chicken with a smoldering log. 764 S. Western Ave., Los Angeles, (213) 382-4090. Lunch and dinner Wed.–Mon. 11 a.m.–10 p.m. No alcohol. Takeout. Lot parking. Cash only. Food for two $5–$10. Peruvian.
Ever since Michael Cimarusti left the stoves at Water Grill, well-heeled Los Angeles fish lovers have been waiting expectantly for his new restaurant in the old Patina space, which was widely rumored to become the Los Angeles equivalent of fish palaces like Le Bernardin and Oceana in New York. At this glowing new restaurant he managed to fulfill even those super-high expectations — this is among the best restaurants ever to hit Los Angeles. It just doesn’t get better than Cimarusti’s tartare of live spot prawns served with buttery leaves of brik pastry, sautéed squid with piquillo peppers and meltingly soft slivers of stewed pig’s ear, or a terrine of foie gras with muscat gelee that may be the best foie gras preparation in this foie gras–happy town. 5955 Melrose Ave., Hancock Park, (323) 460-4170. Mon.–Sat. 6 p.m.–10 p.m. Full bar. Takeout. Valet parking. AE, D, MC, V. Entrées $30–$40. Modern American Seafood.
Renu Nakorn’s northern and Isaan-style Thai food is spicy, but what makes it wonderful is the fresh play of tastes, a fugue of herbs, meatiness and citrus that is quite unlike anything at your corner Thai café. There’s a blistering larb of finely ground catfish; the thinnest sour strands of shredded bamboo; great Thai beef jerky; and an extraordinary version of steak tartare that is so delicious it could sear the hairs out of your nostrils. 13041 E. Rosecrans Ave., Norwalk, (562) 921-2124. Sun.–Thurs. 11 a.m.–9:30 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 11 a.m.–10 p.m. Beer and wine. Lot parking. MC, V. Entrées $5.95–$19.95. Thai.
Lardo and speck, tripe and liver steak, fresh fava beans and plenty of fennel pollen — Don Dickman has the rustic Italian thing down to an art, especially if you’re the kind of diner who doesn’t mind walking back to the car stinking of anchovies, garlic and chewy Southern Italian wine. For those who love fennel-stuffed porchetta — and really, don’t we all? — Tuesday night is Pig Night. 1432-A Fourth St., Santa Monica, (310) 395-6765. Dinner Sun.–Thurs. 5:30–10 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 5:30–11 p.m. Beer and wine. Valet parking. Entrées $11–$17. AE, DC, MC, V. Entrées: $19-$25. Pan-Italian.
Sapp Coffee Shop
Sapp may be the best lunchroom in Hollywood, a bright Thai restaurant, unrelentingly yellow inside, sharing a small mini-mall with a video shop and a place to get griddled Thai desserts; crowded at noon not with revelers, but with people who have come to Thai Town to shop and eat spicy, stinky boat noodles, remarkable grilled chicken, and bright-green “jade” noodles tossed with Chinese barbecue. Sapp is the Thai equivalent of Pie n’ Burger, a lunchroom where the virtues of homeliness become extraordinary when put in context with the shiny, glittery surfaces against which it might compete. 5183 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood, (323) 665-1035. Lunch and dinner 7 a.m.–8:30 p.m.; closed Wednesdays. No alcohol. Takeout. Lot parking. Cash only. Lunch for two, food only, $8.50–$14.50. Thai.
What we know as California cuisine may be dedicated to revealing produce at its best, but David and Michelle Myers go after nature with blowtorches and microtomes and dynamite, determined to bend the old woman to their will. A sliver of watermelon may be less a sliver of watermelon than a wisp in a chilled soup, a salted crunch tracing the shape of a curl of marinated yellowtail, a glistening cellophane window into the soul of a pistachio, a texture in a sorbet, a jelly exposing its cucumberlike soul. The morning after nine courses at Sona (this is one restaurant where only the tasting menu will do), it will already seem like a half-forgotten dream. 401 N. La Cienega Blvd., West Hollywood, (310) 659-7708. Dinner Tues.–Thurs. 6–10 p.m., Fri. 6–11 p.m., Sat. 5:30–11 p.m. Closed Sun.–Mon. Full bar. Takeout. Valet parking. AE, D, DC, MC, V. $30–$40. Modern French (With Global Influences).
Wolfgang Puck long ago redefined Americans’ idea of what a great restaurant might be. His cooking always had a deceptive air of simplicity about it, like the culinary equivalent of a caprice Yo-Yo Ma might toss off on the Today show. In the last several years, bolstered by imaginative executive chef Lee Hefter and pastry chef Sherry Yard, he’s redefining our idea of what Spago might be — and the roasted-beet cake with goat cheese, the turbot with Chino Ranch vegetables, and the roast duck perfumed with star anise are good enough to make you forget the duck-sausage pizza and the chopped vegetable salad that originally made Spago famous. Is a tasting menu within your budget? Don’t think twice. 176 N. Canon Drive, Beverly Hills, (310) 385-0880, Lunch Mon.–Fri. 11:30 a.m.–2:15 p.m., Sat. noon–2:30 p.m. Dinner Mon.–Thurs. 5:30–10:30 p.m, Fri.–Sat. 5:30–11 p.m., Sun. 5:30–10:30 p.m. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, D, MC, V. Entrées $25–$49. California with Asia and Europe.
Crackling croissants, ultrarich café au lait and tiny fruit tarts are the signature attractions of Susina, along with a carefully curated collection of artisanal chocolates and an incredible buttery puff-pastry turnover stuffed with spinach and garlic that always sells out way too early in the afternoon. There are coffeehouses in Hollywood that stay open somewhat later, and others equipped with multiple electrical outlets and three kinds of WiFi access, but it is harder to imagine a more civilized setting to spend quality time with your laptop, fueled with hot pressed sandwiches and lubricated with fresh-pressed citrus in a fairly impressive replica of a Belle Epoque Parisian café. And the kitchen has started experimenting with American pies. 7122 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 934-7900. Mon.–Fri. 7 a.m.–11 p.m., Sat. 8 a.m.–11 p.m., Sun. 8 a.m.–11 p.m. No alcohol. Takeout. Street parking. AE, MC, V. Sandwiches $7. European Bakery.
At this painfully hip, house-music-blasting restaurant, Govind Armstrong has finally found his groove, which is to say beachy, vaguely Mediterranean California cuisine with impeccably sourced meat and fish, plenty of organic farmers-market vegetables, and a rather generous notion of the places where bacon might be appropriate. (Jonathan Waxman’s cooking comes to mind, as do the first years of Campanile, one of the restaurants where Armstrong has worked.) In Los Angeles, this is what passes for classicism, sunny, global-ingredient cooking updated by a chef whose frequent-flier miles do not necessarily take him only to France. 7661 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles, (323) 782-8258. Mon.–Thurs. 6–10 p.m. (late-night menu until 10:30), Fri.–Sat. 6–10:30 p.m. (late-night menu until 11:30). Full bar. Takeout. Valet and street parking. All major credit cards. $23–$30. California Seasonal.
Tacos Baja Ensenada
In most of Mexico, the words estilo Ensenada signify just one thing: fish tacos, specifically the fried-fish tacos served at stalls in the fish market down by the docks. In East L.A., you will come no closer to the ideal than these crunchy, sizzlingly hot strips of batter-fried halibut, folded into warm corn tortillas with salsa, shredded cabbage and a squeeze of lime, sprinkled with freshly chopped herbs and finished with a squirt of thick, cultured cream. Entire religions have been founded on miracles less profound than the Ensenada fish taco. 5385 Whittier Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 887-1980. Lunch and dinner Mon. 10 a.m.–7 p.m., Tues. 10 a.m.–8 p.m., Wed. 10 a.m.–9 p.m., Thurs. 10 a.m.–8 p.m, Fri.–Sun 10 a.m.–9 p.m. No alcohol. Lot parking. Cash only. Entrées $3.99–$10. Mexican.
Natural-charcoal barbecue, which is to say the atavistic pleasure of grilling meat over live coals, is traditionally a cheap thrill. Such barbecuing as practiced at fancier Korean restaurants is usually done over well-ventilated gas grills, which are much less likely to leave your favorite blouse perforated with tiny holes like a silk colander. The newish, marble-encrusted Tahoe Galbi may be the first place in town where it is possible to enjoy both the superb meat characteristic of the best Korean restaurants and the smoky kick of live-fire cooking. When you bite into the galbi, Korean short ribs, they flood your mouth with sweet juice. 3986 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, (213) 365-9000. Daily 11:30 a.m.–10:30 p.m. No alcohol. Takeout. Valet parking. Dinner $10.99–$25. Korean Barbecue.
Taylor’s Steak House
Taylor’s is a real urban steak house, a two-fisted meat-and-martini joint where an account executive can blow his Pritikin thing with massive hunks of well-aged sirloin, at about half what he’d pay in one of those Beverly Hills joints. The filet mignon here is soft, buttery, as rare as you order it, and crusted with char; the New York steak is beefy and rich; London broil, kind of stewy-tasting, comes sliced, with a horseradish and sour-cream sauce on the side. But the glory of Taylor’s is the culotte steak, a softball-shaped prime thing cut from the top of the sirloin. If you order it rare, the interior is scarlet, dripping juice, marbled with fat, full of the tremendous mineral sourness of great meat. It’s the steak that time forgot. 3361 W. Eighth St., Los Angeles, (213) 382-8449. Open daily for lunch 11:30 a.m.–4 p.m. and dinner 4–10 p.m. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, CB, DC, MC, V. $19.75–$30.95. American.
Devoted to the Japanese cult of perfect rice, Torafuku is the first American outpost of a small Tokyo-based chain. The restaurant’s rice is warm and fluffy with a sort of toasty quality that supposedly comes from a blast of heat at the end. It’s the focus of Torafuku’s expensive, luxurious izakaya menu: at the center of set meals, accompanied only by miso soup and pickles; topped with fried prawns or marinated tuna; or as tou-ban-yaki, seared in a superheated clay bowl with bits of seaweed, tiny dried sardines and a lightly poached egg. 10914 Pico Blvd., West Los Angeles, (310) 470-0014. Lunch Mon.–Sat. noon–2:30 p.m.; dinner Mon.–Thurs. 6–10 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 6–10:30 p.m., Sun. 5–10 p.m. Beer, wine and sake. Valet and street parking. AE, MC, V. Prix fixe starts at $80, set dinners $38, bento lunches $8.50–$12, à la carte meals vary, takeout $55. Traditional Japanese.
Tre Venezie, a tiny Italian restaurant in Pasadena’s Old Town, could easily pass for one of the better trattorias in Udine — the cooking, mostly in the Slavic-influenced style of Friuli, northeast of Venice, is superb. True, the careful authenticity of the food must be balanced against the fact that dinner with a nice wine can cost not much less than a roundtrip ticket to Venice itself, and the wine list is egregiously overpriced. But I love the orzotto, a soothing Friulian stew of tripe and grain that emphasizes the gentle muskiness, the slippery contours of the meat, without an offending chile in sight. 119 W. Green St., Pasadena, (626) 795-4455. Tues. 5:30–10:30 p.m., Wed.–Fri. 11:30 a.m.–2:30 p.m. and 5:30–10:30 p.m., Sat.–Sun. 5:30–10:30 p.m. Full bar. Valet and street parking. AE, DC, MC, V. $25–$32. Italian.
Umenohana is the first major tofu kaiseki house in the United States, a luxurious fortress of bean curd in all of its sundry forms. There is tofu salad and grilled tofu steak, tofu made from sesame and an unbelievably delicious tofu made from fresh milk, freeze-dried tofu and tofu made to order, tofu “ice cream,” tofu cookies and tofu crème brûlée. Yuba, the delicate skin skimmed off the top of simmering soy milk, is wrapped around asparagus, served in a shot glass with sea urchin or piled into a martini glass with a few precious grains of caviar. You have, I assume, tasted tofu, but Umenohana’s fukufuku tofu, coaxed into existence in a tabletop steamer, is astonishing: a quivering, tremulous substance so delicate that sheets of it must be maneuvered to your bowl with special bentwood implements that resemble something out of the Frank Gehry workshop. 433 N. Canon Drive, Beverly Hills, (310) 860-9236. Mon.–Sun. 11:30 a.m.–2 p.m., 5:30–10 p.m. Full bar. Takeout. Valet parking. AE, D, MC, V. Kaiseki menus $38–$74. Japanese.
Valentino was the first restaurant in California to serve white truffles, balsamic vinegar or radicchio, and Friday lunch here is almost a sacrament for Los Angeles foodies, sanctified with a ritual dribble of the latest obscure olive oil that owner Piero Selvaggio has managed to find in Liguria, and bottles of ancient Barolo. There is an actual menu at Valentino, and a wine list thick as the Manhattan phone book, but the entire point of the place is to pretend that they do not exist. Valentino is a certain kind of great restaurant, prepared to transform your whims into six-course meals, to solidify abstract desire into fish and meat and rice and pasta. Bring money, lots of it. 3115 W. Pico Blvd., Santa Monica, (310) 829-4313. Dinner Mon.–Thurs. 5–10 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 5–10:30 p.m.; lunch Fri. 11 a.m.–noon. Full bar. Valet and street parking. AE, CB, DC, MC, V. $45–$85. Italian.
The western stretch of Brentwood has been called the Los Angeles answer to Little Italy by some, although the New York neighborhood that its intense concentration of Tuscan-lite restaurants brings to mind tends to be the lesser avenues of the culinarily challenged Upper East Side. But Vincenti is the real thing, a spare, elegant embassy of modern Italian cooking: spit-roasted birds, minimally sauced pastas and house-cured meats; pungent flavors and abundant herbs; and an obsession with grilled steak that is unmistakably Italian. Such refinement comes at a fairly high cost — on busy evenings, the line of 745s outside the valet station can reach halfway to infinity. At these times, it is good to remember that Monday is pizza night. 11930 San Vicente Blvd., Brentwood, (310) 207-0127. Mon.–Sat. 6–10 p.m., Friday for lunch noon–2 p.m. Full bar. Takeout. Valet parking. AE, D, MC, V. Entrées $18–$40. Italian.
The Water Grill is a big-city fish restaurant, a redoubt of oysters and fresh scallops, sparkling fish and sea creatures we can’t even pronounce, in one of the busiest commercial corridors of downtown. It was widely assumed that the restaurant would wither into irrelevancy when former chef Michael Cimarusti left to open his own place last year (the brand-new Providence), but it is possible that the kitchen is even sharper under David LeFevre, who has added a certain global-Gallic sensibility to the seafood cuisine — which includes a beautiful peeky toe crab salad and perhaps the only local tuna tartare we would dream of ordering a second time. Extremely expensive and quite formal by Los Angeles standards, but you knew that. 544 S. Grand Ave., Los Angeles, (213) 891-0900. Mon.–Fri. 11:30 a.m.–8:30 p.m., Sat. 5–9 p.m., Sun. 4:30–9 p.m. Full bar. Takeout. Valet parking. AE, D, DC, MC, V. Entrées $25–$50. Progressive American.
At the northern end of drab, endless Coldwater Canyon Boulevard lies this massive, gold-encrusted Thai Buddhist temple, grounds crowded with parishioners, saffron-robed monks, and small children who run about as if the temple were a private playground. On weekend afternoons and during festivals, the air around the temple almost throbs with the smells of Thai cooking: meat grilling at satay stands, the wheat pancakes called roti sizzling on massive griddles, pungent, briny salt crabs being pounded for the ultraspicy green-papaya salad. This spread may be more or less the equivalent of the smothered chicken and collard greens eaten after services at some African-American churches, and it feels just as homely; the inexpensive Thai feast is open to everyone who cares to come. 8225 Coldwater Canyon Blvd., North Hollywood, (818) 785-9552, www.watthaiusa.org/engmenu.html. Thai.
Six or seven food revolutions have washed over America since Nuevo Latino cuisine first posited the chicness of pupusas and llapingachos, and the heat these days is probably on Brazilian barbecue and pre-Columbian grains instead. And Xiomara Ardolina’s big-flavored, Cuban-inflected menus finally reveal her as a classicist instead of an insurrectionist, which probably fits the serene, elegant dining room better anyway. 6101 W. Melrose Ave., Los Angeles, (323) 461-0601. Also at 69 N. Raymond Ave., Pasadena, (626) 796-2520. Mon.–Fri. 11:30 a.m.–10 p.m., Sat.–Sun. 5–11 p.m. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, D, MC, V. Entrées $16–$32. Cuban/Pan-Latino.
Yi Cuisine is an Asian fusion joint that superficially resembles every other Asian fusion joint in Los Angeles, down to the yoga-toned regulars around the bar, and it would be possible to visit Yi a dozen times without realizing that there was more to the place than soju martinis, tuna tartare and crunchy, honey-fried rock shrimp. But Rodelio Aglibot, a Filipino born in Hawaii, has a different conception of Asian food than chefs whose formal training came in Japan, and Yi Cuisine’s menu has always proudly, unabashedly included Filipino dishes: chicken adobo, oxtail kare kare, and a light, tamarind-soured seafood stew in the manner of an upscale sinigang. The best dish in the restaurant is probably the kurobota pata, a crisp, super-rich roasted pork knee that differs from the crispy pata served in every other Filipino restaurant in Los Angeles mostly in that it tastes better. 7910 W. Third St., Los Angeles, (323) 658-8028, www.yicuisine.com. Dinner Tues.–Thurs. 6:30–10:30 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 6:30–11:30 p.m., Sun. 6-10 p.m. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, MC, V. Dinner entrées $15–$33 (family-style salads from $7). Euro-Asian.
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The chicken tarna sandwiches are good at Zankou; so are the baba ghanoush and the shawarma carved off the rotating spit. But the spit-roasted chickens, golden, crisp-skinned and juicy, are what you want. Such chicken really needs no embellishment, but a little bit of Zankou’s fierce, blinding-white garlic sauce couldn’t hurt. The new Zankou on Sepulveda is the hottest Westside import since Pilates. 5065 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood, (323) 665-7842. 1716 S. Sepulveda Blvd., West Los Angeles, (310) 444-0550. 5658 Sepulveda Blvd., No. 103, Van Nuys, (818) 781-0615. Open daily: Hollywood 10 a.m.–11:45 p.m., West Los Angeles 10 a.m.–11 p.m., Van Nuys 10 a.m.–10 p.m. No alcohol. Lot parking. Cash only. Entrées $2–$8. Middle Eastern/Armenian.
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