Looks Like Chicken, Tastes Like Chicken . . .
Charming Garden is a clean, bright place, spare of ornament, with fresh tablecloths and formal service. It is also the most serious Hunan-style restaurant in Southern California. At lunchtime, here comes the waitress, slinging a tray with an assortment of cold hors d'oeuvres: tender young bamboo shoots cooked in a sweet chile sauce; marinated cubes of jicama; parboiled snap peas brushed with sweetened sesame oil. What you're going to want next is the house-special bean curd, the smoking casserole that ends up on every table, sputtering and spitting like a volcanic hot spring: delicious. Finally, the wonderful "steamed stuff chicken" is more or less a version of beggars' chicken, stuffed with Chinese pickles, baked in sort of a Shake 'n' Bake bag instead of lotus leaves and clay, and the whole red-cooked chicken, enveloped in a puff of anise-scented steam, is tender enough to eat, bones and all, with a spoon. 111 N. Atlantic Blvd., Monterey Park; (626) 458-4508. Open daily for lunch and dinner. Lunch for two, food only, $8 - $13; dinner for two, food only, $15 - $30 (higher with seafood). Beer and wine. Takeout. Underground parking. MC, V.
Flossie's, located on the eastern edge of Torrance, a couple of blocks from El Camino College and a two-minute drive from the sushi bars and poi slingers of Gardena, is the closest you can get in Los Angeles to Mississippi boarding-house cuisine. So come hungry. What Flossie's serves is mostly daily specials, except for the perfect -- and I do mean perfect -- Southern fried chicken, which is always on hand. Regulars know that Wednesday is soft, sweet mountains of meat loaf; Thursday is long-smothered pork chops cooked so they fall apart when you look at them. Entrées, with three sides, are shoveled from steam-table bins into Styrofoam containers, even for people who decide to eat in the restaurant. Flossie's does about 90 percent takeout: Two fragrant corn muffins are twisted into a link of foil and piled atop the closed containers. One of Flossie's lunch specials, at $6.95, feeds two with leftovers for breakfast -- and your car smells like heaven, all the way home. 3566 Redondo Beach Blvd., Torrance; (310) 352-4037. Open for lunch and dinner Tues. - Sun. Dinner for two, food only, $12 - $18. Takeout. No alcohol. Lot parking. Cash only.
This little yakitori restaurant in Little Tokyo caters to levels of chicken connoisseurship most of us will never develop: an appreciation of the particular striations of one particular muscle in a chicken breast, the flavor of right thigh over left, the ability to identify feed, breed and gender after one small bite into a charcoal-broiled breast. Until you've been coming to Kokekokko long enough to begin to know what to ask for, the ritual here is to order one of the set menus, either five or 10 courses of grilled chicken flesh and innards: loosely packed chicken meatballs, faintly scented with herbs; grilled skin, threaded onto the skewer in accordion pleats; marinated slivers of thigh, separated from each other by slices of onion. Grilled hearts, served with a smear of hot Chinese mustard, are a little tough, but intensely chicken-flavored. Wisps of breast stretched around okra and Japanese chile provide just a smidgen of residual sliminess that works to intensify the texture of the meat. 203 S. Central Ave.; (213) 687-0690. Open Mon. - Sat. for dinner. Dinner for two, food only, $30 - $50. Beer and wine. AE, MC, V.
Pollos a la Brasa
Peruvian-style chicken -- pollo a la brasa, chicken on a spit -- is the stuff to turn to when you're looking for roasted chicken with lots of taste. The first thing you notice about Pollo a la Brasa is the wood smoke, great billowing drafts that perfume downwind noodle shops and coffee bars. Inside, an assembly line of workers is impaling one chicken after another onto thick steel skewers, jamming them into a vast, flame-licked apparatus, hacking the soon-cooked birds into parts and tossing them onto piles of French fries. The meat is remarkable, well-garlicked, slightly spicy, permeated with that pungent smoke. The flesh is juicy, the herbal flavor clear, the skin caramelized and crisp. With the chicken come a salad and little plastic cups of aji, a smooth, mint-green cheese-and-chile purée that is almost hot enough to sear the skin off your lips. 764 S. Western Ave. (also at 16527 S. Vermont Ave., Gardena); (213) 382-4090. Open Wed. - Mon. 11 a.m. - 10 p.m. Dinner for two, food only, $5 - $10. Takeout. No alcohol. Limited lot parking. Cash only.
This is what you eat at Zankou: barbecued-chicken sandwiches, excellent falafel, shawarma carved off the rotating spit and served warm, with superbly caramelized edges and sweetly gamy as only properly overcooked beef can be. The chickpea-sesame dip hummus is fine and grainy. And the spit-roasted chickens are superb: golden, crisp-skinned and juicy, the kind of bird that makes you want to scour the carcass for stray bits of carbonized skin and delicious scraps of flesh, or hoard your favorite bites -- that rich chunk of dark meat right where the leg joins the thigh, or that tender strip running along the top. Such chicken really needs no embellishment, although a little bit of Zankou's garlic sauce -- a fierce, blinding-white paste, the texture of puréed horseradish, that 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. Also at 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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