Man, Eating Animals
Good steak houses are basically of two kinds: the ones that pass along the $15-plus per pound they pay for prime meat wholesale, and the ones that use less expensive grades but make up for it with low prices, friendly service, strong old-fashioneds and plenty of atmosphere. Among the latter, none is more atmospheric than the Arsenal. Here is your basic restaurant from the Twilight Zone, with medieval weaponry mounted on the walls, mortar shells hanging from the ceiling and a queer, Hieronymus Boschlike mural behind the bar. The prices are low -- steaks start at $9.50 -- and the waitresses, who seem to have been working here since Century City was a bean field, are most friendly. 12012 W. Pico Blvd., West L.A.; (310) 479-9782. Open Mon.Thurs. 11:30 a.m.10 p.m., Fri.Sat. till 11 p.m. Dinner for two, food only, $18$25. Full bar. AE, CB, DC, Disc., MC, V.
Though other burger stands figure more prominently in the consciousness of most Angelenos, those who know consider Cassell's hamburgers to be among the very best in the United States: softballs of freshly ground USDA prime beef that weigh a full one-third or two-thirds of a pound, broiled in a hinged inferno of Mr. Cassell's own design, served naked on a toasted bun. If Cassell's has a flaw, it is that the meat is too ã good, the preparation is too careful, so that when you splash your burger with ketchup, every gram of Heinz-borne sugar makes itself known. A Cassell's hamburger stands out not because it is typical of the Southland, but because it is apart from it, the sort of hamburger you might expect at a quality-obsessed diner somewhere in deepest Iowa, a Spartan, anti-exuberant hamburger qua hamburger in which each element tastes only of itself. 3266 W. Sixth St.; (213) 387-5502. Open for lunch Mon.Sat. Lunch for two, food only, $5$7. No alcohol. Takeout. Cash only.
The basic unit of currency at El Chamizal is the parrillada, a squat iron brazier shimmering from the heat of the charcoal within, brought to your table piled high with thin grilled steaks, pork chops marinated in chile, hunks of chorizo, fried bananas, whole jalapeños burnt black, and little ramekins of melted cheese and scallions bronzed and wilted to a superb sweetness. The meat is terrific, well-marinated, rich with crunchy carbonized bits -- rather overrich in them if you leave the stuff on the grill too long -- very nice folded into a little taco with the house's fine smoked tomato sauce and a spoonful of the smoky bacon-stewed beans. 7111 Pacific Blvd., Huntington Park; (323) 583-3251. Open daily 8 a.m.2 a.m. Dinner for two, food only, $20$28. Full bar. Entertainment and dancing. Street parking. AE, DC, Disc., MC, V.
El Gran Burrito
Grilled beef, snatched from a big fire, chopped -- thwack! -- into gristly nubs with a big cleaver and swept into a gray pile. From the pile, still hissing, the grill man tips the meat onto a juxtaposition of two thick corn tortillas that have been briefly toasted with oil, splashes it with a bit of the stand's tart green tomatillo salsa, dusts it with chopped onions and a little cilantro, and slides the taco -- or four -- onto a thin paper plate in less time than it takes you to fish a couple of dollars from your jeans. This is a grand taco, sizzling-hot, oily, glowing with citrus and black pepper, the kind of taco that can for a fleeting instant seem like the best thing that ever happened to your life. 4716 Santa Monica Blvd.; (323) 665-8720. Open daily for lunch and dinner. Lunch or dinner for two, food only, $4$7. Outdoor grilled tacos served evenings and weekends only. No alcohol. Parking lot. Cash only.
The first thing you do at the Brazilian steak house Green Field is grab a plate and wander through the long buffet station, picking up pickled hearts of palm, marinated chickpeas, fresh asparagus, nubs of garlic-fried chicken. Then comes the meat, rodizio ("all you can eat") style. Well-done skirt steak, chicken, bacon-wrapped turkey, spareribs, sweet Italian sausages and tiny, well-charred chicken hearts appear, slid by a procession of waiters from their swords onto your plates. Bacon-wrapped rabbit parts are mild and full of juice. A crunchy strip deftly carved off what looks like a tri-tip fulfills the common culinary fantasy of cutting off and eating the salty, fatty crust from a roast beef, and leaving the meat behind. 381 N. Azusa Ave., West Covina; (626) 966-2300. Open daily 11 a.m.10 p.m. Rodizio for two, food only, $31.90; $19.90 at lunch. Full bar. Lot parking. AE, DC, Disc., MC, V.
Lake Spring's "noisette of pork pump" may or may not have been a whole, anise-scented pork hock. (When I asked a waitress what it was, she smiled mysteriously and gestured toward her shapely outstretched calf.) The pork had been simmered in soy sauce and rock sugar for hours, until it was so soft a probing chopstick easily penetrated the whole sweet mass of delicious, melting fat; at the core was a fist of the tenderest imaginable meat, the sort of thing all pork might taste like if the President's Council on Fitness had never been convened. I kept fantasizing about Wolfgang Puck discovering the thing and importing the recipe to Chinois, where roomfuls of cholesterol-conscious Westsiders would chow down on what is essentially pounds and pounds of braised hog lard: Pump up the volume! 219 E. Garvey Ave., Monterey Park; (626) 280-3571. Open daily for lunch 11:30 a.m.3 p.m. and dinner 59:30 p.m. Dinner for two, food only, $15$30. No alcohol. MC, V.
The Sherman Room is a regular steak housebar, the kind you'd expect to find in Idaho or Kansas City, with sporting prints, Dad's-den paneling and a wait that can stretch more than an hour on weekend nights. A flagstone fireplace flickers with the cold light of a mechanical log; a blurry etching on the mirror behind the bar makes you feel as if you've bolted four martinis before you've even touched a drop. The attraction here is the prices: Steaks cost less than $10; steak and lobster starts at $17.95. Plus, the restaurant is 21-and-over, a joint for grown-ups. The beer is cold, a New York steak ordered rare comes rare, and the garlic toast is pleasantly sodden. For dessert, there's that fudgy ice cream concoction called mud pie. 16916 Sherman Way, Van Nuys; (818) 881-9363. Open for dinner Tues.Sat. Dinner for two, food only, $15$28. Full bar. MC, V.
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