Mary Had a Little Lamb
Agung has all the stuff that would be standard if Indonesian food were as common as Thai: clumpy fried rice with scallions and ham; delicious bakmi noodles, a sort of spicy Indonesian chow mein, fried with dark soy, shrimp and plenty of cabbage; the chicken soup soto ayam, thick with fresh vegetables and fragrant with spice. There’s also good satay, sweeter than the Thai kind, of grilled chicken, pork and lamb, along with an unusual Sumatra-style satay where the skewered chunks of grilled tongue are stewed first, then served with a pasty Indonesian veloute. And don’t miss Agung’s fine turmeric-stained lamb stew. Or the smoky dendeng belado, sliced beef fried until it reaches the size, shape and crunchiness of a Pringle, then served with a searing chile dip. 3909 Beverly Blvd.; (323) 660-2113. Open Mon.–Sat. noon–9 p.m. Dinner for two, food only, $18–$30. No alcohol. MC, V.
Al Noor is locally famous for its version of nehari — more or less the Pakistani national dish, an intense mahogany-colored concoction of lamb shanks flavored with garlic, chiles and an immoderate amount of shredded fresh ginger, also with what seems like half the contents of a spice cabinet — here cooked 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 farm labor or a stringent religious fast. The other stews at Al Noor are wonderful too — the brightly flavored brains simmered with curry, and the haleem, a deeply flavored beef stew thickened with the Middle Eastern equivalent of shredded wheat. But the stuff that draws the crowds is the tandoor-cooked meats: boneless chunks of chicken tikka or hanks of ground beef roasted over superhot mesquite coals, bits of shaved meat in a powerfully sour marinade, chunks of lamb kebab served on sputtering-hot steel platters with blackened onions and fresh-baked garlic naan. 15112 Inglewood Ave., Lawndale; (310) 675-4700. Open Tues.–Sun. 11 a.m.–10 p.m. Lunch or dinner for two, food only, $12–$20. No alcohol. Takeout. Lot parking. AE, MC, V.
This little carry-out place is run by a Japanese-influenced Iranian chef taking on an Italian-tinged California-grill menu that happens to include tacos. Got that? Beyond the multiculti stuff, you’ll find the standard array of kebabs: tender things made from grilled filet mignon; garlicky lamb kebabs; heartily spiced minced-beef kebabs called kubideh; black-edged chicken kebabs; tastefully underdone kebabs of tuna and halibut, crisped at the edges and soft, almost melting within. Kebabs here generally come with a big salad, a mountain of saffron-tinged basmati rice and a charred ripe tomato. You can also get a straightforward grilled T-bone with seasoned fries, rice-stuffed peppers in tomato sauce as homey as a grandmother’s, grilled pork chops in a red-wine reduction. And the roast leg of lamb — powerfully tart, seasoned with herbs to bring out the pungency of the lamb — is the best food in the place. 1075 S. Fair Oaks Ave., Pasadena; (626) 799-7575. Open daily for lunch and dinner. Dinner for two, food only, $12–$21. Takeout and delivery. AE, CB, DC, MC, V.
Middle East Restaurant
I like to come in here in the late afternoon for an indulgent lunch of smooth, cool raw kubbeh, sort of a bulgur-studded Lebanese steak tartare (made from lamb). Monday there’s lamb shank with vegetable-and-chicken curry. If it’s Wednesday, there’s a Jordanian specialty, mansaf lamb. If it’s Thursday, there’ll be couscous with chicken and baked kubbeh. Unlike most Lebanese restaurants, the Middle East makes something of a specialty of breakfast, giant affairs of scrambled eggs with the spicy Armenian sausage sujuk, or ground beef, or fresh tomato. Fatch is a fantastic mess of chickpeas, toasted pita, garlic and pine nuts — fried in olive oil, doused in homemade yogurt — which any sensible person would prefer to a Denver omelet even if he or she couldn’t make much of a dent in the backpack-size pile of food. 910 E. Main St., Alhambra; (626) 281-1006. Open daily 8 a.m.–10 p.m. Dinner for two, food only, $12–$20. Full bar. Takeout and catering. Lot parking. AE, Disc., MC, V.
At Papa Cristo’s, 6 bucks buys a whole grilled fish stuffed with garlic and herbs, or a giant skewer of spicy grilled beef, or a plate of spaghetti plus half a roast chicken, garlicky and crisp-skinned as the ones you find at Zankou. Six bucks will also buy three lamb chops, four if you’re lucky, steeped in garlic and oregano and grilled quickly over a hot fire; crisp, brown, and edged with just enough fat to round out the lamb’s sweet gaminess. These aren’t the thick, prime loin chops you’d find at Michael’s or Campanile, and they are usually cooked somewhere on the far, far side of rare, but it is hard to imagine more flavorful meat. After 15 seconds with a plastic knife, you will risk burnt fingers and eat them with your hands. 2771 W. Pico Blvd.; (323) 737-2970. Open for lunch Tues.–Sun. Lunch for two, food only, $9–$12. Beer and wine. Takeout. Lot parking in rear. AE, Disc., MC, V.
Philippe the Original
Everybody who has lived in Los Angeles more than a year has heard how it was Philippe himself who invented the French-dip sandwich — 92 years ago, when he accidentally dropped a sandwich into some gravy. 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 a city much older and much more attached to its distant past. The lamb sandwich is wet and rich, with something of the gamy animal pungency of old-fashioned roast meat, while all around the restaurant you can see nostrils flare as people hit a little depth charge of Philippe’s hot mustard in their sandwiches. Philippe’s is a fine place, too, for lunch, dinner or breakfast: crisp doughnuts, decent cinnamon rolls, and coffee for 10 cents a cup. 1001 N. Alameda St.; (213) 628-3781. Open daily 6 a.m.–10 p.m. Lunch or dinner for two, food only, $7–$12. Beer and wine. Takeout. Lot parking. Cash only.
Tung Lai Shun
The first thing you notice about Tung Lai Shun is the enormous rounds of freshly baked sesame bread that seem to be on every table, wedges of which you drag through sauce, or stuff with terrific chopstickfuls of beef fried with green onions. While you’re waiting for the bread to come — it can take 20 minutes — you nibble on cool, slippery slices of garlicked ox-tendon terrine, or thin, cold slices of delicately spiced beef, or chunks of cold braised lamb in an unctuous garlic jelly. Later on, string beans, crisp and melting, come fried with hoisin and crumbles of pork. The duck is ruddy to the bone and as smoky as Texas barbecue. Green-onion pies are 45-rpm discs of crisp, griddled dough, at their best when dipped in a tincture of chile and vinegar: easily the best green-onion pancakes in town. 140 W. Valley Blvd., No. 118C, San Gabriel; (626) 288-6588. Open daily for lunch and dinner. Dinner for two, food only, $14–$20. No alcohol. Parking in mall lot. MC, V.
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