Cha Cha Chicken. Although Cha Cha Chicken seems to operate mostly as a takeout stand, the patio off to the side is a pleasant place on a hot night. The cuisine is Caribbean poultry with attitude: a luscious, crisp-skinned bird gritty with spices and painted with dense, black sauce, slightly sweet and intricately spiced. Mulato Cubano is everything you could want in a pressed sandwich: violently spicy chicken, melted cheese, a pickle chip or two, and a French roll that has been folded, spindled and mutilated in the jaws of a sandwich press. 1906 Ocean Ave., Santa Monica; (310) 581-1684. Open Mon.–Fri. 11 a.m.–10 p.m., Sat.–Sun. 10 a.m.–10 p.m. BYOB. Street parking. Dinner for two, food only, $15–$20. MC, V. Caribbean. JG ¢
888. A good place to start is the Chiu Chow cold plate: symmetrically arranged slices of tender steamed geoduck clam, aspic-rimmed pork terrine, crunchy strands of jellyfish, cold halved shrimp in a sweet, citrus-based sauce. Or try a soup of whole perch gently poached in the heat of broth, sharp with the flavor of Chinese celery and herbs, made complexly tart with sour plum, or an astonishing dish of Chiu Chow–style braised goose. 8450 Valley Blvd., Rosemead; (626) 573-1888. Lunch and dinner seven days 9 a.m.–10 p.m. Full bar. Lot parking. Dinner for two, food only, $20–$30. MC, V. Chinese. JG $
El Coyote. Many restaurants resemble this place — from the cheap margaritas, to the "Mexican pizza" available in the ever-crowded bar, to the walls decorated with broken mirrors, to the wire-mesh-enclosed patio with its plastic smog-dusted foliage and visiting local sparrows, to the guacamole dinners, to the ersatz tostadas — but I could pick an El Coyote combination plate blindfolded out of 100 others, and most of the regulars could, too. 7312 Beverly Blvd.; (323) 939-2255. Lunch and dinner Sun.–Thurs. 11 a.m.–10 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 11 a.m.–11 p.m. Full bar. Valet parking. Dinner for two, food only, $18–$25. MC, V. Mexican. JG $
Gallo’s Grill. With its tiled patio furnished with oversize wooden tables, shaded from the sky by a canopy, and decorated with citrus trees and "peeling" brick, this sweet Mexican steak house serves everybody’s idea of a great Eastside meal: warm, thick corn tortillas (or paper-thin flour tortillas) patted to order, fresh salsas brought to the table perched on intricate wrought-iron stands, garlicky steaks served still sizzling, flanked by bushels of charred scallions on superheated platters. The beef is prepared in a specifically Mexican way, butterflied and re-butterflied and laid open like a scroll, a broad, thin filete abierto marinated enough to allow for a bit of juice. 4533 Cesar E. Chavez Ave., Los Angeles; (323) 980-8669. Lunch and dinner Wed.–Mon. 11 a.m.–9 p.m. No alcohol. Lot parking. Dinner for two, food only, $20–$25. D, MC, V. Mexican. JG $
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Mike’s Hockeyburger. Mike may be the most prominent restaurateur in this part of town, an industrial area that seems more like an enormous, truck-choked loading dock, and his sign, which depicts a giant hockey player, was "borrowed" for the doughnut shop in Wayne’s World. But Mike sure is proudest of his Hockeyburger, which is essentially a cheeseburger garnished with a sliced, grilled all-beef hot dog. Though the Hockeyburger may be fearsome to behold, it is actually almost as delicious as it is indigestible. 1717 S. Soto St., Los Angeles; (323) 264-0444. Breakfast, lunch and dinner Mon.–Wed. 6 a.m.–7 p.m., Thurs.–Fri. 24 hours, Sat. 6 a.m.–3:30 p.m., closed Sun. Lot parking. Lunch for two $8–$12. Beer. Cash only. American. JG ¢
The Pines. The pancake, the occasional Pines special called a tortilla cake (the batter is enriched with masa, cornmeal and ground hominy), tastes the way you’ve always wanted a tortilla to taste, warm and soft and sweet as corn, fragrant, slightly burned around the edges. Picture it striped with yellow from a three-egg omelet, white from biscuits ’n’ gravy, and sandy brown from a half-pound or so of well-done fried potatoes, a weighty analogue to the nouvelle presentation of a Michael’s or a Le Dome, but no less carefully done. 4343 Pearblossom Hwy., Palmdale; (661) 285-0455. Breakfast and lunch seven days 7 a.m.–2 p.m. No alcohol. Lot parking. Breakfast for two, food only, $8–$15. Cash only. American. JG ¢
Sanuki No Sato. Udon noodles come in all the standard flavors: topped with crisp buttons of tempura batter in a plain soy-enriched broth, or with chewy bits of rice cake, or with exquisitely slimy Japanese mountain yams. Yukinabe udon — served in a rustic-looking iron kettle and buried beneath half an inch of grated daikon, a sprinkling of grated wasabi and a ferociously spiced cod-egg sac — is refreshing in spite of its bulk, an exotic bowl you could eat every day. 18206 S. Western Ave., Gardena; (310) 324-9184. Open seven days, 11:30 a.m.–2:30 p.m. and 5:30–10 p.m. Beer and wine. Lot parking. Lunch or dinner for two, food only, $13–$36. AE, DC, MC, V. Japanese. JG $
Skooby’s. The scene inside Skooby’s is cool and relaxed, the menu simple: snappy, all-beef Papa Cantella franks served five ways, French fries and cold drinks. You can watch the swell counter guys grill the dogs, toast the French rolls, push the Idaho potatoes through a press and pour fresh lemonade. Try the fries, a mix of strips and chips, twice-fried in peanut oil until sienna brown, crisp but still soft inside, and tossed with salt and special seasoning. 6654 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood; (323) HOT-DOGS. Sun.–Thurs. noon–10 p.m., Fri.–Sat. noon–2:30 a.m. No alcohol. Takeout. Street parking. Dogs $2.50–$7.50. Cash only. American. Nancy Rommelmann ¢