Out and In
Of all the neighborhood pizza parlors out there, each of them touted as the best in the Southland, one of them actually has to be the best. And I'm pretty sure that the Casa Bianca pizza pie is the one. Especially the sausage pizza, speckled with sweetly spiced homemade sausage, shot through with mellow cloves of roasted garlic (if you order them) and topped with plenty of stringy mozzarella cheese. Tomato sauce is sparingly applied, a bit of tartness to cut through the richness of the cheese and the sausage. The cheese and sauce reach nearly to the edge of the crust, which lets you avoid the touchy problem of what to do with all those leftover pizza edges. The crust is chewy, yet crisp enough to maintain rigidity as you maneuver it toward your mouth; thin, yet thick enough to give the sensation of real, developed wheat flavor, and with enough carbony, bubbly burnt bits to make each bite slightly different from the last. Leftovers taste superb with your morning coffee. 1650 Colorado Blvd., Eagle Rock; (323) 256-9617. Open for dinner Tues.-Sat. Dinner for two, food only, $8-$18. Beer and wine. Takeout. Cash only.
The first thing you should know about the Electric Lotus in Los Feliz is that its chef, who cooks otherwise fairly orthodox Pakistani and northern Indian food, tends to use olive oil as a cooking medium instead of the usual ghee, which means that most of the vegetarian dishes are completely without animal residue. (This greatly cheers the legions of Silver Lake vegans.) Olive oil also has the effect of making Indian spices seem sharper, clearer, than you may have ever tasted them before. The stewed-eggplant dish bertha, for example, seems closer to Sicilian caponata than to the fragrant, spicy mash found in other Indian restaurants in Los Angeles, the texture of the vegetable more distinct, the piercing flavors of garlic and ginger unmuddied in the midrange. Chana masala, chickpea curry, bright yellow with turmeric, almost resembles a salsa in its clean, spare spicing. And the chicken curry, a mellow, soothing, sauce-intensive thing served in a small copper vessel, displays each spice like a stave in a score: coriander, clove, turmeric, pepper, garlic, ginger. 4656 Franklin Ave., Los Feliz; (323) 953-0040. Open daily for lunch and dinner. Lunch or dinner for two, food only, $7-$20. No alcohol. Takeout. Lot parking. AE, MC, V.
If you've spent any time in Cantonese seafood joints, you can probably recite the menu before the waiter sets it down. At Happy Valley, there's an incredible scallop-and-dried-scallop soup, the marine sweetness of the one bouncing off the subtle smokiness of the other in a cornstarch-thickened base. Sizzling-hot casseroles are wonderful: Ask for the hot pot with roast pork and oysters, plump and fresh in a fine, briny gravy. Shrimp with spicy salt are deep-fried to impeccable crispness, peppery enough to leave your lips tingling. And then there are the live-seafood tanks, where (in season) Exhibit A is the Alaskan king crab, a gnarled old monster who looms over the lobsters, giant oysters and fresh flounder the way Gamera did over Tokyo. 407 Bamboo Lane, Chinatown; (213) 617-3662. Open Thurs.-Tues. noon-3 a.m. Dinner for two, food only, $12-$24 (and up - way up - if you order live seafood). Beer and wine. Takeout. Validated parking. MC, V.
Havana on Sunset
Havana on Sunset, improbably situated in the parking lot of an Indonesian-owned hotel, may be the fanciest Cuban restaurant in Hollywood, with dim mood lighting, acres of thatch, a dramatic bar, and scratchy charanga records booming from the stereo. To go with the excellent daiquiris and Bacardi cocktails, you can get crusty fried meat empanadas oozing scarlet oil; musky, crisp salt-cod fritters; and crunchy, salty little disks of deep-fried green plantains. I like the leg of pork, oozing slabs of soft flesh thoroughly saturated with garlic and citrus, and the vaca frita - oily, Cuban-style fajitas, fried hard with onions, peppers and a healthy slug of soy - is fine. Here, too, is what may be the best arroz con pollo in town, complexly alcoholic, as if three or four different kinds of wine had been used in the dish. Dinners come with salad or a small bowl of the restaurant's excellent chicken soup, shot through with more exotic vegetables than you can shake a malanga root at.
5825 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood; (323) 464-1800. Open Mon.-Thurs. 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m., Fri.-Sat. 11:30 a.m.-2 a.m., Sun. 2-9 p.m. Dinner for two, food only, $20-$42. Full bar. Lot parking. Entertainment weekend nights. AE, D, MC, V.
Good bibimbap can be among the most delicious of Korean dishes, and Toad's is about the best in town. Arranged around the circumference of a flat bowl are half a dozen little heaps of marinated vegetables - bean sprouts scented with sesame, stewed bamboo shoots, boiled spinach, that sort of thing - that you mix together with hot rice, and possibly the meat of a freshly fried fish. The contrast of hot and cool, salt and tart, soft and chewy is spectacular, and every bite offers a new and striking combination of flavors, right down to the bottom of the bowl. Plus, bibimbap is a delicious word to wrap your lips around. 4503 W. Beverly Blvd.; (323) 460-7037. Open Mon.-Sat. 10 a.m.-mid. Dinner for two, food only, $15-$22. Beer and wine. Takeout. Lot parking. MC, V.
If Miceli's is unique - it appears to be the model for the restaurant scene in Lady and the Tramp, the sort of dim, atmospheric pizzeria only Hollywood could have invented - its menu is more or less the one you've seen at 10,000 other pizza restaurants around the country: garlic bread, spaghetti 'n' meatballs, a chilled antipasto salad that's whisked onto your table 30 seconds after you order it, pepperoncini, packaged pepperoni and all. The caesar salad may be nothing like a real caesar, but it's pretty good anyway, torn lettuce drenched in a creamy dressing and studded with fat, garlicky croutons. The sausage scaloppine is fine: thick slices of spicy Italian sausage sauteed with peppers and mushrooms and an intense tomato sauce amped up with garlic and wine. And the pizza - you were expecting maybe barbecued duck with endive? - is pizza, with an underbaked thin crust, tart tomato sauce, and a thick layer of melty cheese that stretches the length of the table. 1646 N. Las Palmas Ave., Hollywood; (323) 466-3438. Open Mon.-Thurs. 11:30 a.m.-11:30 p.m., Fri. till 12:30 a.m., Sat. 4 p.m.-12:30 a.m., Sun. 3-11:30 p.m. Dinner for two, food only, $15-$30. Full bar. Takeout. Validated lot parking. AE, CB, D, DC, MC, V.
Smoking in restaurants has been illegal for a while, but the Beverly Boulevard Shibucho still feels like a smoke-filled room, packed with Japanese businessmen, crowds of expats and students, also the hipper brand of record-company executive, well fortified with alcohol, eating mountains of Dungeness crab, treating the sushi bar like . . . a bar. (Presumably flush with yen, half the bar was sluicing down its sushi with first-rate red Bordeaux the last time I was in.) The snacky kinds of sushi are superb here, salmon-skin hand rolls sharp with pungent gobo root, sushi rolls stuffed with Japanese pickles, sushi of sweet shrimp. And the sashimi is very fine, artful even: streaky slices of fat tuna, rich little clams, cool slabs of ankimo (monkfish liver) that is more or less the foie gras of the sea. 3114 Beverly Blvd.; (213) 387-8498. Open Mon.-Sat. 5:30 p.m.-3 a.m. Dinner for two, food only, about $60. Beer, wine, sake. Street parking. AE, MC, V.
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