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Out of Africa

The first West African cooks to land in the Caribbean more than 400 years ago did not precisely apply for their jobs. But since then African flavors have been as dominant in American cooking as African-derived rhythms in jazz. From the Carolina rice kitchen to New Orleans gumbos, from Texas barbecue to Jamaican jerk chicken, from Brazilian feijoada to Cuban fufu, the West African influence is as wide as the African-American diaspora.

Caribbean Treehouse
Caribbean Treehouse is perhaps the only local restaurant that currently dishes up the spicy food of Trinidad and Tobago. Service is casual to the extreme - if you want another bottle of pop, you walk over to the cooler and take one out yourself. Roti, sort of a Trinidadian burrito made of chicken-potato stew or a handful of curried beef wrapped up in a grilled Trinidadian flatbread, can come pumped up with the restaurant's fiery homemade sauce. There are different variations on the famous West African rice peleau, cooked with pigeon peas or with earthy, delicious black-eyed peas, served with heaps of curried meat. On Saturdays, there's the "sparrow special," an enormous plate of food that involves jerkylike strips of salt cod, boiled cassava, sauteed onion, tomato and a certain quantity of dense, chewy dumplings. 1226 Centinela Ave., Inglewood; (310) 330-1170. Open Mon.-Sat. for lunch and dinner; Sun. for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Dinner for two, food only, $8-$18. Beer and wine. Lot parking. MC, V.

Coley's Kitchen
This is pretty much as authentic a West Indian place as you could ever hope to find in Los Angeles. The meaty braised oxtails are terrific, subtly spiced, meltingly tender. And you do get a lot of food: sweet corn bread, a couple of fried plantains, a careful mound of rice cooked with beans, a pile of steamed vegetables or a bowl of soup. The patties are good, flaky, and filled with well-spiced mixtures of greens, ground beef or ground chicken, though they are better when they come fresh from the oven. And there's ginger beer hot enough to pack a wasabi-style burn. 4335 Crenshaw Blvd.; (213) 290-4010. Open daily for lunch and dinner. Lunch for two, food only, $15-$30; dinner for two, food only, $20-$40. Beer and wine. Lot parking. AE, D, DC, MC, V.

Flossie's
What Flossie's serves is mostly daily specials, except for the perfect Southern fried chicken, which is always on hand. Wednes-day is soft, sweet mountains of meat loaf; Thursday is long-smothered pork chops cooked so that they fall apart when you look at them. Entrees, with a starch and three vegetables - red beans and rice, studded with chunks of hot sausage, say, or collard greens, spiked with chunks of yam sweet as Frosted Flakes - 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 dinners, at $5.95, 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 daily for lunch and dinner. Dinner for two, food only, $12-$18. No alcohol. Takeout. Lot parking. Cash only.

Gagnier's
Gagnier's chicken creole is a spicy, long-cooked stew imbued with the creole trinity of onions, garlic and sauteed bell peppers, and dominated by the high, sweet note of tomatoes cooked down almost to caramel. "Barbecued" shrimp are in the style of - though not quite in the league of - the Italian shrimp at the great Louisi-ana creole-Italian restaurant Mosca's, drenched in an emulsion of butter, olive oil, garlic and enough rosemary to stun a mule. The jambalaya, just moistened with tomato, comes ladled over rice and shot through with chicken, smoked sausage and shrimp. And the crawfish etouffee is wonderful, complexly seasoned, impeccably fresh and glowing with peppery spice. 1315 Third Street Promenade, Santa Monica; (310) 319-9981. Open daily for lunch and dinner. Lunch or dinner for two, food only, $9-$18. Beer and wine. Takeout. MC, V.

Itana Bahia
Like most Bahian restaurants, Itana Bahia is mostly a world of stews, smooth, highly spiced, explosively flavored concoctions, tempered with ground nuts, long-cooked vegetables and coconut milk. Bobo de camarao, a shrimp stew in the moqueca family, comes thickened with manioc flour and ground cashews, slightly sweet, spiked with cubes of cooked manioc that act like the potatoes in a chicken potpie. Xim-xim de galinha, chicken cooked with dried shrimp and cashew is redolent of its citrus marinade. The stuffed pot roast of pork seemed identical to the Cuban dish boliche azado, flavored with smoky ham and long-stewed vegetables. And on weekends, there's the black-bean stew feijoada, the traditional Saturday lunch in Rio and Sao Paulo, enriched with shreds of meat but without the chicken legs and hanks of sausage that make feijoada southern Brazil's answer to the cassoulet. 8711 Santa Monica Blvd., W. Hollywood; (310) 657-6306. Open Tues.-Sun. for lunch and dinner. Dinner for two, food only, $22-$32. Beer and wine. Lot parking behind restaurant after 6 p.m. Reservations required. AE, D, DC, MC, V.

Stevie's on the Strip
On Fridays, if you arrive before they run out, Stevie's has an extremely good gumbo, dark and rich, salty and blisteringly pepper-hot, with shreds of smoked chicken, plump shrimp, a couple different kinds of sausage, and crab legs cut so that you can get at the meat without spattering your shirt with the viscous black goo. The flavor is equally earthy and marine, heightened by the murky herbal complexity that only file can lend, full of garlic from the sausage, smoke from the chicken. In contrast to the vast majority of gumbos (including most of the best ones in New Orleans), in which the shellfish is cooked to tough strings, here the seafood comes nicely poached in the broth. 3403 Crenshaw Blvd.; (213) 734-6975. Open Sun.-Thurs. 11 a.m.-10 p.m., Fri.-Sat. 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Lunch for two, food only, $7; dinner for two, food only, $18-$20. No alcohol. Takeout. Lot parking. Cash only.

The first West African cooks to land in the Caribbean more than 400 years ago did not precisely apply for their jobs. But since then African flavors have been as dominant in American cooking as African-derived rhythms in jazz. From the Carolina rice kitchen to New Orleans gumbos, from Texas barbecue to Jamaican jerk chicken, from Brazilian feijoada to Cuban fufu, the West African influence is as wide as the African-American diaspora. Caribbean TreehouseCaribbean Treehouse is perhaps the only local restaurant that currently dishes up the spicy food of Trinidad and Tobago. Service is casual to the extreme - if you want another bottle of pop, you walk over to the cooler and take one out yourself. Roti, sort of a Trinidadian burrito made of chicken-potato stew or a handful of curried beef wrapped up in a grilled Trinidadian flatbread, can come pumped up with the restaurant's fiery homemade sauce. There are different variations on the famous West African rice peleau, cooked with pigeon peas or with earthy, delicious black-eyed peas, served with heaps of curried meat. On Saturdays, there's the "sparrow special," an enormous plate of food that involves jerkylike strips of salt cod, boiled cassava, sauteed onion, tomato and a certain quantity of dense, chewy dumplings. 1226 Centinela Ave., Inglewood; (310) 330-1170. Open Mon.-Sat. for lunch and dinner; Sun. for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Dinner for two, food only, $8-$18. Beer and wine. Lot parking. MC, V.Coley's KitchenThis is pretty much as authentic a West Indian place as you could ever hope to find in Los Angeles. The meaty braised oxtails are terrific, subtly spiced, meltingly tender. And you do get a lot of food: sweet corn bread, a couple of fried plantains, a careful mound of rice cooked with beans, a pile of steamed vegetables or a bowl of soup. The patties are good, flaky, and filled with well-spiced mixtures of greens, ground beef or ground chicken, though they are better when they come fresh from the oven. And there's ginger beer hot enough to pack a wasabi-style burn. 4335 Crenshaw Blvd.; (213) 290-4010. Open daily for lunch and dinner. Lunch for two, food only, $15-$30; dinner for two, food only, $20-$40. Beer and wine. Lot parking. AE, D, DC, MC, V.Flossie'sWhat Flossie's serves is mostly daily specials, except for the perfect Southern fried chicken, which is always on hand. Wednes-day is soft, sweet mountains of meat loaf; Thursday is long-smothered pork chops cooked so that they fall apart when you look at them. Entrees, with a starch and three vegetables - red beans and rice, studded with chunks of hot sausage, say, or collard greens, spiked with chunks of yam sweet as Frosted Flakes - 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 dinners, at $5.95, 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 daily for lunch and dinner. Dinner for two, food only, $12-$18. No alcohol. Takeout. Lot parking. Cash only.Gagnier'sGagnier's chicken creole is a spicy, long-cooked stew imbued with the creole trinity of onions, garlic and sauteed bell peppers, and dominated by the high, sweet note of tomatoes cooked down almost to caramel. "Barbecued" shrimp are in the style of - though not quite in the league of - the Italian shrimp at the great Louisi-ana creole-Italian restaurant Mosca's, drenched in an emulsion of butter, olive oil, garlic and enough rosemary to stun a mule. The jambalaya, just moistened with tomato, comes ladled over rice and shot through with chicken, smoked sausage and shrimp. And the crawfish etouffee is wonderful, complexly seasoned, impeccably fresh and glowing with peppery spice. 1315 Third Street Promenade, Santa Monica; (310) 319-9981. Open daily for lunch and dinner. Lunch or dinner for two, food only, $9-$18. Beer and wine. Takeout. MC, V.Itana BahiaLike most Bahian restaurants, Itana Bahia is mostly a world of stews, smooth, highly spiced, explosively flavored concoctions, tempered with ground nuts, long-cooked vegetables and coconut milk. Bobo de camarao, a shrimp stew in the moqueca family, comes thickened with manioc flour and ground cashews, slightly sweet, spiked with cubes of cooked manioc that act like the potatoes in a chicken potpie. Xim-xim de galinha, chicken cooked with dried shrimp and cashew is redolent of its citrus marinade. The stuffed pot roast of pork seemed identical to the Cuban dish boliche azado, flavored with smoky ham and long-stewed vegetables. And on weekends, there's the black-bean stew feijoada, the traditional Saturday lunch in Rio and Sao Paulo, enriched with shreds of meat but without the chicken legs and hanks of sausage that make feijoada southern Brazil's answer to the cassoulet. 8711 Santa Monica Blvd., W. Hollywood; (310) 657-6306. Open Tues.-Sun. for lunch and dinner. Dinner for two, food only, $22-$32. Beer and wine. Lot parking behind restaurant after 6 p.m. Reservations required. AE, D, DC, MC, V.Stevie's on the StripOn Fridays, if you arrive before they run out, Stevie's has an extremely good gumbo, dark and rich, salty and blisteringly pepper-hot, with shreds of smoked chicken, plump shrimp, a couple different kinds of sausage, and crab legs cut so that you can get at the meat without spattering your shirt with the viscous black goo. The flavor is equally earthy and marine, heightened by the murky herbal complexity that only file can lend, full of garlic from the sausage, smoke from the chicken. In contrast to the vast majority of gumbos (including most of the best ones in New Orleans), in which the shellfish is cooked to tough strings, here the seafood comes nicely poached in the broth. 3403 Crenshaw Blvd.; (213) 734-6975. Open Sun.-Thurs. 11 a.m.-10 p.m., Fri.-Sat. 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Lunch for two, food only, $7; dinner for two, food only, $18-$20. No alcohol. Takeout. Lot parking. Cash only.

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Related Locations

miles
Caribbean Treehouse

1226 Centinela Ave.
Inglewood, CA 90302

310-330-1170

miles
Flossie's

3566 Redondo Beach Blvd.
Torrance, CA 90504

310-352-4037

miles
Stevie's On the Strip Soul Food & Seafood

3403 Crenshaw Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90016-4801

323-734-6975


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