Ever notice that squish of small Russian restaurants on the corner of Sunset and Fuller? Probably not, considering all the oddball people watching you can do at the Rock N' Roll Ralph's across the street. Well, the next time you're crawling along Sunset (say, on your way to Cochon 555 at the House of Blues), swing your eyes into the parking lot strip mall that sits at the corner. You'll find a few curious-looking Russian spots (one dine in, one casual and one that's basically a takeaway joint), an Indian food place and a relatively new ramen bar. It's an eclectic mix, but then again you are on Sunset Boulevard.
Takara Ramen Bar:
The first place you'll notice as you drag along this stretch of The Strip is Takara Ramen Bar. Their street-facing windows and clean interior invite your eyes, while an open door pulls in your nose. After that, it's all about the taste. Takara officially opened its doors just a few weeks ago, at the end of March, but has already begun to lure in the local lunch crowd with a decent array of quick, hearty meals that will set you back about $12. The chashu rice bowl, pictured above, is an early staple on the lunch menu, with slices of pork laid over a hefty cup of rice and drizzled with a seriously sweet, tangy sauce, plus a warm soft-boiled egg. Otherwise, it's ramen all the time at Takara -- it's in the name after all -- with a fatty broth that tends to clump up instead of staying smooth and cloudy. Still, the noodles aren't rubbery and the thick slice of pork that drapes your tonkotsu ramen bowl will make you forgive a lot of lesser transgressions. Takara Ramen Bar is cash only and closed on Mondays. 7300 W. Sunset Blvd. #A, Hollywood; 323-512-6077.
You'll be forgiven for not thinking much of Gate of India from the outside. The place looks dark and half-empty from the parking lot, but that's because the interior is so much bigger -- and draped in so much more dark maroon cloth -- than you'd think. The truth is, Gate of India is a strip mall gem, the sort of always-accessible lunch and early dinner spot that churns out quality food without pretense. There's a lot to love here, from their warm, slightly crisped naan to the fresh, garlicky, cheesy saag paneer. The lunch buffet includes all the hits, especially a tasty, moist chicken masala, and at the standard $8.95 price. But if you miss the lunch rush, don't skip on the samosas when you order off the menu. Tall, thinly fried samosas come two to an order and are flush with minced chicken or potatoes and peas. These are warm, crispy and utterly satisfying. The service here is above what you'd expect from a strip mall Indian food spot, and dining in never feels like an issues, even when the crazies come out on Sunset after dark. Gate of India accepts reservations, serves beer and wine and accepts credit cards. 7300 W. Sunset Blvd. #E, Hollywood; 323874-6673.
Golden Wheat Bakery:
You may not be able to spot Golden Wheat Bakery at first, but it's there, tucked into the corner between the larger Troyka Restaurant and a tailoring place. The circular red sign is nearly all in cyrillic, so rely on the patio umbrellas to guide you. Inside you'll find a bright, colorful space that's practically overrun with breads and sweets. Simple wheat, white and rye loaves run about $3 each and line back and side walls for your perusal. Up front are several long glasses cases, flush with traditional Russian cakes, thick pies and light, firm cookies. There are a few savory meat buns, known as piroshki, available from behind the counter, but most of the Russian-speaking clientele opts for some form of flaky sweet and a cup of coffee. And good look getting a table outside; the old timers love to sit and chat. Golden Wheat Bakery opens early during the week but closes early on Sundays, and they accept credit cards. 7300 W. Sunset Blvd #H, Hollywood; 323-876-3932.
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To be clear, there are two Troykas happening in this strip mall. The first is Cafe Troyka, a small attached room next door to the bigger, velvet-ier dinner / dance hall next door. Cafe Troyka is a lunch only sort of place, the kind of bare walled, quiet room that you'd imagine shady envelopes full of cash get passed around in when you're not looking. The handwritten menu comes inside a clear plastic three ring binder sleeve, with cyrillic on one side and (begrudgingly) an English version on the other. The fare is straightforward, and you'd have to order a big plate of sturgeon to break the $12 barrier, but the $7 vareniki plate (served with "meat", natch) is a starchy, over-buttered option if you're looking to immediately fall asleep. Bonus points for the dozens and dozens of photos of dogs that have come into the cafe that line the wall behind the register.
Troyka Restaurant, however, is a dark, drapey room filled with tables that don't mean much when the music starts. The vibe is obviously Russian, with a classier nightlife feel that seems out of place inside a strip mall, but right at home for the neighborhood. Expect higher prices, better plating, a LOT of white cloth draping the tables and chairs and at least some semblance of service (the cafe has basically none), with portions as large as ever. Troyka Restaurant is open for weeknight dinner, but you for people watching wait for the Friday and Saturday night music to kick in. And, apparently, the upscale dress code is pretty strictly enforced. 7300 W. Sunset Blvd. #K, Hollywood; 323-851-5531.
Grandma's Deli Babushka:
Looking for the cutest name in all of strip mall dining? Grandma's Deli Babushka may have it. The corner storefront has a few seats out on a makeshift patio that quickly spills into the parking lot, but otherwise it's all takeout salads, pre-made entrees and sliced deli meats. In true deli fashion, everything falls under by-the-pound pricing, including the carnivalesque Chicken Kiev on a stick. The place appears to be run by a horde of actual babushkas, chatting in the back while sending out bowls full of cabbage salad and a million iterations on steamed, pressed meats. Behind the counter, fried potatoes and bready meat buns share space with soupy chicken meatballs and stuffed peppers. Opposite that are shelves and shelves of imported Russian snacks and canned goods, most of which offer such confusing packaging you'd be better off closing your eyes and sticking an arm out to let it all drop into your bag, Supermarket Sweep style. Grandma's Deli Babushka not only has the most adorable name in the Russian deli game, they're also open daily at 9am, and do take credit cards. 7300 W. Sunset Blvd. #M, Hollywood; 323-851-2312.
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