Alcazar. This could be coastal Lebanon, really it could, a shaded terrace of music, grilled mullet, and waiters who transfer bright coals to brass hookahs. Enormous kebab plates are rushed to tables — and the shish tawok, grilled kebabs of extravagantly marinated chicken breast, is as good as a kebab ever gets. On weekends, ultrathin sajj bread is baked on the patio in a vast heated pan, wrapped around grilled meat or made into the thin, crisp, thyme-scented Arab quesadillas called k’llej. Lebanon is famous for its red wine, but Alcazar, in the gentle Levant of Encino, also serves oceans of arak, an anise-scented Lebanese liquor that turns milky when you stir it with ice and cool water. Alcazar is owned by a man who calls himself Vatch, a Beirut-raised Armenian crooner known for his cross-cultural sensibilities and flashy, Las Vegas–style arrangements. The cooks are reportedly Egyptian and Lebanese, veterans of the kitchen at the late, revered Lebanese showplace Al-Amir, but Vatch, who sings at his restaurant on weekends, is apparently not above insisting on putting chile-red Armenian versions of hummus and the raw-beef dish kibbe nayeh on his menus, although the waiters tend to recommend the classic versions — the raw kibbe here is especially delicious, pounded with bulgur wheat to an almost mousse-like consistency, a kibbe as unctuous and appealing as a set from Vatch. 17239 Ventura Blvd., Encino, (818) 789-0991. Lunch Tues.–Sun. 11:30 a.m.–2:30 p.m., dinner 5:30–10:30 p.m., Sun. until mid. Full bar. Takeout. Hookah and cigar lounge. Valet parking weekends; lot parking in rear. AE, MC, V. JG $$
Carousel Restaurant. There are two Carousels, and the Glendale branch may well be the best, most interesting Lebanese-Armenian restaurant in Los Angeles. The big, brash room, bedecked with scimitars and other Middle Eastern antiques, accommodates large parties and dating couples alike — but there’s also a more intimate patio. The food sparkles with freshness — and lemon. Go for the meze (cheese borek, muhammara and houmous sojouk) and kebabs (try the yogurt lula kebab), and also for hard-to-find delicacies such as frogs’ legs, roasted quail and lamb’s tongue. Check ahead to see if there’s live music. 304 N. Brand Blvd., Glendale, (818) 246-7775. Tues.–Thurs. 11:30 a.m.–9:30 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 11:30 a.m.–11 p.m., Sun. 11:30 a.m.–9:30 p.m. 5112 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood, (323) 660-8060. Tues.–Sun. 11:30 a.m.–9 p.m. Full bar, Glendale; no alcohol, Hollywood. Lot parking. DC, MC, V. Entrées $7.50–$20. Middle Eastern/Lebanese-Armenian. MH $
Hak Heang. In the Little Phnom Penh neighborhood of Long Beach is Hak Heang — all glowing neon, elaborate live-seafood tanks and yawning seas of tables, waitresses whipping around the room with endless streams of Tsingtao, fried fish and sputtering skewers of Cambodian shish kebab. The anchovy beef, a small, marinated steak grilled medium rare, sliced thin, and served with a relish of shaved raw eggplant, fermented fish, garlic and a little vinegar, is a rare Cambodian dish that would make almost as much sense at a country restaurant in southern Piemonte as it would along the banks of the Tônlé Sap. A Cambodian band takes the stage on weekend nights: five, seven, 10 musicians sharing the crowded stage, percussionists and guitarists and synthesizer players, swaying young women who rush out in giggling groups of four, crooning Cambodian ballads and slick Cantopop tunes in tiny, hugely amplified voices clearly nurtured on karaoke. 2041 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach, (562) 434-0296. Breakfast, lunch and dinner seven days 8 a.m.–9 p.m. Full bar. Takeout. Lot parking. Cash only. Dinner for two $18–$28. Cambodian. JG ¢
Mission 261. Mission 261 may be the most ambitious Chinese restaurant ever to open in the United States, a mammoth Cantonese banquet hall fitted into a sprawling adobe complex built 100 years ago as San Gabriel’s city hall. The suckling pig, a house specialty, is made from an animal so young it is practically prenatal; the braised pork belly is the essence of melting fat; the fried whole chicken with fermented taro is practically a sacrament. The steamed rock cod is the standard by which all local Chinese kitchens should be measured, and if you’re into plundering the endangered-species list, Mission 261 does that too. And the dim sum is extraordinary, possibly the best in California at the moment — less a teeming mass feed than a sort of aestheticized meal, where you sit with a pot of really great chrysanthemum tea and a few small plates of attractive, exquisitely prepared food, the clatter of plates replaced by the contemplative sounds of live Chinese music. 261 Mission Drive, San Gabriel, (626) 588-1666. Mon.–Fri. 10:30 a.m.–3 p.m., 5:30–10 p.m.; Sat.–Sun. 9 a.m.–3 p.m., 5:30-10:30 p.m. Full bar. Takeout. Lot parking. AE, D, MC, V. Entrées $10–$13. Cantonese. JG $
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Palms Thai. There may be more chaotic restaurants on a Saturday night, but the new Palms Thai is as loud as they come, a tall box of a dining room, the approximate shape and resonance of a speaker cabinet, lined with ranks of long, straight tables, packed shoulder to shoulder with Singha beer connoisseurs receding into the distance. The food is first-rate. Bar snacks include crisp-skinned Thai sour sausages served with fried peanuts and raw cabbage and beef jerky, fried to a tooth-wrenching chaw. There is a proper papaya salad, the unripe fruit shredded into crunchy slaw, with taut chile heat, sweet-tart citrus dressing and the briny sting of salt-preserved raw crab. And Palm Thai prepares the best version in town of suea rong hai, Northeastern-style barbecued beef. You can request a second menu, which includes most of Palm Thai’s best dishes: fiery salads, Isaan-style bar snacks and elaborate soups. But much of the restaurant’s exotica is confined to a third, untranslated menu tucked inside the second one, and if you ask nicely, a waitress may translate a few items for you. Keening onstage at the front of the room on weekends is Kavee Thongprecha, the Thai Elvis, who reproduces every moan and hiccup of his idol at respectful but nonetheless ear-stretching volume. Thai Elvis and deep-fried fish maw? What more could you ask from a Saturday night? 5273 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood, (323) 462-5073. Lunch and dinner seven days 11 a.m.–mid. (until 1:30 a.m. Fri.–Sat.). Beer and wine. Takeout. Lot parking. MC, V. Dinner for two, food only, $18–$40. Thai. JG $
La Parilla. La Parilla is a wonderful place, specializing in marinated, charcoal-grilled meats — thin beef fillets, pork coated in a ruddy chile paste, chorizo sausage, sweetly sauced spareribs, and chicken served in various combinations. There are hand-patted corn tortillas unless they’ve run out. There are also many dishes based around grilled beef: puntas de filete (grilled chunks of steak tossed with pickled jalapeños and topped with melted cheese); fillet in a smoky sauce of chipotle chiles; fillet in a spicy Veracruz-style tomato sauce. And between sets from the roving mariachi bands that populate this neighborhood, the waitresses are likely to push something called molcajete Azteca, a large granite mortar heated to a ferocious temperature, then filled with, among other things, bits of steak, grilled cactus paddles, chicken, a thin smoked-chile salsa, and a big slab of panela cheese that bubbles and smokes where it touches the hot stone. 2126 Cesar E. Chavez Ave., East L.A., (213) 262-3434 (other locations in Northridge and Tarzana). Open daily 8 a.m.–11:30 p.m. Beer and wine. Takeout. Street parking. AE, D, MC, V. Dinner for two, food only, $14–$27. Mexican. JG
Philippe the Original. 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 an older city without chrome. The French-dipped sandwiches of lamb or beef are wet and rich, with something of the gamy animal pungency of old-fashioned roast meat. And if you enjoy the sight of eyes bulging and nostrils flaring as people encounter depth charges of ultrahot mustard in their sandwiches, there’s even something of a floor show. 1001 N. Alameda St., Los Angeles, (213) 628-3781. Open daily 6 a.m.–10 p.m. Beer and wine. For takeout, must call ahead and order must be over $40. Lot parking. Cash only. Sandwiches $4–$5. American. JG ¢
Zabumba. Zabumba is less a center of xinxin and jungle-fish stews than a place to gulp a shrimp pizza and a glass of passion-fruit juice between band sets. In fact, it’s the center of expatriate Brazilian life in Los Angeles; headquarters of the local samba club; a hive of Brazilian karaoke; and a steady venue for all forms of Brazilian entertainment this side of Shakira look-alike competitions. In the evenings, Zabumba seems more bar than restaurant, with a long list of exotic cocktails and a blender that seems to go nonstop. 10717 Venice Blvd., Culver City, (310) 841-6525. Dinner Tues.–Sun. 5 p.m.–2 a.m. Full bar. Takeout. Street parking. AE, MC, V. Dinner for two, food only, $14–$25. Brazilian. JG $