The Big Chill
Chili John's (chili)
This is wonderful chili, dense and comforting, lean and hearty, with a cumin wallop and a subtle, smoky heat that creeps up on you like the first day of a Santa Ana wind, flavoring your breath for half a day even if you don't pile on the onions. It also goes strangely well with a cold glass of buttermilk (which is good, because Chili John's serves nothing stronger than near beer). The beans are nice, too, firm and smooth, with a rich, earthy bean taste clearly perceptible even through the pungency of the chili. You can get chili with beans and spaghetti, or beans and spaghetti alone: Tex-Mex pasta fazool. Dessert is that Midwestern oddity pineapple cream pie, cool, smooth and sweetly delicious, with a dusting of graham-cracker crumbs where you might expect a crust. 2018 W. Burbank Blvd., Burbank; (818) 846-3611. Open Tues.Fri. 11 a.m.7 p.m., Sat. till 4 p.m. Lunch for two, food only, $9$12. No alcohol. Takeout. Lot parking. Cash only.
Mirch ka salan is less a dish than a force of nature, a thick vegetable stew the approximate yellowy tan of a camel's flank, heady with the scents of garlic and ginger, bound with a pungent, grainy mortar of ground spice, that is one of the specialties of the Pakistani-Muslim restaurant. Garnishes of lemon, cucumber and fresh shredded ginger are served alongside the mirch ka salan in a gleaming metal salver; in a straw basket are smoking-hot ovals of freshly baked naan bread with which to scoop up the stew. What we're talking about here is essentially a stew of jalapeño chiles, dozens of them where you might expect to see okra or spinach floating among the spices. The house beverage at Shahnawaz seems to be ice water served by the pitcherful, and you can see why this is so. 12225 E. Centralia St., Lakewood; (562) 402-7443. Open Tues.Sun. for lunch and dinner 11:30 a.m.9:30 p.m. Dinner for two, food only, $10$14. No alcohol. Takeout and catering. Lot parking. AE, D, Disc., MC, V.
Little Malaysia (chilli)
Little Malaysia seems to concentrate on the Nonya cooking of Penang, an island off Malaysia's west coast: hot, and spicy with "chilli" sauce; liberal with such root spices as ginger and turmeric; tending more toward clean, sweet-and-sour flavors than toward the coconut-milk richness of much Malaysian and Indonesian food. "Penang rolls" are thin crepes rolled into fat, steamed egg rolls around a lettuce leaf, which in turn is wrapped around a sweetened mixture of sautéed root vegetables and toasted garlic. Kway ka involves stew-meat-size nuggets of rice noodle blasted with soy and spices over high heat until the edges crisp and become smoky, sort of a platonic ideal of Chinese chow fun. Pie tee are crunchy, thumb-size thimbles of fried pastry filled with sautéed vegetables. Fish balls, served in a delicate stock, are fine and feather-light, Malaysian quenelles. Baseball-size Hok Chou fish balls, which are stuffed with ground pork, may be too much of a good thing. 3944 N. Peck Road, El Monte; (626) 401-3188. Open Tues.Sun. for lunch and dinner. Dinner for two, food only, $11$20. Takeout. No alcohol. Lot parking. Cash only.
Rincon Chileno (Chile)
Humitas, Chilean tamales, are terrific here, sweetly spiced, intensely corn-flavored, with the consistency of a steamed pudding. Steak, lomo, is thin, marinated and chewy in the South American tradition, and comes garnished with a fried egg or with a side of the wonderful, spice-fragrant yellow-bean stew parotos granados. Pastel de choclo, a pan-Andean favorite, is a sweet, nutmeg-laced corn pudding that conceals a chicken leg at its core. But the restaurant's great specialty might be the appetizer erizo matico, marinated giant sea urchin, the powerfully nutty iodine smack nearly tamed by the flavors of citrus and finely minced onion. The erizo is delicious, crammed full of aphrodisiac nutrients, but really too rich to eat more than a few bites. 4354 Melrose Ave.; (323) 666-6075. Open Tues.Sun. for lunch and dinner. Dinner for two, food only, $18$25. Beer and wine. Takeout. Parking around the corner on Heliotrope. AE, CB, DC, MC, V.
Raspados Zacatecas (chilly)
The East L.A. tradition called raspados -- Mexican snow cones -- is basically handfuls of pebbly ice mounded into paper cups and drenched with syrup. Zacatecas Raspados is a shiny new snow-cone palace in one of the oldest parts of East Los Angeles. The syrups are homemade from pineapples, mangoes, papayas, boiled down to their essence, still a little bit pulpy -- especially the strawberry and excellent guava -- and not too sweet. There is rompope, eggnog traditionally made by nuns; a delicious syrup made with shredded coconut; an intense, runny Mexican boiled-milk caramel, cajeta, that oozes down between the fissures in the cracked ice like butter into hot toast. A syrup made from walnuts steeped in milk brings out the bitter, winy flavor of the nut in a way you may not have experienced outside the context of an expensive French-pastry shop: spectacular. 422 N. Ford St., East L.A.; (323) 264-7651. Open daily. Raspados $1.50, churros rellenos 75 cents. Cash and checks.
The dinner menu at Dulan's, prix fixe at $10.95, is the eternal soul-food list without the various innards and tails: crusty fried chicken, fragrant with garlic; long-cooked pork chops smothered in brown gravy; big trenchers of meat loaf made delicious with peppers and herbs. On Sundays there are vast, thin fillets of catfish, dusted with peppery cornmeal and fried, the flesh moist and firm, the kind of catfish whose coating all but shatters under your teeth; or enormous slabs of short ribs braised to a rich, beefy tenderness. Dulan's also serves what must be the best peach cobbler in Los Angeles, crisp leaves of pastry floating in hot, peach-studded syrup pungent with cinnamon. 4859 S. Crenshaw Blvd.; (323) 296-3034. Primarily catering, but open Sun. for brunch and dinner. Dinner for two, food only, $22. No alcohol. Takeout. Valet parking Sun. brunch. AE, MC, V.
Flossie's (hot tamale)
What Flossie's serves are mostly daily specials -- except for the perfect Southern fried chicken, which is always on hand. Wednesday is soft, sweet mountains of meat loaf; Thursday is long-smothered pork chops, and chicken and dumplings. Just one of Flossie's lunch specials, at $6.95 with starch, two vegetables and corn muffins, feeds two with leftovers for breakfast. Then there are the weekend tamales, thin, spicy tubes of masa lightly wrapped in cornhusks, intensely fragrant of corn and served in a searingly hot chile sauce -- real Delta food, great for parties. You can buy the tamales by the half-dozen . . . but you'd better get at least twice that many if you want any to be left by the time you get home. 3566 Redondo Beach Blvd., Torrance; (310) 352-4037. Open Tues.Sun. for lunch and dinner. Dinner for two, food only, $15$18. No alcohol. Takeout. Lot parking. Cash only.
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