The Cuisine That Came In From the Cold
The most famous dish here must be the baked-garlic appetizer, a naked, halved bulb on a plate, ready to pulp onto the house's quite decent bread. There's also melted provolone cheese, laced with tomatoes and pungent Argentine oregano, for eating with almost Vermont-style Argentine crackers, and an appetizer of butter-smooth roasted red peppers just brushed with garlic and oil. The fried squid are the tender, delicate kind, hardly crunchy, tasting more of the sea than they do of oil. Still and all, as with almost any Argentine restaurant, Gardel revolves around its parrillada, a cavalcade of grilled meats -- sweetbreads, blood sausage, skirt steak, short ribs, Italian sausage -- served on a smoking iron grill, accompanied only by a small bowl of well-garlicked chimichurri and a large plate of mashed potatoes. And the meat is just fine, juicier than you would ever expect such well-done meat to be, full of flavor, overwhelming in its variety. 7963 Melrose Ave.; (323) 655-0891. Open Mon.Fri. for lunch, daily for dinner. Dinner for two, food only, $25$45. Beer and wine. Live music. AE, Disc, MC, V.
Hummus is the usual stuff, smooth and rich, seasoned with an extra dose of sesame, best when spiked with chunks of the sweet, coarsely ground Armenian sausage called sujuk. Eggplant salad is extremely simple -- chopped with onion, tomato and green pepper, doused with lemon, garlic and olive oil -- but delicious. Tabbouleh, chopped-parsley salad brightly flavored with mint, tastes as green as it looks. What almost everybody seems to order is one of the kebab platters, big piles of grilled, marinated pork or lamb or chicken or liver that come with chopped peppers, a grilled tomato, a good green salad. Each kebab is served with a stack of hot pita bread smeared with a spicy tomato sauce. And you get a huge plate of pickles, too: green and black olives, pickled turnip sticks dyed scarlet with beet juice, soft slabs of salty feta cheese. 5112 Hollywood Blvd.; (323) 660-8060. Open Tues.Sun. 11 a.m.10 p.m. Dinner for two, food only, $16$25. No alcohol. Lot parking. MC, V.
At Golden Dome, you may consider ordering the shwarma or learnedly discuss the contents of the pita burger, but in practice everybody gets the falafel: crisp, gold-brown balls of spiced ground garbanzos, thin crust giving way to a dense interior colored moss-green with herbs, exterior crunchiness giving way (just like a perfect bagel) to a slight but definite chewiness underneath. The balls are tucked into a whole-wheat pita with fresh cabbage, tomatoes, a slice of beet-red pickled turnip. You slick it yourself with the house's sesame sauce, light tan in color, with a toasty intensity that is quite different from the blander version you may be used to. If you're that kind of person, you can go ahead and add a dab of fiery-hot Arab tomato salsa. 10316 Alondra Blvd., Bellflower; (562) 925-6013. Mon.Sat. Lunch or dinner for two, food only, $5$11. No alcohol. Takeout. Lot parking. MC, V.
Magic Carpet is widely considered to be the best kosher restaurant in Los Angeles. It is also probably the best Middle Eastern restaurant of any sort on the Westside. Here, the best way to eat melawach -- a bronzed, pizza-size fried Yemenite pancake that seems to have a hundred levels of wheatiness, a thousand layers of crunch and the taste of clean oil -- is also among the simplest: sprinkled with the spice mixture called zahtar, whose sumac-tartness and wild-thyme pungency marry perfectly with the rich denseness of the pancake. Magic Carpet's hot appetizer plate includes warm stuffed grape leaves; the ubiquitous Moroccan "cigars," crisp thumbs of fried pastry stuffed with a highly spiced meat paste; and some of the best falafel balls you will ever taste. Desserts run toward the mousse cake and the tiramisù, and, since this is a kosher restaurant, toward the dairy-free versions of those. 8566 W. Pico Blvd.; (310) 652-8507. Open for breakfast and lunch Sun.Fri. and for dinner Sun.Thurs. Dinner for two, food only, $15$35. No alcohol. Glatt kosher. Street parking. MC, V.
When you are not in the mood for spleen -- that's what's ground into Uzbekistan's savory hasip sausage, which must be ordered a day in advance -- there are always chanum, floppy open-faced Uzbeki ravioli filled with a potato purée and served with an almost hallucinogenic blast of fresh dill. Or lamb chops. Or a strangely charred stir-fry of vegetables served in a smoking-hot cast-iron pan. Or plov, the grandfather of all rice pilafs, dense and slightly oily, more like fried rice than ordinary pilaf, spiked with diced vegetables and crisp-edged chunks of lamb, flavored with a peculiar sort of Uzbeki cumin seed that is halfway between cumin and caraway. Don't miss the plov! 7077 Sunset Blvd.; (323) 464-3663. Open daily 11 a.m.mid. Dinner for two, food only, $32$40. Full bar. Lot parking. AE, Disc., DC, MC, V.
This is a swank Korean place, about 80 percent private banquet rooms, and about half the food is unfamiliar: a pickle of dried, stuffed squid; meat-stuffed buckwheat dumplings; slithery noodles dressed with a sort of seaweed pesto; and an unusual, strong Korean kimchi made with minced fish and vegetables fermented inside a whole cabbage. Spectacular. 950 S. Vermont Ave.; (213) 388-3042. Open seven days for lunch and dinner. Dinner for two, food only, $45. Full bar. Lot parking. AE, DC, MC, V.
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