Too Damned Far
The national dish of Burma is a garbanzo-flour-thickened fish chowder called moh hin gha, shot through with noodles, and Golden Triangle does a fantastic catfish version. There is also lap pad thoke, which has a dollop of chewy dried shrimp, a handful of toasted legumes and a base of winy pickled tea leaves that have the consistency of stewed collard greens and the caffeine kick of a double espresso. At lunchtime, the restaurant serves a terrific biryani-style rice dish called dun buk htaminh, with cashews, raisins, vegetables and spices, topped with baked chicken. Then there's the incredible ginger salad, biting shreds of the spice tossed with coconut, fried garlic, fried yellow peas, peanuts and sesame seeds. If the world ever gave it a chance, ginger salad might have the universal appeal of a Big Mac. 7011 S. Greenleaf Ave., Whittier; (562) 945-6778. Open seven days for lunch and dinner. Dinner for two, food only, $14$18. Beer and wine. Takeout. AE, Disc., MC, V.
Johnny Rebs' Southern Roadhouse
Here are lavishly buttered bowls of grits at breakfast, served with a biscuit, eggs any way you like them and pungent, profoundly salty slabs of real country ham -- the kind of breakfast that any sensible person would trade for the ability to squeeze into a pair of size 6 jeans. Johnny Rebs' prides itself on its barbecued ribs, links and pork, which are fine in a generic-Southern-barbecue sort of way. But the curls of fried catfish, cornmeal-coated fillets that practically dissolve on your tongue, are the best in the county, all spice, juice and crunch. And although you will not be hungry after a Johnny Rebs' meal, at least one person at your table should order the pecan pie, which is rich and pully, full of nuts, and has the kind of perfectly crisp, ultrashort crust that falls to powder at the touch of your teeth. 4663 Long Beach Blvd., Long Beach; (562) 423-7327. Open daily 7 a.m.9 p.m. Dinner for two, food only, $20$25. Beer and wine. Takeout. Lot parking. MC, V.
The Noriega is known for its Basque-American family-style meals, garlicky affairs served -- at 7 p.m. sharp -- at long communal tables where you sit side by side with ranchers and schoolteachers, as well as with a good cross section of the local Basque community. You serve yourself from communal platters brought to the table, and wash everything down with cold red wine. First there are tureens of vegetable soup, which you enrich to taste with spicy Basque salsa and a dose of boiled pinto beans. You are passed a platter of thinly sliced pickled beef tongue -- cool, rich and slick with garlic -- and a big bowl of very fresh lettuce dressed with a simple garlic vinaigrette, and possibly a bowl of cottage cheese flavored with garlic and chopped herbs. And then comes the entrée, maybe lamb stew or braised oxtails; after that, an enormous plate of spaghetti; after that, a platter of ribs or fried chicken and the best French fries in the world; then -- finally -- slabs of blue cheese and bowls of delicious homemade flan. 525 Sumner St., Bakersfield; (805) 322-8419. Reservations essential. Dinner 7 p.m. sharp. $15 per person, wine included; lunch (at noon) $9. Cash or check only.
The Pines is the kind of place where the waitresses joke about being picketed by Weight Watchers: Imagine a biscuit that comes automatically blanketed with a luscious cream gravy that must be the stuff of every cowboy's dream. Or visualize an enormous oval restaurant plate blanketed with a golden oval pancake half an inch thick; sliding across the surface of the pancake, a robin's egg of melting butter leaves a salty trail; next to the plate is a little bowl of fresh tomato salsa, juicy in the Central California manner rather than spicy, and another of chopped jalape peppers. (Called a tortilla cake -- the batter is enriched with masa, cornmeal and ground hominy -- this pancake tastes the way you've always wanted a tortilla to taste, warm and soft and sweet as corn, fragrant, slightly burnt around the edges.) Or envision a three-quarter-pound Pine Burger, the hugest thing, bigger in diameter than some asteroids, the best conceivable version of a coffee-shop hamburger. Got the picture? Good. 4343 Pearblossom Hwy., Palmdale; (805) 285-0455. Open daily 7 a.m.2 p.m. Breakfast for two, $8$15. No alcohol. Cash only.
Renu Nakorn's food is spicy, but what makes it wonderful is the fresh play of tastes, a fugue of herbs, animal pungencies and citrus that is quite unlike anything at your corner Thai café. There are a blistering larb of finely ground catfish seasoned with lime, chile and nutty-brown, ground toasted rice; the thinnest sour strands of shredded bamboo shoot dressed the same way; and an extraordinary version of steak tartare that was so delicious it seared the hairs out of my nostrils. The waiter will bring a side plate of sliced cucumber and cabbage on a bed of crushed ice, which you can nibble on between bites to cool down, and sticky rice in little straw baskets, which you're supposed to roll into balls and eat with your fingers. The seua rong hai, sliced steak grilled rare and served with a gamy, tart dipping sauce, is almost benign, a pleasant, meaty intermezzo between fire-breathing salads. 13041 E. Rosecrans Ave., Norwalk; (562) 921-2124. Open daily for lunch and dinner. Dinner for two, food only, $10$20. Beer. MC.
Shahnawaz Halal Tandoori
I've been to Shahnawaz repeatedly to order mirch ka salan -- a thick 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 -- every time. There's also nehari, a spicy beef stew flavored sharply with ginger; haleem, a gentle mash of pounded meat cooked with grain, not unlike the Persian dish dizi; and paya, a rich, clove-scented stew of beef and ox tendon cooked to a melting tenderness. On weekends, there is a very nice biryani, basmati rice cooked with butter and sweet spices and tossed with chunks of lamb. And consider the tandoori mix plate: a rare lamb chop, subtly smoky, crisp at the edges; a few pieces of bright-red marinated chicken tikka that spurt juice like chicken Kiev; a ruddy whole chicken leg; several inches worth of spicy minced-lamb kebab; a tart pile of yogurt-marinated roasted beef -- all for about $7.95. 12225 E. Centralia Ave., Lakewood; (562) 402-7443. Open Tues.Sun. 11:30 a.m.9:30 p.m. Dinner for two, food only, $10$14. Lot parking. Takeout and delivery. No alcohol. AE, Disc., DC, MC, V.
Standard Sweets & Snacks
There may be nothing quite so soothing after a spicy meal as a great Indian rasmalai, freshly made cheese with the open, slightly spongy texture of really good fresh cottage cheese, simmered in thick milk and then chilled, sprinkled with crushed pistachio nuts, perhaps flavored with a bare hint of rose water. Dahi vada is something like a spiced Punjabi lentil cookie cosseted in cool, sour yogurt. The crisp samosas are stuffed with the inevitable potato. Channa, or curried whole chickpeas, come with a deep-fried puff of yogurt bread fresh from the fryer and almost the size of a basketball -- before it deflates into something that tastes like Navajo fry bread. You'll find most of the usual South Indian snacks -- the steamed rice cakes called idli, the lentil pancake uttupam -- and a sensational version of the Ping-Pong-ball-size breads pani poori. But everybody around you will be eating the masala dosa, a burnished crepe rolled around gently curried potatoes into something the size of a Louisville Slugger, served with a small bowl of vegetable curry. 18600 S. Pioneer Blvd., Artesia; (562) 860-6364. Open Tues.Sun. for lunch and dinner. Lunch or dinner for two, food only, $7$9. No alcohol. Street parking. Takeout. Disc., MC, V (over $10).
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