Wake Me Up Before You Go Go
Where would we be without coffee? These places are good to the last drop . . .
Cha Cha Cha. It is hard to imagine a better introduction to Los Angeles than brunch on the thatched-roof patio at the original Cha Cha Cha at the eastern end of Melrose: strong coffee, suave music and the cooking of Toribio Prado, the undisputed baron of upscale Caribbean food in Los Angeles. The noise and the scene can be a little much at dinner, but on Sunday morning, when locals vastly outnumber screaming Corona imbibers, the buzz is exactly right. And the chilaquiles are the best in town. 656 N. Virgil Ave., Los Angeles, (323) 664-7723. Mon.–Thurs. 9 a.m.-10 p.m., Fri.–Sun. 8 a.m.–11 p.m. Beer and wine. Takeout. Lot parking. AE, D, MC, V. Entrées $20–$30. Caribbean. JG $$
Grub. Grub is a charming incongruity in the concrete heart of postproduction country. The coffee is a lot fresher than Charbucks, and they serve a homemade ginger ale with fresh lime wedges in a tall cup rimmed with raw sugar. Try the Mt. Olympus, a platter mounded with wild-mushroom couscous, lemony hummus, a mash of sun-dried tomatoes, crumbled feta, artichoke hearts and an unseen but powerfully present mass of garlic — all to be scooped with warm, soft, oily pita chips. Or the decadent After School Special, a grilled cheese sandwich made with Cheddar and Swiss on sourdough and fried in, oh, maybe a half-stick of butter. 911 Seward St., Hollywood, (323) 461-3663. Lunch Mon.–Fri. 8 a.m.–3 p.m., Sat.–Sun. 9 a.m.–2 p.m. No alcohol. Takeout and delivery. Street parking. AE, D, MC, V. Entrées $3.95–$10.95. American. Nancy Rommelmann $
Le Pain Quotidien. This chain bakery and café, which originated in Belgium, has since spread to France, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, New York and, most recently, Beverly Hills. Owner-creator Alain Coumont’s rigorous, winning aesthetic consists of a refined, even streamlined rusticity; he seems intent on promulgating precisely the small, daily pleasures that make Continental life so beguiling. Coffee is served in cunning footed bowls. Each establishment has a bakery, featuring huge disks of artisanal breads, crusty baguettes and straightforward pastries. Antique pine shelving holds Le Pain Quotidien products — olive oil, olive paste, sun-dried tomatoes, sea salt, capers and so on, an almost complete Mediterranean palate. 9630 S. Santa Monica Blvd., Beverly Hills, (310) 859-1100. Lunch and dinner Mon.–Fri. 7:30 a.m.–7 p.m., Sat.–Sun. 8 a.m.–7 p.m. Beer and wine. Takeout. Street parking. AE, MC, V. Entrées $6.50–$18, pastries $3–$6. French. MH ¢
Marouch. If you wanted to imagine you were in Beirut, you could stop by this place a few times a day, easy — midmornings for a piece of baklava and a thimbleful of Turkish coffee, lunch for a kebab and a bottle of Lebanese beer, late afternoons for a bowl of dense lentil soup. At dinner, it’s a splendid, wild-thyme-dusted version of the toasted-bread salad fattoush, unsurpassed makanek sausages dressed with lemon and oil, the fine hummus with pine nuts, the grilled quail and the complicated Lebanese desserts. Year after year, Marouch becomes nothing but better. 4905 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 662-9325. Open Tues.–Sun. 11 a.m.–11 p.m. Beer and wine. Lot parking. AE, D, DC, MC, V. Lunch entrées $8.50–$11.50, dinner entrées $10–$16. Middle Eastern/Lebanese/Armenian. JG $
Mr. Baguette. Mr. Baguette, a Vietnamese sandwich shop in Rosemead, makes its own high-quality charcuterie — ham and headcheese and steamed pork loaves — which it sells separately by the pound, and bakes its own baguettes. There are fresh fruit smoothies, ham and cheese croissants, Vietnamese iced coffee and pickled vegetables that come packaged separately from the banh mi sandwiches in little Baggies, so that you can garnish yours to taste. For a quarter extra, you can get the banh mi made on a fresh baguette frosted with toasted sesame seeds. 8702 E. Valley Blvd., Rosemead, (626) 288-9166. Seven days, 6 p.m.–9 p.m. No alcohol. Takeout. Lot parking. Sandwiches, $2–$3.95. Cash only. Vietnamese-French. JG ¢
Pho 79. The perfect breakfast is hard to find. Soul food is too fattening, diner food too bland, Japanese pickles just too weird before noon. If you like noodles, you might think Pho 79 serves the perfect breakfast, light, tasty and just exotic enough, inexpensive and filled with vitamins: beef soup. The strong, dark-roasted coffee, dripped at table in individual stainless-steel French filters, is among the best I’ve had anywhere. And in an area — Chinatown — thick with Vietnamese noodle shops, Pho 79 serves the best noodles. 727 N. Broadway, Suite 120, Chinatown, (213) 625-7026. Lunch and dinner seven days, 8:30 a.m.–6:30 p.m. Beer. Validated parking. Cash only. Food for two, $7–$10. Vietnamese. JG ¢
El Rincon Criollo. This family-owned café serves hearty, classic Cuban fare minus the grease or frills. Start off with a little fried yuca ($3), lightly salted, with a potatolike consistency. The Cuban roast pork ($7.50) is hard to beat, delicately seasoned and bursting with flavor, served alongside a hefty portion of white rice and black beans. Be sure and complement your meal with a fresh cup of Cuban coffee ($1.50). 4361 Sepulveda Blvd., Culver City, (310) 391-4478. Lunch and dinner seven days, 11 a.m.–10 p.m. Beer and wine. Takeout; catering. MC, V. Cuban. JG ¢
Le Saigon. An itty-bitty, gloriously inexpensive Vietnamese café just west of the Royal movie theater, Le Saigon is an ideal place to huddle over big bowls of pho or bun (rice noodles), charbroiled meats and glasses of sticky, sweet café sua da (iced Saigon coffee). The tables are tiny, the turnover is swift, and the air is scented with grilling meat and freshly cut cucumbers. 11611 Santa Monica Blvd., West Los Angeles, (310) 312-2929. Tues.–Sun. 11:30 a.m.–9:30 p.m. No alcohol. Street parking. Entrées $5–$8. Vietnamese. MH ¢
Susina Bakery. Crackling croissants, ultrarich café au lait and tiny fruit tarts are the signature attractions of Susina, along with a carefully curated collection of artisanal chocolates and an incredible, buttery puff-pastry turnover stuffed with spinach and garlic that always sells out way too early in the afternoon. There are coffeehouses in Hollywood that stay open somewhat later, and others equipped with multiple electrical outlets and three kinds of wi-fi access, but it is harder to imagine a more civilized setting to spend quality time with your laptop, fueled with hot pressed sandwiches and lubricated with fresh-pressed citrus in a fairly impressive replica of a Belle Epoque Parisian café. And the kitchen has started experimenting with American pies. 7122 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 934-7900. Mon.–Fri. 7 a.m.–11 p.m., Sat. 8 a.m.–11 p.m., Sun. 8 a.m.–11 p.m. No alcohol. Takeout. Street parking. AE, MC, V. Sandwiches $7. European Bakery. MH $
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