Where to Eat Now

Downtown Los Angeles
Highland Park

Ciudad. The design of Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken’s downtown restaurant is bold — those yellow chairs, those retro drinking glasses, those seed-encrusted vertical-standing crackers! The menu is a Pan-American pastiche, complete with Old World footnotes. This means Peruvian arepas and Spanish Merquez sausage and pineapple upside-down cake. Days see lunching office workers; at night, it’s conventioneers and an arty Silver Lake/Echo Park crowd. 445 S. Figueroa St., downtown, (213) 486-5171. Lunch and dinner daily. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, D, MC, V. Entrées $17–$28. Pan-Latino. MH $$ ¨

Cole’s P.E. Buffet. Seventy-five years before anybody thought to dress a squab salad with raspberry vinegar, Los Angeles was known across the country for French-dipped sandwiches, sliced roast meat layered on a French roll that had been sopped in meat juice. Dank old Cole’s, which is the oldest restaurant in Los Angeles and looks every week of it, has the best French dip: roasted brisket, prime rib or pastrami, carved to order, dipped and served on a crusty roll. 118 E. Sixth St., downtown, (213) 622-4090. Mon.–Sat. 9 a.m.–7 p.m. (bar until 11 p.m.). Full bar. Street parking. AE, MC, V. Sandwiches $5.29–$7.29. American. JG ¢

La Luz del Dia. The last place you’d expect to find a real Mexican joint is among the maraca vendors and befuddled German tourists on Olvera Street, but there it is (and has been for decades), La Luz del Dia, serving cactus salad to the hordes. Whatever you think you ordered — tacos, burritos, tostadas — you’ll probably get at least one helping of picadillo, the chunky Mexican beef stew that, with its carrots and potatoes, looks like a stew somebody’s mother might have made . . . provided that the mother in question has an industrial-size garlic press and a Thai tolerance for chile heat. 1 W. Olvera St., downtown, (213) 628-7495. Lunch and dinner Tues.–Sun. Beer only. Parking in nearby Olvera Street lots. Cash only. Entrées $3–$8.75. Mexican. JG ¢

Langer’s. The best pizza in America may be in New Haven, the best hot dogs in Chicago, the best espresso off Pioneer Square in Seattle. But the best pastrami sandwich is right here in Los Angeles, slapped together by the truckload at Langer’s Delicatessen. The rye bread, double-baked, has a hard, crunchy crust. The meat, dense, hand-sliced, nowhere near lean, has the firm, chewy consistency of Parma prosciutto, a gentle flavor of garlic and a clean edge of smokiness that can remind you of the kinship between pastrami and Texas barbecue. 704 S. Alvarado St., Los Angeles, (213) 483-8050. Mon.–Sat. 8 a.m.–4 p.m. Beer and wine. Validated lot parking (on corner of Westlake Ave. and Seventh St.). Curbside service (call ahead). MC, V. Entrées $8.95–$12.95. Jewish Deli. JG ¢ *

Nick & Stef’s. Joachim Splichal’s downtown steakhouse pushes the genre’s envelope. The décor is sedate enough. — banquettes wear banker’s gray — but annexed to the dining room is a climate-controlled glass case filled with slabs of darkening, crusting, dry-aging beef — a library of meat. The à la carte menu features 12 kinds of potatoes, 12 sauces and at least as many other side dishes. The outside patio — a sunny clearing in a forest of skyscrapers — may be the best urban dining spot in town. 330 S. Hope St. (Wells Fargo Center), downtown, (213) 680-0330. Lunch Mon.–Fri. 11:30 a.m.–2:30 p.m.; dinner Mon.–Thurs. 5:30–9:30 p.m., Fri. 5:30–10:30 p.m., Sat. 5–10:30 p.m., Sun. 4:30–8:30 p.m. Full bar. Parking in Wells Fargo Center. Entrées $19–$37. American Steakhouse. MH $$ ¤ Ü ‹

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., downtown, (213) 628-3781. Open daily 6 a.m.–10 p.m. Beer and wine. Lot parking. Cash only. Sandwiches $4.25-$4.55. American. JG ¢ *


Silver Lake/Los Feliz/Echo Park

Alegria. The best food here revolves around the extraordinary mole sauce: sharp, thick, sweetly complex, with top notes of smoke, clove and citrus, lashed with dried-chile heat, black enough to darken the brightest Pepsodent smile. (It takes two days to make, a million steps, and has something like 20 ingredients.) Dobladitas are corn tortillas folded around melted cheese and moistened with mole. There is also chicken mole, and sometimes a Oaxacan-style special of chicken, pork and plantains cooked in mole. And you can get a side of mole sauce to put on your burrito. 3510 Sunset Blvd., Silver Lake, (323) 913-1422. Open Mon.–Thurs. 10 a.m.–10 p.m., Fri.–Sat. till 11 p.m. No alcohol. Takeout. Lot parking. Cash only. Entrées $5.75–$14. Mexican. JG ¢

The Kitchen. Here is the quintessential Silver Lake canteen. Its former subtitle — “Lunch to Late Night” — reflects the circadian rhythms of its neighborhood clientele. The interior is Early East Village — deep colors, battered tables, crumbling cement, loud music. The service tends toward the casual and offhand, which belies the big-hearted, darn good food — try a bowl of quite viable cioppino. 4348 Fountain Ave., Silver Lake, (323) 664-3663. Open Mon.–Fri. 5 p.m.–mid., Sat. noon–2:30 a.m., Sun. noon–10 p.m. No alcohol. Lot parking. AE, D, MC, V. Entrées $10–$18. American. MH ¢H

Picholine. The elegant house of temptations known as Picholine sits on the unlikely corner of First and Beverly (two otherwise parallel streets that meet just east of Virgil). This gourmet specialty/sandwich shop sells nine tried-and-true sandwiches and no coffee drinks. You can eat at one of the very few tables — if you’re lucky enough to find an empty one — or carry out. Sandwich Number One (grilled chicken breast with pesto, arugula, shaved Parmesan and oven-roasted tomato on a rustic roll) is the biggest seller. All sandwiches come with a choice of pasta or mesclun salad, and you can supplement your meal with a Valrhona chocolate bar, or an array of Roche handmade bonbons. Shop while you wait — there are French jams, rustic Italian pastas of startling porosity, Dean and DeLuca herbs de Provence, not to mention a mind-bending selection of European cheeses. 3360 W. First St., Los Angeles, (213) 252-8722, fax (213) 252-8723. Open Tues.–Sun. 10 a.m.–6:30 p.m., closed Sun.-Mon. No alcohol. Street parking. AE, D, DC, MC, V. All sandwiches $7.50. MH ¦ *

Say Cheese. A dual storefront in Silver Lake houses this gourmet store on one side and espresso café on the other. The lunch menu features salads, sandwiches, quiche and the house specialty, tartiflette (baked diced potatoes with onion and bacon topped with melted reblochon cheese and served with a mixed green salad). The gourmet shop tempts with a notable variety of pâtés (including duck fois gras at a dizzy-making $106 a pound), olives and, of course, a handpicked selection of French cheeses. 2800 Hyperion Ave., Silver Lake, (323) 665-0545, fax (323) 665-6465. Open seven days 8 a.m.–6:30 p.m. No alcohol. Lot parking. AE, MC, V. Sandwiches $8–$9.50. MH ¦ *

Vermont. Anchoring the ever-new hipcommercial corridor of Vermont Avenue north of Sunset, Vermont (always lowercase) is like a stalwart, reliable friend. The owners often wander through the dining room, with its palmettos and pillars and gentle lighting, and they always like to chat. The reasonably priced dinner menu reads like a Top 10 of recent hits, from frisée aux lardons salad and onion soup to seared tuna and pork loin. You may not be bowled over by anything you eat, but you’ll be back. Plus, the stylish new bar is one of the neighborhood’s few upscale spots for cocktails. 1714 Vermont Ave., Los Feliz, (323) 661-6163. Lunch Mon.–Fri., dinner seven nights. Full bar. Parking in rear. AE, MC, V. Entrées $13–$18. California. MH $

Vida. If you were to imagine the kind of elegant restaurant Mrs. Howell might have designed using the materials available on Gilligan’s Island, you might come up with Vida, an improbable combination of goofball Polynesia and pitch-black James Bond cool. Fred Eric is more or less the official chef of L.A.’s club-going demimonde, cooking the kind of highly conceptual L.A. food that never seemed to exist outside of vintage Johnny Carson monologues, and his customers seem to thrive on his diet of elaborate cross-cultural puns. 1930 N. Hillhurst Ave., Los Feliz, (323) 660-4446. Dinner seven nights. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, CB, DC, MC, V. Entrées $16–$28. California. JG $$ ¨


Hollywood/Melrose/La Brea/Fairfax

Alex. This newcomer in the former Citrus space has some mighty shoes to fill. But first, the remodel: Citrus’ bright solarium whiteness has been replaced by the clubby dark wood of the Craftsman revival and old men’s clubs. The once cutting-edge open kitchen has been partially scrimmed by green and yellow stained glass. New chef-owner Alex Scrimgeouer is talented, careful and hard-working; his Cal-French cooking hits most of the right notes, and the service is attentive. It’s fun to order the $58 four-course pick-your-dishes menu. Overall, Alex gets a sturdy A-minus, the minus for the simple reason that we want more — more passion, more risks, more flourish and even more mistakes. I mean, hey, this is a place where the live piano player stops playing midsong when his cell phone rings. 6703 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles, (323) 933-5233. Lunch Tues.–Fri., dinner Tues.–Sat. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, D, DC, MC, V. Entrées $29, plus $58 prix-fixe dinner. California French. MH $$$

Ammo. The little storefront café is almost harshly minimal, white and noisy; the service is intermittent at best, and the clientele is often predominantly stunning models of every gender (Herb Ritts’ studio is just around the corner). But Ammo’s food tastes as if it’s been made to order by a fabulous home cook with her own organic garden (or at least one with access to a farmers’ market) — and for that, we’ll brave anything, even sitting in a room with multiple examples of physical perfection. Try the French lentil salad with roasted root vegetables in a Dijon vinaigrette; penne with fresh tomatoes, olives and anchovies; and the ice cream sandwich. 1155 N. Highland Ave., Los Angeles, (323) 871-2666. Lunch Mon.–Fri., dinner Mon.–Sat., weekend brunch. Beer and wine. AE, MC, V. Entrées $11–$16 (lunch), $14–$26 (dinner). California. MH $ *

Angelini Osteria. The great Italian chef Gino Angelini has fulfilled a lifetime dream to open his own casual osteria that serves simple, hearty, home-style food — from a home rife with genius cooking genes. The classy, clattery urban café is lively, fun — and very kid-friendly. (The three-course child’s menu is a fine way to introduce the squirts to the pleasures and pace of fine dining.) Angelini may have downshifted his culinary ambitions, but his abilities are entrenched, and there’s unmistakable haute in the homiest braised oxtails or codfish stew. 7313 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 297-0070. Beer and wine. Valet parking. Lunch Tues.–Sat. noon–2:30 p.m.; dinner Tues.–Sun. 5–11:30 p.m. AE, MC, V. Entrées $16–$30. Italian. MH $$ ¦ ä

Campanile. The basic premise of Urban Rustic cuisine is the perfection of Mediterranean peasant dishes, often in ways that may be incomprehensible to the Mediterranean peasants in question. Campanile’s Mark Peel reinterprets this sunny cuisine by using really good ingredients, assembling them with chefly skill, and illuminating the spirit of each dish as if from within. A niçoise salad, a fish soup, a grilled steak under Peel’s direction is like a Velázquez painting of a horse as opposed to the horse itself. 624 S. La Brea Ave., Los Angeles, (323) 938-1447. Lunch Mon.–Fri., dinner Mon.–Sat. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, CB, DC, MC, V. Entrées $25–$38. California Italian. JG $$$ ¦ Ü‹ ¤

Cobras & Matadors. Despite its name, this is, finally, a good tapas restaurant — and who knew how convivial a series of shared small plates with walloping flavors could be? Crimson walls, a hearthlike wood-fired oven and swinging jambons create a hip, Barcelona-style coziness. C&M is strictly BYOB, but the adjacent liquor store has a smart, hand-picked selection of South American and Spanish wines, and corkage is $5. 7615 W. Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 932-6178. Dinner Sun.–Thurs. 6–11 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 6 p.m.–mid. BYOB. Valet parking. MC, V. Tapas $3–$15. Spanish. MH $ ¨

The House. A hard-used, still-handsome Craftsman home has been transformed into an industry canteen-cum-fine-dining room. Chef Scooter Kanfer, the local food world’s equivalent of a high-end script polisher — she spent the last decade perfecting dishes in many other chefs’ just-opened kitchens — here serves her own seasonal remakes of Americana, including spoon bread, macaroni and cheese, the lettuce-wedge salad, steak, pan-fried chicken and even cocoa. Check out the $30 Sunday-night prix-fixe dinner. 5750 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles, (323) 462-4687. Lunch Tues.–Fri. noon–2 p.m.; dinner Tues.–Sat. 6–10:30 p.m., Sun. 5–9 p.m. Beer and wine. Valet parking. AE, MC, V. Entrées $16–$30. California American. MH $

Jar. Chef Suzanne Tracht’s interpretation of the contemporary American steakhouse means many sides and sauces and the occasional Asian twist (braised pork belly with Savoy cabbage, duck fried rice, sautéed pea tendrils, tamarind sauce). But meat, braised or dry-aged and grilled, is the real focus: flavorful and tender New York steak with the bone in, magnificent pot roast. The decor is tasteful, the art wry, the service totally professional and the noise level off the charts. 8225 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 655-6566. Lunch Mon.–Fri. 11:30–2:30 p.m.; dinner Sun.–Mon. 5:30–10 p.m., Tues.–Thurs. to 10:30 p.m., Fri.–Sat. to 11 p.m. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, D, MC, V. Entrées $19–$29. California American. MH $$

Lucques. Named for a nutty brine-cured French green olive, and rarely pronounced correctly, Lucques (leuk) has quietly and surely joined the small pantheon of great Los Angeles restaurants. Lucques has a quasi-historic setting (it was once Harold Lloyd’s brick, wood-beamed carriage house), a patio, adept service and, best of all, Suzanne Goin’s earthy, intelligent, somewhat indefinable cooking. Call it Cal-French-Med with welcome guests from North Africa, Spain and Berkeley, California. The crowd looks smart and arty — Oliver Peoples glasses and more Dries Van Nooten than Armani. Go for Goin’s fish dishes, in particular, and check out the appealing bar menu. Also, Sunday nights feature three-course prix-fixe dinners. 8474 Melrose Ave., West Hollywood, (323) 655-6277. Lunch Tues.–Sat. noon–2:30 p.m.; dinner Tues.–Sat. 6–11 p.m., Sun. 5:30–10. Limited bar menu available 10 p.m.–mid. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, MC, V. Entrées $21–$30. California/Mediterranean. 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, the combination meze includes essentially everything on the left-hand side of the menu: hummus; the thickened-yogurt cheese labneh; veal and bulgur-wheat kibbeh; the toasted-bread salad fattoush; and the grilled makanek sausages. To begin with. 4905 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 662-9325. Open Tues.–Sun. 11 a.m.–11 p.m. Beer and wine. Lot parking. AE, CB, D, DC, MC, V. Entrées $8.50-$11.50. Middle Eastern/Lebanese. JG $ *

Mimosa. This classy, casual bistro has its ups and downs, but catch chef Jean Pierre Bosc on an upswing and you won’t eat better regional French food, from the complimentary earthy black olives and cornichons to Bosc’s sensuous tomato tart, hearty cassoulet and hangar steak frites. The dining-room walls set the standard for “bistro yellow”; the plastic-wrapped sidewalk patio isn’t nearly as charming. The terrific bouillabaisse is available Fridays and Saturdays only. 8009 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 655-8895. Dinner Tues.–Sat. 6–11 p.m. Beer and wine. Valet parking. AE, MC, V. Entrées $13.50–$24. French Bistro. MH $

Musso & Frank Grill. The warm scent of wood smoke spreads across the room. You push away the remains of a perfect caesar salad. A red-jacketed waiter comes over and pours a clear, cold martini, Hollywood’s best, from a pony into a tiny frosted glass, then carefully spoons Welsh rarebit — rich and warm, if a little grainy — from a metal salver onto crustless toast. Here in these worn wooden booths beneath the ancient hunt-scene wallpaper, this seems very much the perfect gentleman’s lunch. 6667 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood, (323) 467-7788. Open Tues.–Sat. 11 a.m.–11 p.m. Full bar. Validated parking in rear. AE, DC, MC, V. Entrées $15–$32. American. JG $ ¤ ‹Ü

Pastis. Pastis is more country-French than its nearby rival, the urbane Mimosa. Despite the constantly changing chefs — the good ones have been plucked like grapes by bigger restaurants — the kitchen turns out reliably good, quality French food. The tables are a little tight, but I’ve made friends with people sharing the banquette. Look for the comforting, traditional roast leg of lamb with flageolets, a classic deep-bowled frisée aux lardons and lavender-scented crème brûlée. 8114 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 655-8822. Dinner Mon.–Fri. 6–10 p.m., Sat.–Sun. to 11 p.m. Beer and wine. Valet parking on weekends. AE, MC, V. Entrées $12–$20. French Bistro. MH $

Pink’s. Consider the Pink’s dog, uncouth and garlicky, skin thick and taut, so that when you sink your teeth into it, the sausage . . . pops . . . into a mouthful of juice. The bun is soft enough to achieve a oneness with the thick chili that is ladled over the dog, but firm enough to resist dissolving altogether, unless you order it with sauerkraut. And why wouldn’t you? 709 N. La Brea Ave., Hollywood, (323) 931-4223 (no phone orders). Open Sun.–Thurs. 9:30 a.m.–2 a.m., Fri.–Sat. 9:30 a.m.–3 a.m. No alcohol. Lot parking. Takeout. Cash only. Dogs $3–$6. American. JG ¢ * H

Ruen Pair Thai. At Ruen Pair Thai, there are actually two menus: one the standard pad Thai/cashew-chicken sheet that non-Thais are pretty much automatically given, the other a yellow four-page menu that lists the preserved-egg salad, the pork fried with Chinese olives, and the simmered goose that made the restaurant famous. At 2 a.m., everybody is eating more or less the same thing: flat, crisp Thai omelets, and morning-glory stems fried with an immoderate amount of garlic. 5257 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood, (323) 466-0153. 11 a.m.–4 a.m. daily. No alcohol. Lot parking. Cash only. Entrées $4.95–$7.95. Thai. JG ¢ * H

Sanamluang Café. Sanamluang is a Thai place to duck into and out of at 3 a.m. after the clubs close for vast plates of rice fried with mint leaves, seafood and chiles; for big, comforting bowls of chicken soup flavored with toasted garlic; and for wide noodles fried with Chinese broccoli and shiitake mushrooms. Truly extraordinary is the general’s noodle soup: thin, garlicky egg noodles garnished with bits of duck, barbecued pork, crumbles of ground pork and a couple of shrimp, submerged in a clean, clear broth. 5176 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood, (323) 660-8006. Open daily 9 a.m.–4 a.m. No alcohol. Lot parking. Cash only. Entrées $5–$10. Thai. JG ¢ * H

Zankou. The chicken sandwiches are good at Zankou; so are the falafel and the shawarma carved off the rotating spit. But the spit-roasted chickens, golden, crisp-skinned and juicy, are what you want. Such chicken really needs no embellishment, but a little bit of Zankou’s fierce, blinding-white garlic sauce couldn’t hurt. 5065 Sunset Blvd., East Hollywood, (323) 665-7842. 1415 E. Colorado Blvd., Glendale, (818) 244-2237. 5658 Sepulveda Blvd., Van Nuys, (818) 781-0615. 1296 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena, (626) 405-1502. 10 a.m.–mid. seven days. No alcohol. Lot parking. Cash only. Entrées $2.25–$7.50. Middle Eastern/Armenian. JG ¢ *


Central Los Angeles

Bu San. Korean-style raw sea cucumber is like nothing you’ve ever tasted before, and Korean-style sashimi, which you wrap in a lettuce leaf with raw garlic, sliced chiles and bean paste, is a revelation. The chefs are fond of converting live fish from the tanks into a meal’s worth of demonstrably fresh sashimi. Raw squid, luxuriously creamy, with a small bit of crunch at the center, only tastes alive. Although almost alarmingly so. 203 N. Western Ave., Los Angeles, (323) 871-0703. Open daily for lunch and dinner. Beer and wine. Lot parking. MC, V. Entrées $25–$30. Korean. JG $$

El Cholo. Even in the ’20s, Angelenos vaguely remembered that the area used to belong to Mexico, and there have always been Mexican restaurants here that catered to American taste. The emblematic cuisine of these restaurants is embodied in the Number Two Dinner, the eternal combination platter of chile relleno, enchilada, rice and beans bound together with cinctures of orange cheese. And El Cholo’s green-corn tamales have been a rite of spring in Los Angeles since the days when Bob Hope was actually funny. 1121 S. Western Ave., Los Angeles, (323) 734-2773. Mon.–Thurs. 11 a.m.–10 p.m., Fri.–Sat. to 11 p.m., Sun. to 9 p.m. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, D, MC, V. Entrées $6.95–$13.50. Mexican. JG $ ¨

Guelaguetza. Oaxacan restaurants are flourishing at the moment, and at the best of them, Guelaguetza, you’ll find the sort of Oaxacan dishes you’ve only read about in magazines. Of the classic seven moles of Oaxaca, dark, complex sauces flavored with seeds, nuts, herbs and chiles of every description, you will usually find at least three. The black mole, based on ingredients the restaurant brings up from Oaxaca, is rich with chopped chocolate and burnt grain, toasted chile, and wave upon wave of textured spice — it’s as simple yet as nuanced as a great old Cote Rotie. 3337½ W. Eighth St., (213) 427-0779. Open daily 8 a.m.–11 p.m. No alcohol. Street parking. AE, MC, V. Entrées $5 to $8.50. Mexican. JG ¢

Nyala. The central fact of Ethiopian cuisine is injera, the sour, pale, platter-size pancake that acts as plate, utensil, condiment and bread, and also as an ingredient in about half the stews. At the vegetarian-friendly Nyala, there is a fine version of the chicken stew doro wot, thick with hot spice and glistening with butter; minchetabish, which tastes like a fiery Ethiopian take on Texas chili. 1076 S. Fairfax Ave., Los Angeles, (323) 936-5918. Mon.–Sun. 11:30 a.m.–11 p.m. Full bar. Street parking. AE, CB, DC, MC, V. Entrées $7–$12. Ethiopian. JG $ H

Oki Dog. Immortalized by the Descendents, beloved by the Germs, the original Oki Dog, long since closed, was to the original ’70s punk-rock scene in Los Angeles what the Brown Derby was to 1940s filmdom. The most famous creation here at the stand that remains is the eponymous dog, a couple of frankfurters wrapped in a tortilla with chili, pickles, mustard, a slice of fried pastrami and a torrent of goopy American cheese — a cross-cultural burrito that’s pretty hard to stomach unless you’ve got the tum of a 16-year-old, but strangely delicious nonetheless. 5056 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 938-4369. Open seven days 9 a.m.–10 p.m. No alcohol. Lot parking. Cash only. Entrées $4–$5.50. American Cross-Culture. JG ¢ *

Papa Cristo’s. At Papa Cristo’s, tucked into a corner of Los Angeles’ oldest Greek market, eight bucks buys a whole grilled fish, or a plate of spaghetti plus half a garlicky, crisp-skinned roast chicken. Eight bucks will also buy three lamb chops, four if you’re lucky, steeped in garlic and oregano and grilled quickly over a hot fire. These aren’t the thick, prime loin chops you’d find at Michael’s or Campanile, and they are usually cooked somewhere on the far, far side of rare, but it is hard to imagine more flavorful meat. 2771 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 737-2970. Lunch Tues.–Sun. Beer and wine. Lot parking in rear. AE, D, MC, V. Entrées $6.99 to $9.99. Greek. JG ¢ *

Soot Bull Jeep. Soot Bull Jeep may be the best of L.A.’s 100-odd Korean barbecues, noisy, smoky, with all the bustle you’d expect in the heart of a great city, a place to cook your own marinated short ribs and baby octopus, pork loin and tripe, above a tabletop heap of glowing hardwood coals. If you are new to this sort of thing, a waitress will return periodically to make sure that your ignorance of cooking times injures the meat no more than absolutely necessary. 3136 Eighth St., Los Angeles, (213) 387-3865. Open daily 11 a.m.–11 p.m. Beer and wine. Street parking. MC, V. Entrées $15–$30. Korean. JG ¢


West Hollywood/La Cienega

Alto Palato. The main dining room with its sky-high ceilings and roomy tables has the lofty ambiance of a European railway station — and the service can be European, too: maddening. But the cooking is authentic regional Italian; try the deep-fried artichokes, roast pork on cabbage with polenta, wafer-thin pizza and the best gelato outside of Rome. Every Wednesday night features a special, reasonably priced regional dinner. 755 N. La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles, (310) 657-9271. Dinner seven nights. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, MC, V. Entrées $12.95–$22.95. Italian. MH $$

Lawry’s the Prime Rib. When restaurateur Lawrence Frank misconstrued in the ’30s something he’d heard about the famous roast beef at London’s Simpson’s-on-the-Strand, he inadvertently came up with American prime rib as we know it: big, pink roasts glistening from silver carts, carved to order tableside and served with Yorkshire pudding, a baked potato, and salad from a spinning bowl. Lawry’s prime rib is as archetypally Angeleno as the Tudor mansions and yawning Norman cottages of Beverly Hills. 100 N. La Cienega Blvd., Beverly Hills, (310) 652-2827. Mon.–Thurs. 5–10 p.m., Fri. 5–11 p.m., Sat. 4:30–11 p.m., Sun. 4–10 p.m. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, CB, DC, MC, V. Entrées $26–$42. American. JG $$$ Ü‹ ¤

Pace. It’s pronounced “pah-chay” and means peace; certainly this quiet Laurel Canyon nestler is peaceful and cozy. Both the small, leafy patio and cavelike dining room are ideal for an intimate dinner with friends. Chef-owner Sandy Gendel has a Northern California fondness for all things fresh, organic and flavorful as well as impressive Northern Italian credentials (he spent two years cooking at Vissani in Umbria). The pizzas are superb and the Bolognese sauce is big-souled. 2100 Laurel Canyon Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 654-8583. Dinner 5:30–11 p.m. seven nights. Beer and wine. Valet parking. AE, CB, DC, MC, V. Entrées $12–$28. California Italian. MH ¦ $


Westwood/West L.A./Century City

Clementine. Annie Miler, a food-historian-turned-chef, makes delicious versions of great American regional favorites at her sunny breakfast, lunch and takeout café across from the Century City Shopping Mall. Rediscover the Southern ham biscuit, the Midwestern kolache (in the form of a sweet-dough apricot bun), and the all-American grilled cheese sandwich, in this case a crusty, buttery version made with marinated onions in an Italian sandwich press. Miler’s best invention yet may be a peanut-butter cookie with a layer of peanut butter piped inside. 1751 Ensley Ave., Los Angeles, (310) 552-1080. No alcohol. Open Mon.–Fri. 7 a.m.–7 p.m., Sat. 8 a.m.–5 p.m. Parking in rear lot. AE, CB, DC, MC, V. Entrées $7-$10. California. MH ¦ *

Il Moro. Nestled in a hidden crook of corporate office buildings, this spinoff of the esteemed Locanda Veneta has good fresh fish, pastas in unusual shapes (try “the pope’s hat”) and an artichoke-and-arugula salad bright with lemon juice. The patio creates an unexpected urban refuge; it’s filled with palms, has its own small lake, and a tall gushing waterfall of a fountain literally drowns out the roar of traffic on Olympic. 11400 W. Olympic Blvd., West Los Angeles, (310) 575-3530. Lunch and dinner daily. Wine and beer. Valet parking. AE, DC, MC, V. Entrées $10–$19. Italian. MH $

John O’ Groats. The restaurant is named after a town at the northernmost point in Scotland, but the menu is pretty much all-American, with baking-powder biscuits, fluffy omelets, smoked pork chops, and stretchy buckwheat pancakes dotted with fresh blueberries or pecans. And although there seem to be no actual groats on the menu — which is kind of a relief — the steel-cut Irish oatmeal with bananas and heavy cream is fine. 10516 W. Pico Blvd., West Los Angeles, (310) 204-0692. Breakfast and lunch daily, dinner Wed.–Sat. Beer and wine. Street parking. MC, V. Entrées $9–$14. American. 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 by grilling meat and freshly cut cucumbers. 11611 Santa Monica Blvd., West Los Angeles, (310) 312-2929. Tues.–Sun. 11 a.m.–10 p.m. No alcohol. Street parking. Entrées $5–8. Vietnamese. MH ¢ *

Beverly Hills and vicinity

Il Pastaio. This was Celestino Drago’s first café spinoff, and its original concept — carpaccio, salad, pasta and risotto (no meat-centered entrées) — remains sound. The window-walled room on the corner of Cañon and Brighton fills with sun and Beverly Hills types; don’t expect a lot of elbow room or romance, but the food is reliably delicious. Try the chewy garganelli with broccoli and sausage, and spelt spaghetti dressed simply in butter, ricotta and lemon zest. The remarkable black squid ink risotto looks like asphalt and tastes like heaven. 400 N. Cañon Dr., Beverly Hills, (310) 205-5444. Mon.–Sat. 11:30 a.m.–11 p.m., Sun. 5–10 p.m. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, D, DC, MC, V. Entrées $16.50–$24.50. Italian. MH ¦

The Ivy. The patio here is a New Yorker’s perfect dream of Los Angeles, splashed with sunlight, decorated with amusing American kitsch, populated with lunching actresses, agents, and New York magazine editors in town to take the pulse of the city. The food — crab cakes, corn chowder, New Orleans–style barbecued shrimp — is acceptable though expensive, down-home food at uptown prices. But the Ivy’s definitive corn chowder, concocted by a practically teenage Toribio Prado before he decamped to found the Cha Cha Cha empire almost 20 years ago, sizzles with gentle chile heat. 113 N. Robertson Blvd., Los Angeles, (310) 274-8303. Open daily for lunch and dinner. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, CB, DC, MC, V. Entrées $25–$39. American. JG $$ ¦

Matsuhisa. Nobu Matsuhisa was the first sushi master to introduce Americans to yellowtail sashimi with sliced jalapeños. Playing with tradition has made him an international star. Locally, you can try his food at the modest Ubon noodle house at the Beverly Center and the high-end Nobu in Malibu, but his original, stunningly uncharming location on La Cienega is still, to our mind, the best bet — especially if you sit at the sushi bar and give your chef free rein. To this day, despite many attempts, nobody has improved on his innovations. Reservations are a must and, at times, a pain. 129 N. La Cienega Blvd., Beverly Hills, (310) 659-9639. Lunch Mon.–Fri., dinner nightly. Beer and wine. Valet parking. AE, CB, DC, MC, V. Entrées $15–$50. Japanese. MH $$$


Santa Monica/Brentwood

Bay Cities. The Italian deli Bay Cities makes a decent turkey sandwich, a loud, greasy meatball sandwich and a very respectable hero, but the sandwich of choice here is a monster sub, straight outta Brooklyn, called “The Godmother,” which includes a slice of every Italian cold cut on Earth. Fully dressed with lettuce, tomato, mayonnaise, mustard and a few squirts of a garlicky vinaigrette, a Godmother feeds a couple of people at least; the guys behind the counter will look at you quizzically if they suspect you’re planning to eat a whole one yourself. 1517 Lincoln Blvd., Santa Monica, (310) 395-8279. Mon.–Sat. 7 a.m.–7 p.m., Sun. till 6 p.m. Beer, wine and liquor for takeout only. Lot parking. MC, V. Sandwiches $2–$15. Italian Deli. JG *

Border Grill. The Santa Monica flagship restaurant of Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger has become a prime tourist destination, but the regional Mexican cuisine still comes out vivid and strong — fat juicy tacos, refreshing ceviches, spot-on chile verde. The wall graphics are loud, the prime-time dinner din deafening, the bar often impenetrably crowded. The dessert case, with Aztec chocolate cakes, huge pies and brownies, is simply dangerous. The new Pasadena Border Grill is more visually and aurally subdued, and the food is more eclectic pan-Latino, but the dessert case still means trouble. 1445 Fourth St., Santa Monica, (310) 451-1655. 260 E. Colorado Blvd. (in Paseo Colorado), Pasadena, (626) 844-8988. Lunch and dinner seven days. Full bar. Valet parking (Santa Monica), validated parking in underground lot (Pasadena Paseo). AE, CB, DC, MC, V. Entrées $13–$25. Mexican. MH ¦

The Hump. This little crow’s-nest sushi bar, named for a difficult Himalayan airway, sits atop Typhoon at the Santa Monica airport. Eat kampachi sashimi off Mineo Mizuno’s ceramics and watch the planes pop on and off the runway. Much of the fish comes directly from the famous Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo, and the chefs can go as simple or sophisticated as you like. Try the Yaki-Jimo-style sashimi, sauced with cilantro, ginger, garlic and ponzu, and the chopped Tataki-style sashimi. 3221 Donald Douglas Loop South, Third Floor, Santa Monica, (310) 313-0977. Lunch Mon.–Fri., dinner seven nights. Full bar. Lot parking. AE, DC, MC, V. Entrées $35–$150. Japanese. MH $$$

Le Petit Café. It’s a modest neighborhood mom-and-pop — or should we say mère-et-père — café nestled among several industrial buildings in east Santa Monica, and it happens to be one of the most authentically French restaurants you’ll find in Southern California. You squeeze into your little wooden table, read specials off the chalkboard and parlez français with the waiter. Where else can you get sand dabs, pâté with cornichons, and cold poached salmon, all for a relative song? 2842 Colorado Ave., Santa Monica, (310) 829-6792. Lunch Mon.–Fri. 11:30 a.m.–3 p.m., dinner Mon.–Sat. 5–9 p.m. Beer and wine. Parking next to restaurant. MC, V. Entrées $10–$22. French. MH $

Michael’s. California nouvelle cuisine may have been born in this art-infested restaurant where the Diebenkorns are real, the patio swarms with Robert Grahams, and media barons sup on pretty little salads of quail with pansy blossoms and sherry vinegar. Beyond the sautéed shad roe, the bacon-and-egg salad, and the piles of arugula that reach halfway to the moon, the steak is the real thing, a prime New York strip dry-aged halfway to infinity, with an alarming mineral pungency bred out of most steak-house meat around 1952. But make sure somebody else is paying. 1147 Third St., Santa Monica, (310) 451-0843. Lunch Mon.–Fri. 11:30 a.m.–2:30 p.m.; dinner Mon.–Sat. 6–10:30 p.m. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, CB, DC, MC, V. Entrées $28–$36. California. JG $$$ ¦

Restaurant Josie. Never mind, if you can, that Josie has one of the chilliest doors in town — the hostesses act like bouncers for the DAR. Once you’re seated, life improves; the waiters are real pros, and the dining room manages to be sedate yet hip, and quite cozy in a WASP-y, old-money kind of way. Chef-owner Josie LeBalch, formerly of the Saddle Peak Lodge, Remi and the Beach House, cooks her own mix of Cal-Med dishes with an emphasis on game. Try the wood-roasted quail, pappardelle with rabbit or the wild boar. 2424 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica, (310) 581-9888. Dinner Mon.–Sat. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, CB, DC, MC, V. Entrées $18–$32. California. MH $$$


Culver City/Venice and vicinity

Axe. At Axe (pronounced “ah-shay”), simple and gleaming as a Zendo, the clear ocean air is practically a design element. Some find the austere aesthetic “refreshing”; others find the seats uncomfortable, the overall effect harsh. The wait staff does tend to be more physically attractive than efficient, but this restaurant marches to its own beat, or rather, to that of the chef-owner Joanna Moore, whose breakfast, lunch and dinner menus are seductively eclectic. Try her meal-sized whole-grain pancake, a composed salad, her masterly spaghetti aglio olio and any dessert. 1009 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Venice, (310) 664-9787. Lunch Tues.–Fri., dinner Tues.–Sun., brunch Sat.–Sun. Beer and wine. Valet parking. AE, D, MC, V. Entrées $11–$28. California. MH ¦

Cafe Brasil. Mostly, you’ll find grilled animals at Cafe Brasil: pork chops, lamb chops, steak, shrimp and fish, all profoundly salty and resonant with garlic, charred at the edges, fragrant with citrus and a little overcooked. With all this protein come truckloads of rice glistening with oil, sweet fried plantains and spicy black beans. Cafe Brasil also serves wonderful feijoada on weekends, less offal-intensive than some versions but meat-fragrant in the best possible way. 10831 Venice Blvd., Los Angeles, (310) 837-8957. Open daily 11 a.m.–10 p.m. No alcohol. BYOB. Lot parking. MC, V. Entrées $7–$16. Brazilian. JG ¢ *

El Sazon Oaxaqueño. Where many of the other Oaxacan places on the Westside interpret mole as a mandate to serve fairly incidental segments of reheated chicken, the chicken at El Sazon Oaxaqueño is fresh, full of juice, tending toward old-bird chewiness rather than dissolving into mush under your fork. The mole negro is impeccable, but it is the extravagantly hot coloradito de pollo that is El Sazon’s greatest dish, a red sauce that almost sings with roasted chiles, with sautéed spices, with ground, charred bread. 12131 Washington Place, Mar Vista, (310) 391-4721. Open daily 7:30 a.m.–9:30 p.m. No alcohol. Lot parking. Cash only. Entrées $6–$15. Mexican. JG ¢ *

5 Dudley. In a tiny storefront restaurant just yards off the Venice boardwalk, two young chefs named Michael (Wilson and Brown) cook their own style of robust, Cal-French seasonal comfort food. The menu changes weekly; all the bread and pasta are made at the restaurant. That friendly, loquacious old cuss at the door is the owner, Burt. 5 Dudley Ave., Venice, (310) 399-6678. Tues.–Sun. 6–10 p.m. Beer and wine. Street parking. AE, DC, MC, V. Entrées $20–$32. California French. MH $

Globe Venice. Globe Venice has replaced 72 Market Street, and it’s perhaps a promising sign of the times that the formerly hard-edged haute-cool celebrity magnet has morphed into a homier place. Chef-owner Joseph Manzare is a veteran of Spago and Granita, and the first restaurant he opened, the Globe in San Francisco, is noted as an off-hours hangout for other chefs. This new Globe has outsize art and smart, cheerful waitresses — and one of the best roasted chickens in town. 72 Market St., Venice, (310) 392-8720. Dinner Tues.–Sat. 6 p.m.–mid., Sun.–Mon. 6–10 p.m. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, CB, DC, MC, V. Entrées $16–$24. California. MH

Joe’s. Recently enlarged from cramped tables in hallways to actual restaurant proportions, Joseph Miller’s beloved Venice venue is now like, well, a real restaurant, with a real dining room, a larger wait staff and — inevitably — a certain loss. Miller’s clear-flavored California-French cooking can still graze perfection, but the overall focus in both the cooking and temper of the place seems fuzzier and the bill seems significantly higher. And yet I still love his three- and four-course prix-fixe menus. 1023 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Venice, (310) 399-5811. Lunch Tues.–Fri. 11:30 a.m.–2 p.m.; dinner Tues.–Fri. 6–10 p.m., Sat.–Sun. 6–11 p.m.; brunch Sat.–Sun. 11 a.m.–2:30 p.m. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, MC, V. Entrées $10-$25, plus $38-$45 prix-fixe dinner. California. MH $


Studio City

Out Take Cafe. From won tons to lamb shank, there’s something for everyone at this too small, often packed eclectic café. And you can order a terrific meal of vareniki ä (sturdy Polish dumplings topped with caramelized onions and sour cream) followed by a bowl of beefy, vegetable-rich hot borscht. 12159 Ventura Blvd., Studio City, (818) 760-1111. Lunch and dinner seven days. Beer and wine. Lot parking. AE, MC, V. $11–$16. Polish/Eclectic. MH

Spark Woodfire Cooking. What happens when a sophisticated regional-Italian restaurant like Alto Palato marries a mass market Cal-Ital coffee shop like Louise’s? Well, Spark — a cheerful Cal-Ital Valley girl with corporate polish and flickerings of soul. Thin-crust Roman pizzas and pressed Italian sandwiches share a menu with creamy coleslaw, and rotisserie meats, including porchetta, a fabulous herb- and pepper-encrusted pork leg. Spark’s second, larger, more thoroughly Italian incarnation is seaside, at the Pierside Pavillion in Huntington Beach. 11801 Ventura Blvd., Studio City, (818) 623-8883. Lunch Mon.–Fri.; dinner seven nights. 300 Pacific Coast Hwy., Huntington Beach, (714) 960-0996. Lunch Sat.–Sun.; dinner seven nights. Full bar. Valet parking. Entrées $8.95–$22.95. California Italian. MH $


South Los Angeles

Phillip’s Barbecue. Crusted with black and deeply smoky, the spareribs here are rich and crisp and juicy; the beef ribs are meaty as rib roasts beneath their coat of char. They are the best ribs in Los Angeles, perhaps the only ribs that can compete on equal terms with the best from Oakland or Atlanta. And the extra-hot sauce is as sweet and exhilarating as a classic O’Jays LP. Tucked into a mini-mall between a liquor store and the local chapter of Alcoholics Anonymous, Phillip’s might be a little hard to spot from the street, but if you keep your window open, you should be able to sniff it out from half a mile away. 4307 Leimert Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 292-7613. Mon.–Wed. 11 a.m.–8 p.m., Thurs. to 10 p.m., Fri.–Sat. to mid. No alcohol. Parking in lot. Cash only. Entrées $4.75–$10.50. American. JG ¢ *


East Los Angeles

Ciro’s. Stylistically, flautas can range from the greasy taquitos your college dorm used to serve, to the giant, tasteless roll-ups served by certain upscale Mexican chains. Located just down the street from El Tepeyac, beloved by local families and cops, Ciro’s is known across all East L.A. for its flautas, tiny things that come six to an order, tightly rolled and very crisp, sauced with thick, chunky, fresh guacamole and a dollop of tart Mexican cream. 705 N. Evergreen St., East L.A., (323) 267-8637. Tues.–Thurs. 7 a.m.–8 p.m., Fri.–Sun. 7 a.m.–9 p.m. Beer only. Street parking. Cash only. Mexican. JG ¢ *

El Tepeyac. The burrito is a symbol of abundance, the humble taco transformed into a plump, overstuffed creation. At El Tepeyac, the legendary East L.A. stand whose name has practically become synonymous with the burrito, the Hollenbeck, named after the local East L.A. police division, is more or less an old-line Mexican restaurant’s entire menu wrapped into a tortilla the size of a pillowcase — rice, beans, stewed meat, guacamole and lakes of melted cheese. 812 N. Evergreen Ave., East L.A., (323) 267-8668. Breakfast, lunch and dinner Wed.–Mon. No alcohol. Street parking. Cash only. Entrées $3.75–$12. Mexican. JG ¢

Tacos Baja Ensenada. Entire religions have been founded on miracles less profound than the Ensenada fish taco. In most of Mexico, the words estilo Ensenada signify just one thing: fish tacos, specifically the fried-fish tacos served at stalls in the fish market down by the docks. In East L.A., you will come no closer to the ideal than these crunchy, sizzlingly hot strips of batter-fried halibut, folded into warm corn tortillas with salsa, shredded cabbage and a squeeze of lime, sprinkled with freshly chopped herbs and finished with a squirt of thick, cultured cream. 5385 Whittier Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 887-1980. Lunch and dinner daily. No alcohol. Lot parking. Cash only. Entrées $3.99–$10. Mexican. JG ¢ *


Burbank/Glendale/Eagle Rock

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.–1 a.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 $

Casa Bianca. Of all the neighborhood pizza parlors out there, each of them touted as the best in the Southland, one of them actually has to be the best. And our vote goes to Casa Bianca, especially if the pizza happens to include the fried eggplant, the sweetly spiced homemade sausage — or both. The crust is chewy, yet speckled with enough carbony, bubbly burnt bits to make each bite slightly different from the last. 1650 Colorado Blvd., Eagle Rock, (323) 256-9617. Dinner Tues.–Sat. Beer and wine. Street parking. Cash only. Entrées $8–$12. Italian. JG $ *

Raffi’s Place. You go to Raffi’s for its enormous, affordable plates of Persian-Armenian food, but you also get canaries singing in the trees, a heated brick patio, quick service and a location close to Glendale’s best movie theaters. Everyone comes for the grilled kebabs served with whole charred tomatoes and peppers, plus mountains of aromatic basmati rice — try the shishlique, or lamb chops. Also recommended: the lemony hummus and a smoky eggplant dip (baba ganoush) scooped up with supple, paper-thin lavash. 211 E. Broadway, Glendale, (818) 240-7411. Tues.–Sat. 11:30 a.m.–10 p.m., Sun. noon–9 p.m. Beer and wine. Validated parking. AE, MC, V. Entrées $8–$14. Persian/Armenian. MH ¢ ¦ *


Pasadena and vicinity

Europane. Pastry savant Sumi Chang, once the breakfast chef at Campanile, runs this inspired bakery/café. Her croissants are like crispy butter, her chocolate biscotti a study of cacao’s dark, sweet depths. And the egg-salad sandwich — soft-center boiled eggs in homemade mayo on sourdough toast smeared with sundried tomato paste — is worth a drive from any corner of the county. Europane recently doubled its seating capacity, thank goodness, since more and more regulars — soccer moms, Caltech profs, Art Center students, chefs, writers — seem to live there part-time. 950 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena, (626) 577-1828. Mon.–Sat. 7 a.m.–5:30 p.m., Sun. to 2 p.m. No alcohol. Street parking. Cash only. Pastries and sandwiches $5.75–$7.50. California Bakery. MH *

Kuala Lumpur. Ronnie Ng is the maestro of Malaysian cooking in Los Angeles, and his Pasadena restaurant is a great introduction to one of Asia’s most pleasant, most accessible cuisines. Here, you’ll find the pungent, spicy salad known as rojak; crisp coriander chicken; and an epochal nasi lemak, rice boiled with coconut milk and pandan leaves, then mounded in the middle of a platter and surrounded by little heaps of exotic garnishes. Be sure to order a bowl of the rich, chile-stained curry laksa, bathed in a rich coconut broth. 69 W. Green St., Pasadena, (626) 577-5175. Lunch and dinner Tues.–Sun. Beer and wine. Validated lot parking. AE, MC, V. Entrées $4.95–$12.95. Malaysian. JG ¢ *

Marston’s. At breakfast, Marston’s serves exactly the sort of food a missionary might crave after a stint in rural Peru: thin, buckwheat-based blueberry pancakes, nut-crammed macadamia pancakes and thick, applewood-smoked bacon. Marston’s may be a little Calvinist in its hours (it closes on Sundays and Mondays and stops serving breakfast abruptly at 11 a.m.), perhaps guided by the notion that laggards don’t deserve to eat anything as good as its golden, cornflake-breaded French toast. 151 E. Walnut St., Pasadena, (626) 796-2459. Breakfast and lunch Tues.–Fri. 7–11 a.m., 11:30 a.m.–2:30 p.m., Sat.–Sun. 8 a.m.–2:30 p.m. Beer and wine. Lot parking. MC, V. Entrées $5–$11. American. JG $

Pie ’N Burger. This is the best neighborhood hamburger joint in a neighborhood that includes Caltech, which means the guy next to you may be reading a physics proof over his chili size as if it were the morning paper. When compressed by the act of eating, a Pie N’ Burger hamburger leaks thick, pink dressing, and the slice of American cheese, if you have ordered a cheeseburger, does not melt into the patty, but stands glossily aloof. When the fruit is in season, don’t miss a cut of the epochal fresh-strawberry pie. 913 E. California Blvd., Pasadena, (626) 795-1123. Mon.–Fri. 6 a.m.–10 p.m., Sat. 7 a.m.–10 p.m., Sun. 7 a.m.–9 p.m. Beer and wine. Street parking. Cash only. Entrées $5–$10. American. JG ¢ *

Shiro. Deep-fried catfish are almost as inescapable around here as personal trainers or Chevy Suburbans, but Shiro, a Japanese-French bistro unaccountably tucked into a Midwestern-looking South Pasadena streetscape, serves so much of this ponzu-steeped stuff that it might as well rename itself after the fish. Its version of the dish — imagine a whole catfish the size of the shark from Jaws, stuffed with ginger and fried to a crisp — is everything you could want from a bottom-feeder. 1505 Mission St., South Pasadena, (626) 799-4774. Lunch Tues.–Thurs.; dinner Tues.–Sun. Beer and wine. Street parking. AE, D, MC, V. Entrées $16.50–$24.50. Japanese-French. JG $

Xiomara. Funny, extroverted restaurateur Xiomara Ardolina now serves big-flavored Nuevo Latino cuisine with a Cuban accent in her long-lived Old Town digs. Try the sea bass on a spicy corn guizo (stew), the long-marinated leg of pork and its lovely byproduct: pork hash. The dining room is calm, elegant, even sedate but all the liveliness and spirit you’d want arrives on the plates — and in the housemade mojitos, the classic Cuban rum drink made with cane juice that’s extracted, fresh, at the bar. 69 N. Raymond Ave., Pasadena, (626) 796-2520. Mon.–Thurs. 11:30 a.m.–11 p.m., Sat.–Sun. 5–11 p.m. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, D, MC, V. Entrées $20–$25. Cuban/Pan-Latino. MH $$


Monterey Park/San Gabriel

Heavy Noodling. A hundred generations of Chinese chefs have probably regarded this restaurant’s specialty with horror — thick, clumsy, utterly delicious noodles that run somewhere between spaetzle and pappardelle, self-consciously rustic things that taste of themselves whether immersed in a deep, anise-scented beef broth or sautéed with what must be the authentic antecedent of mu shu pork. But the shaved-dough pasta — the Chinese name of the place is Shanxi Knife-Cut Noodle — has that good, dense bite you find more often in Bologna than you do in Monterey Park. 153 E. Garvey Ave., Monterey Park, (626) 307-9583. Lunch and dinner daily. No alcohol. Lot parking in rear. Cash only. Entrées $5–$12. Chinese. JG ¢ *

Hua’s Garden. The aftermath of a dinner at Hua’s Garden is like a Francis Bacon painting splashed across the tabletop in shades of red — gory puddles of scarlet juice alive with Sichuan peppercorns, scraps of scallions, and frog bones stripped clean of their meat. We have seen many of these dishes before — the pornographically delicious ma po bean curd, the Sichuan dumplings, the Chungking hot pot, the fantastic hacked cold chicken sluiced with chile oil — but the Hunanese and Sichuanese cooking found at Hua’s Garden is presented with a depth of flavor, a brutal frankness that has rarely been seen around here before: eel with pepper, twice-cooked pork, boiled fish with Sichuan special sauce. There is an entire array of dishes stir-fried with fermented hot chiles — beef, squid, splinters of firm-fleshed fish — that amplify severe vinegar tartness with a truly terrifying level of heat, and the result is not unlike a refined version of what might happen if you were to eat an entire jar of the hot peppers at a Thai restaurant, spooning them right out with their juice. You might think this food would go well with beer, and you would be right. 301 N. Garfield Ave., Monterey Park, (626) 571-8387. Lunch and dinner daily. 10:30 a.m.–9:30 p.m. Budweiser served. Lot parking. MC, V. Entrées $15–$25. Chinese. JG ¢

Mei Long Village. Even if Mei Long Village served nothing but dumplings — steamed bao stuffed with sweet red-bean paste, flaky pastries filled with root vegetables, flying saucers of Chinese filo dough surrounding a meager but intense forcemeat of sautéed leeks — it would be worth a visit. Mei Long Village is also the perfect place to try any of the famous Shanghai standards: sweet fried Shanghai spareribs dusted with sesame seeds, garlicky whole cod braised in pungent hot bean sauce, big pork lion’s-head meatballs, tender as a Perry Como ballad, that practically croon in the key of star anise. 301 W. Valley Blvd., No. 112, San Gabriel, (626) 284-4769. Open daily 11:30 a.m.–9:30 p.m. Beer only. Lot parking. MC, V. Entrées $5–$25. Chinese. JG ¢

Tung Lai Shun. The flagship Islamic-Chinese restaurant in San Gabriel’s immense Great Mall of China, Tung Lai Shun is notorious for the enormous rounds of freshly baked sesame bread that seem to be on every table, wedges of which you drag through sauce, or stuff with terrific chopstickfuls of beef fried with green onions. While you’re waiting for the bread to come — it can take 20 minutes — you nibble on cool, slippery slices of ox-tendon terrine, or thin, cold slices of delicately spiced beef, or the best green-onion pancakes in town. 140 W. Valley Blvd., No. 118C, San Gabriel, (626) 288-6588. Lunch and dinner daily. No alcohol. Parking in mall lot. MC, V. Entrées $9.95–$28.95. Chinese. JG ¢



Renu Nakorn. Renu Nakorn’s food is spicy, but what makes it wonderful is the fresh play of tastes, a fugue of herbs, meatiness and citrus that is quite unlike anything at your corner Thai café. There’s a blistering larb of finely ground catfish; the thinnest sour strands of shredded bamboo; great Thai beef jerky; and an extraordinary version of steak tartare that is so delicious it could sear the hairs out of your nostrils. 13041 E. Rosecrans Ave., Norwalk, (562) 921-2124. Lunch and dinner daily. Beer and wine. Lot parking. MC, V. Entrées $5.95–$19.95. Thai. JG ¢


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