Where to Eat Now
Downtown Los Angeles?Highland Park
Nick & Stef’s. Joachim Splichal’s downtown steak house 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. American steak house. MH $$
Patina, Disney Hall. Patina’s dining room in Disney Hall is arguably the most important restaurant space in California, and when Joachim Splichal concentrates, as he has so many times before, he can be among the best chefs in the United States. The restaurant is known for the offhand complexity of its presentations, and a bowl of soup I tasted there may have been among the oddest of all: The raw flesh of a Santa Barbara spot prawn shared space at the bottom of a bowl with fresh coconut, threads of slivered lemongrass and tart, juicy flecks of chopped citrus. It was frosted with flakes of dried bonito — a stunning composition. 141 S. Grand Ave., downtown, (213) 972-3331. Dinner daily 5–11 p.m., Lunch Mon.–Fri. 11:30 a.m.–2 p.m. Beer and wine. Valet parking. AE, D, MC, V. French contemporary. JG $$$?b?
Silver Lake/Los Feliz/Echo Park
Edendale Grill. Housed in an old firehouse and named for Los Angeles’ first movie studio, Silver Lake’s Edendale Grill is a bit of set-dressed history. Craftsman-era lighting fixtures with mica shades cast a warm, golden glow in the dining room. The Mixville bar has an original hammered-tin ceiling and firehouse doors. The kitchen serves up its own brand of culinary nostalgia for midcentury Midwestern American cooking: oysters Rockefeller, caesar salads made tableside, Green Goddess salad dressing, sand dabs, steaks and chops, even a beet-red velvet cake from the Waldorf. Despite somewhat harried service and slapdash cooking, the Edendale Grill can be a tough reservation, which indicates just how much Atwater–Echo Park–Los Feliz–Silver Lake citizens have hungered for such a fine-looking, versatile neighborhood dinner house. 2838 Rowena Ave., Silver Lake, (323) 666-2000. Dinner Sun.–Thurs. 5:30–10 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 5:30–11:30 p.m. Sunday brunch 10 a.m.–3 p.m. Full bar. Complimentary valet. AE, DC, MC, V. American. MH $$b?
Malo. Okay, right off the bat: Malo is not malo. It’s a decent, stylish Mexican restaurant that inhabits the former Cobalt Cantina in Silver Lake, and the menu is a taut, well-devised little list of small, shareable items by executive chef Robert Luna. The food has the hearty heft and flavor of good, home-cooked Mexican food. Soups tend to be meals unto themselves. I’d also make a whole dinner from the iceberg-and-grilled-steak salad; the long-marinated meat comes well-charred and sputtering on the lettuce, which is flecked with grated cheese and olive slices. And in keeping with today’s small-dishes, share-everything, anti-starch, Atkins-friendly ethos, entrées come unaccompanied; beans, rice, guacamole and sautéed squash are offered as side dishes. 4326 Sunset Blvd., Silver Lake, (323) 664-1011. Dinner Fri.–Sat. 6 p.m.–midnight, Sun.–Mon. 6–10 p.m., Tues.–Thurs. 6–11 p.m. Full bar open until 2 a.m. Valet parking. AE, MC, V. Mexican. MH $$Â?
Hi Thai Noodle. Both a collegiate hangout and a serious noodle shop, Hi Thai is a bright, noisy shotgun marriage between a fast-food restaurant and a high-style café. The menu is basic, a few different noodle dishes from the Bangkok street-food playbook assembled a few different ways; but this is a pretty good place to experience the offhanded excellence of real Thai cooking: vivid flavors, fresh ingredients and luscious textures, put together with something like love. 5229 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood, (323) 465-4415. Lunch and dinner seven days 24 hours. No alcohol. Street parking. MC, V. Thai. JG $[b?
La Buca. La Buca is a tiny Italian café on Melrose, just east of the studios, crowded with poster-size movie stills from Italian comedies and dramas. Though the cook hasn’t exactly thought outside the box, La Buca does make its own bread, pizza dough, gnocchi and ravioli — and all of these are worth eating. The pizzas are thin but not too thin in the Neapolitan style, and traditionally topped like the Margherita (tomato sauce and mozzarella) and the Napoli (tomato sauce, mozzarella, anchovy and capers). House-made gnocchi has a fine, soft-to-melting texture and good potato flavor. An impromptu complimentary bruschetta made with sautéed peppers and garlic is the best appetizer we ate there. 5210-1/2 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles, (323) 462-1900. Open Mon.–Fri. 11:30 a.m.–10:30 p.m. and Sat. 4:30–10:30 p.m. Closed Sun. No alcohol. Takeout. Street parking. AE, MC, V. Italian. MH $
Mid-Wilshire/Koreatown?Central Los Angeles
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 $Â
West Hollywood/La Cienega
Madeo. Gnocchi (pronounced NYO-kee) are easy to make. Good gnocchi are notoriously difficult. A sous chef we know was once in charge of the gnocchi at a well-known restaurant, and his afternoons were either made or destroyed by the owner’s reaction to the spoonful he offered her every day at precisely 4:30. His gnocchi made it onto the menu only about two days out of five. Madeo, the understated agents’ hangout a few blocks from Cedars-Sinai, resembles a businessmen’s restaurant in one of the lesser quarters of Rome, from its shiny, vaguely disco-era décor to its bunker-like location a few steps below the street. The blistery pizza is fine, and the smoky, fire-roasted veal is renowned. And you can’t miss with the gnocchi — luscious, featherweight clouds of pure potato flavor, dressed with pesto, tomato sauce with basil, or a slightly gooey tincture of Gorgonzola — which may be among the best in Los Angeles. 8897 Beverly Blvd., West Hollywood, (310) 859-4903. Mon.–Thurs. 6–10:30 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 6–11 p.m., Sun. 5:30–10:30 p.m. Full bar. Takeout. Valet parking. AE, MC, V. JG $Âb?
Zeke’s. This mini-chain of barbecue restaurants was conceived by Leonard Schwartz — which is to say, by the chef who reinserted meat loaf into the American canon 20-odd years ago at 72 Market Street. He’s either a compassionate conservative or a card-carrying postmodernist, and it is impossible to tell just which from the evidence of his food alone. Zeke’s plays both sides of the fence in the barbecue game, serving essentially Piedmont-style pulled pork (with the controversial Carolinian mustard sauce), spare ribs that slouch toward a Kansas City style, and fairly magnificent Texas-style brisket, rimmed with a pink rictus of smoke. The side dishes, which are so beside the point at central Texas barbecue stands as to be practically nonexistent, tend to be pretty great — including hush puppies, potato chips fried to order and the only barbecue-hut coleslaw I can ever remember finishing. 7100 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood. (323) 850-9353. Also 2209 Honolulu Ave., Montrose, (818) 957-7045. AE, MC, V. Lunch and dinner daily. Takeout. Barbecue. JG$$b
Westwood/West L.A.?Century City
Fu Rai Bo. Fu Rai Bo doesn’t just specialize in chicken, but in spicy skewered teba sake chicken wings; not a whole wing, but that spindly middle segment of wing in which a couple of bones form sort of a frame protecting a sweet, if minuscule, oblate ellipse of meat. They’re made for deep-frying the way a chicken breast is for grilling, deeply absorbing Fu Rai Bo’s tart, spicy marinade, greaseless and practically all brittle, crunchy skin. After the chef has dusted them with various white powders and heaped them on plates alongside scoops of shredded cabbage and mayo-intensive chicken salad, you could gnaw through a million of these wings, sucking out the meat, while your teeth seek out hidden crunchy bits. 2068 Sawtelle Blvd., West Los Angeles, (310) 444-1432. Lunch daily 11:30 a.m.–2 p.m. Dinner Mon.–Thurs. 5:30-11 p.m., Fri.–Sun. 5:30–11:45 p.m. Lot parking. Take-out. Beer and wine. MC, V. Pan-Asian. JG $$b
Beverly Hills and vicinity
Mastro’s. One of a small chain of Scottsdale-based steakhouses, Mastro’s has the look — volcanic rock work, blackout curtains, black-leather banquettes — of desert resorts, supper clubs, casinos and other booze-filled refuges where the dreaded sun don’t shine. Eat downstairs for more intimate dining, or upstairs if you’re up to walking the gauntlet of a long bar (where serious drinkers swivel on cue to watch you pass) to get to your seat. The excellent service staff is adept, adaptable and good-natured, even when their customers — Beverly Hills carnivores — are not. Meat dominates the menu; steak to be exact. Order the Kansas City bone-in, the porterhouse or the bone-in rib-eye (the latter, ordered charred rare, is a glorious, rich, big, big-flavored piece of meat with a crusty char oozing juice). Here, rare means rare, i.e., cold inside — yes. Start with the horseradish-spiked caesar salad, or the traditional iceberg wedge with blue cheese. Sides — fried onions, creamed corns, sugar snap peas, potatos gratin — are fresh, enormous, delicious: Split ’em. Finish with a paradigmatic Key lime pie. 246 N. Cañon Dr., Beverly Hills, (310) 888-8782. Open for dinner weekdays 5–11 p.m., weekends 5 p.m.–mid. Entrées $20–$47. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, D, DC, MC, V. American. MH $$$Â?
LA99 Cora’s Coffee Shoppe. After decades in service as a prototypically grungy beach dive, Cora’s was chopped and channeled by Bruce Marder into a vision of what its former customers feared most: a pretty patio café fueled by well-made frittatas, truly spicy tacos given a not-inappropriate expensive-restaurant gloss, goopy $12 hamburgers made with ground Kobe-style beef, and astonishingly good house-made caramel ice cream. There goes the neighborhood. 1802 Ocean Ave., Santa Monica, (310) 451-9562. Breakfast, lunch and dinner Tues.–Sat. 7 a.m.–9 p.m. Closed Sun.–Mon. No alcohol. Takeout. Lot parking. AE, MC, V. American. JG $b
Lincoln Steakhouse Americana. I would have bet there was nothing new under the sun when it came to steak houses, that every possible permutation of the Rat Pack lifestyle, every $120 Kobe-beef fillet, every conceivable tomato salad, cigar station and vodka martini had been explored. This steak-house thing has been going on a long time, after all, and even the most Atkins-crazed Robb Report subscriber could hardly want for variety. But it’s not the braised turnip greens that make the difference at Lincoln Steakhouse, owned by the people who run Paladar. The profoundly charred Angus-beef porterhouses are fine, but no better than you’ll find at a dozen other places in town. What Lincoln has that other steak houses do not is young women, in packs and in pairs, on dates, on business dinners and dining alone. And these aren’t young women nibbling salads or sipping white wine, or hanging around the bar waiting for you, but women ordering big steaks and eating them. I would credit the well-known charm of the antler chandeliers for this phenomenon, but I would probably be wrong. 2460 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica, (310) 828-3304. Lunch Mon.–Fri. 11 a.m.–2 p.m. plus bar menu until 5:30 p.m. Dinner Mon.–Sat. 5–11 p.m., Sun. 5–10 p.m. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, MC, V. New-fashioned steak house. JG $$$bÂ?
Culver City/Venice/Marina Del Rey/Westchester 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. California. MH $$[
Simpang Asia. With a huge selection of Japanese candy and boxes piled neatly to the ceiling, this small Indonesian grocery, with a Web site, is what I’d imagine a 7-Eleven in Sulawesi might look like: immaculate shelves of chile peanuts, dried squid and juice boxes of starfruit drink, kilo bags of fried shallots, and more flavors of instant noodles than you may have known existed. Neighborhood kids drop in, carefully counting dimes for their rations of Pocky sticks or Japanese bubblegum. UCLA students haul off caseloads of ramen. Simpang Asia is almost exotic in its nonexoticism. 10433 National Blvd., Los Angeles, (310) 815-9075, www.veryasia.com. Lunch and dinner, Mon.–Fri. 10 a.m.–10 p.m., Sat.–Sun. 11 a.m.–10 p.m. No alcohol. Takeout. Lot parking. D, MC, V. Indonesian. JG ¢b
San Fernando Valley
Carnival. The whole human comedy — or carnival, as it were — flocks to this relentlessly popular Middle Eastern restaurant in a Sherman Oaks mini-mall for big portions of mezze and kebabs. (A buck seventy-five adds soup or salad and rice or fries to any entrée.) Never mind the harassed, overworked waiters racing around on their last nerves. Try the daily specials — lamb shanks, lamb and okra stew. Hummus meat — chopped, deeply seasoned lamb and pine nuts in a nest of good hummus — is the dish to order. 4356 Woodman Ave., Sherman Oaks, (818) 784-3469. Seven days 11 a.m.–10 p.m. Beer and wine. Takeout. Lot parking. AE, MC, V. Middle Eastern. MH ¢b
South Bay/LAX/Long Beach and vicinity
Shula’s 347.They flock to Shula’s 347, the business-flier crowd, the sallow men who inhabit every airline lounge in the country and know their way around an airline bottle of Tanqueray, a no-iron Brooks Brothers polo shirt, and the back nine of half the golf courses in Ohio. They are the men you shuffle by on your way to tourist-class purgatory. Don Shula, of course, was the coach of the Miami Dolphins in their greatest days, and the number 347 refers to the number of victories he oversaw in his career; the blank-eyed men at the bar are surer of that number than they were of the date of their first wives’ birthdays, and all side dishes are priced at $3.47 in honor of the immortal stat. The Hickory Burger at Shula’s 347 is basically an honorable thing, a thick, flat burger made from certified if rather over-handled Angus beef, layered with applewood-smoked bacon, and served with a blizzard of oddly textured chopped cheddar that looks more like the output of a cross-cut paper shredder than like anything resembling cheese. The bun is slightly too big, too bready, like most commercial buns, and the sandwich is oddly heavy for its size, as if it conceals a payload of lead. When you finally bite into the Hickory Burger, the sensation is of pure smokiness, not the smack of the grill precisely, but more like the feeling that somebody has painted your tongue with liquid smoke. This smokiness is of a different caliber, intense enough to render the smoky bacon almost flavorless in your mouth. Sheraton Gateway Hotel, 6101 Century Blvd., Los Angeles, (310) 642-4820. Sun.–Thurs. 5–10 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 5–11 p.m. Full bar. Three hours free valet parking. AE, MC, V. American. JG $$b?
South Los Angeles
Woody’s. As you blast down Slauson toward the Westside, Woody’s Bar-B-Que is visible from a long way off, a white plume that looks from a distance as if it might come from a belching bus or a car fire, but quickly sorts itself out into a meat-fragrant cloud of woodsmoke. What you get here is, y’know, barbecue: crusty pork ribs spurting with juice; thick, blackened hot-link sausages with the chaw of good jerky; chewy, meaty little rib tips; giant beef ribs; and charred, only occasionally stewy-tasting, slices of well-done barbecued beef brisket that even Texans condescend to like. The sauce is one of the sweet brick-red kinds, hotly spiced with red pepper flakes, that you sop up with slices of damp white bread until all of it is gone, less a condiment than a way of life. 3446 W. Slauson Ave., (323) 294-9443. Also 475 S. Market St., Inglewood, (310) 672-4200. Open daily for lunch and dinner. Takeout only. Cash only. JG$ b
East Los Angeles
El Chamizal. The basic unit of currency at El Chamizal is the parrillada, a squat iron brazier shimmering from the heat of the charcoal within, brought to your table piled high with thin grilled steaks, pork chops marinated in chile, hunks of chorizo sausage, fried bananas, whole jalapeños burnt black, and little ramekins of melted cheese and scallions bronzed and wilted to a superb sweetness. The meat is terrific, well-marinated, very nice folded into a little taco with the house’s fine smoked tomato sauce and a spoonful of the smoky bacon-stewed beans. 7111 Pacific Blvd., Huntington Park, (323) 583-3251. Breakfast, lunch and dinner, seven days, 8 a.m.–2 a.m. Full bar. Takeout. Street parking. AE, D, DC, MC, V. Mexican. JG $?b
La Cabañita. The menu here is loaded with things such as entomatadas and mole, which turn out to be basically chicken enchiladas and a slightly spicy beef soup, respectively, but which sound ineffably chefly and exotic. The tacos, created with freshly made corn tortillas, are stuffed with sweetly spiced beef picadillo studded with almonds and raisins; with dryish fried pork; with chopped beef and melted cheese. They’re terrific. Somebody has obviously thought about this stuff. 3447 N. Verdugo Road, Glendale, (818) 957-2711. Lunch and dinner Mon.–Thurs. 10 a.m.–10 p.m., Fri. 10 a.m.–11 p.m., Sat. 8 a.m.–11 p.m., Sun. 8 a.m.–10 p.m. Beer and wine. Street parking. AE, D, MC, V. Mexican. JG $b?
Pasadena and vicinity
Wahib’s Middle East Restaurant. Come in the late afternoon for an indulgent lunch of smooth, cool raw kubbeh, sort of a bulgur-studded Lebanese steak tartare (made from lamb). Unlike most Lebanese restaurants, the Middle East makes something of a specialty of breakfast, giant affairs of scrambled eggs with the spicy Armenian sausage sujuk, or ground beef, or fresh tomato. 910 E. Main St., Alhambra, (626) 281-1006. Breakfast, lunch and dinner. Sun.–Thur. 9 a.m.–10 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 9 a.m.–2 a.m. Full bar. Takeout. Lot parking. AE, D, MC, V. Middle Eastern. JG$b[?
Monterey Park/San Gabriel ?and vicinity
LA99 Babita. Shrimp Topolobampo may still be the single fieriest invention in the history of Los Angeles cuisine, a citrusy sauté of white wine, tomatoes and diced habanero peppers that takes over its victims’ bodies like an ebola infection — searing lips, closing throats, blasting tongues, and bringing forth great bursts of panic-induced sweat that subside only a few minutes after the last shrimp is safely swallowed. The sensation isn’t anguish, exactly — the endorphin rush tends to kick in before the pain receptors realize something has gone terribly, terribly wrong — as much as it is total, irrevocable loss of control. Chef Roberto Berrelleza, who spent decades as a maitre d’ before he ever picked up a pan, is a modern master of Mexican cuisine; and his fish-stuffed yellow chiles, his seared fish with huitlacoche vinaigrette, and his oozy, porky chiles en nogada are worth the drive across town. 1823 S. San Gabriel Blvd., San Gabriel, (626) 288-7265. Lunch Mon.–Fri. 11:30 a.m.–3:30 p.m. Dinner Sun. and Tues.–Thurs. 5:30–9 p.m.; Fri.–Sat. 5:30–10 p.m. Beer and wine. Takeout. Street parking. AE, DC, D, MC, V. Mexican. $ JGb
Oriental Pearl. Oriental Pearl, a well-regarded Sichuan restaurant that recently moved to the Hilton-adjacent mall from its former location in Alhambra, may only be the fifth- or sixth-best Sichuan restaurant in the area. The fried chicken cubes with hot pepper don’t sing quite like the same dish at Chung King, where it is prepared with at least triple the amount of dried chiles, and the octopus with pickled pepper is pleasing in a direct, funky way but is somehow one-dimensional. The fried spareribs with prickly ash are far less numbing than one might wish. The spicy fried fish tai-an-style is on the mushy side. The array of cold dishes doesn’t even include fried peanuts, which some of us consider essential. But still — one of the great things about the San Gabriel restaurant scene is that the fifth-best Sichuan restaurant in the area is really pretty good, and after a meal of wonton in chile broth, Chinese bacon with leeks, and water-boiled fish, by which the Sichuanese mean fish boiled in almost pure chile oil, you will probably be very happy. 727 E. Valley Blvd., No. 128C, San Gabriel, (626) 281-1898. Open daily for lunch and dinner. Takeout. AE, MC, V. JG $b
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