Downtown Los Angeles?Highland Park
LA99 Kagaya. Shabu shabu is pretty basic: a slice of prime meat swished through bubbling broth for a second or two, just until the pink becomes frosted with white. If you’ve done it right — and if the quality of the ingredients is as high as it is at Little Tokyo’s superb (and expensive) Kagaya — the texture is extraordinary, almost liquid, and the concentrated, sourish flavor of really good beef becomes vivid. 418 E. Second St., downtown, (213) 617-1016. Mon.–Sat. 6–10:30 p.m., Sun. 6–10 p.m. Wine, beer, sake. Lot parking. DC, MC, V. Japanese. JG $$
El Parian. El Parian’s sweet, mild goat meat has crispy parts and stewy parts, just like carnitas. It clings to the tiny goat ribs, which you suck, then spit back into the bowl. The broth, basically amplified pan drippings, is rich essence of goat and the single best Mexican dish I’ve eaten in Los Angeles — it is the soul of Guadalajara. There’s a thicket of cilantro to flavor the broth, a heap of chopped onion, limes to squeeze and a fat radish to sweeten your breath. The thick tortillas are warm and smell of fresh corn. The beer is very cold. Birria is supposed to be somewhat aphrodisiac — and a palliative for hangovers too, which is a special bonus on a Sunday morning. 1528 W. Pico Blvd., downtown, (213) 386-7361. Open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Beer. Cash only. Mexican. JG ¢b
Silver Lake/Los Feliz/Echo Park
LA99 Gingergrass. Gingergrass, a sleek Vietnamese bistro in Silver Lake, is probably the polar opposite of a place like Golden Deli, citified where the San Gabriel noodle shop is rustic, timid where the food at the other roars with flavor. There is pho, but it’s not really the point here. And the spicy fish steamed in banana leaves, the shrimp in fishy Vietnamese caramel sauce and the lemongrass chicken tend to be sluiced down with basil-spiked limeade instead of, say, salty lemonade or tepid tea. But the chef, Mako Antonishek, tends to cook in a way not unfriendly to wine (the restaurant has a symbiotic relationship with Silverlake Wine Merchants across the street), and her multicourse Mako Monday blowout dinners are already legendary in the neighborhood. 2396 Glendale Blvd., Silver Lake, (323) 644-1600. Sun.–Thurs. 11:30 a.m.–3 p.m. & 5–10 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 11:30 a.m.–3 p.m. & 5–10:30 p.m. No alcohol. Takeout. Lot parking. AE, D, MC, V. Vietnamese. JG $b[
Rambutan Thai. Rambutan is hip enough for designers and artists, romantic enough for dates, and authentic and passionate enough in its cooking for ethnic-food lovers. Many Thai restaurants cater to timid American palates, playing down the chile heat, eschewing the fish sauce, and sweetening dishes. But the Rambutan kitchen refreshingly and correctly assumes that its hip Silver Lake clientele has the sophistication and ability to appreciate the full Thai flavors. But more timid eaters will find plenty of accessible, Americanized crossover hits on the menu’s “from the grill” section. And there’s a lengthy list of “Thai tapas” that should not be ignored. 2835 Sunset Blvd., Silver Lake, (213) 273-8424. Lunch and dinner Mon.–Fri. 11:30 a.m.–11 p.m., dinner Sat. 5p.m.–mid., Sun. 5–11 p.m. Beer, wine and sake. Lot parking. AE, MC, V. Thai. MH $ [?
Lickety Split. This frozen-custard parlor in the courtyard of the old Egyptian Theater is the perfect place to stop by after a showing at the Cinematheque. The product, scooped up and plopped onto a cone rather than squirted out of a machine, has the smooth, effortlessly melting texture of the frozen custard from the famous stands in Wisconsin and Missouri, although it also has a persistent, salty kick that starts as a back note, tempering the sweetness, but becomes perhaps too dominant by the bottom half of a serving. 6708 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood, (323) 466-5425. Mon.–Thurs. 10 a.m.–10 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 10 a.m.–mid., Sun. 10 a.m–9 p.m. Meter parking. AE, MC, V. American. JG ¢b
Ulysses Voyage. Mama Voula, who commands a kitchen as if she were commanding a nuclear submarine, is an overwhelming presence in two family-owned Greek restaurants, Mama Voula’s and Ulysses Voyage (which is considerably fancier). The two have a strong, symbiotic relationship, with the sharp funk of garlic and charring meat, the flowing streams of cold Santorini wine, menus almost exactly alike give or take a few seafood specials, and a killer gyro that combines the virtues of extreme lambiness with a delicate, carbonized crunchiness. 6333 W. Third St., Los Angeles, (323) 939-9728. Mon.–Thurs. 11 a.m.–10 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 11 a.m.–11 p.m., Sun. 9 a.m.–10 p.m. Full bar. Validated parking in Farmers Market lot. AE, MC, V. Greek. JG $/$$b[
Mid-Wilshire/Koreatown?Central Los Angeles
Chosun Galbi. For decades, Woo Lae Oak on Western was the favorite Korean restaurant of people who didn’t like Korean food all that much, a fancy place where they could convince themselves that galbi wasn’t too different from an ordinary steak dinner. Now that the Koreatown Woo Lae Oak is on hiatus, the conservative Koreatown choice is probably Chosun Galbi, a pleasant restaurant with the patio-side glamour of a Beverly Hills garden party: granite tables, gorgeous waitresses, and expensive, well-marbled meat that glows as pinkly as a Tintoretto cherub. Don’t miss the chewy cold buckwheat noodles with marinated stingray. And make sure to throw some shrimp on the barbie, too — the pricey little beasties crisp up like a dream. 3330 W. Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 734-3330. Open seven days for lunch and dinner 11:30 a.m–10:30 p.m. Full bar. MC, V, AE. Valet parking. JG $Â?
Toad House. This Korean pork-specialty restaurant — no beef, no fish, no oysters — has a pleasant bamboo-screened patio where the locals put out more smoke than the barbecue pits, and the walls are decorated with adorable photographs of tiny black pigs. The basic unit of consumption at Toad House is the combination meal for two, a sort of porcine tasting menu — including a bottle of the low-powered sweet-potato hooch sojuk — designed to take you on a tour of the tiny black pig and all of its constituent parts. The centerpiece of the meal, Toad House’s reason for being, is undoubtedly the barbecued pork belly — the meaty, streaky, especially succulent strips of fat meat brought out to the table looking like nothing so much as a pound of uncured bacon that you sizzle into crispness on a tabletop grill. 4503 W. Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 460-7037. Dinner seven nights 6–11 p.m. Beer and rice wine. Lot parking. MC, V. Korean. JG $?
West Hollywood/La Cienega
Arnie Morton’s of Chicago. You may have heard about Morton’s “menu”: a wooden cart bearing about 100 pounds of raw animal flesh and sea creatures. We could have sworn that the 5-pound lobster waved at us, but he was probably just trying to escape the malevolent gaze of a veal chop. Arnie Morton’s is a Robb Report sort of place catering to people who probably have a little too much money on their hands and not enough time to spend it all. The wine list is stuffed with the kind of mainstream reds that get high scores in the Wine Spectator, and the humidor bursts with Cohibas. Martinis come in glasses as large as seagoing yachts. The 48-ounce porterhouse is the price of a sports car, but it may be the dullest piece of prime beef that ever saw fire and smoke — correct in every way, but with none of the dimensions of texture or flavor that make steak a more compelling entrée than, say, sautéed chicken breast. 435 S. La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles, (310) 246-1501. Dinner only. Dinner: Mon.–Sat. 5:30 p.m.–10:30 p.m., Sun. 5 p.m.–10 p.m. Lounge: 4:45–11 p.m. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, DC, MC, V. American. JG $$$Â
LA99 Sona. What we know as California cuisine may be dedicated to revealing produce at its best, but David and Michelle Myers go after nature with blowtorches and microtomes and dynamite, determined to bend the old woman to their will. A sliver of watermelon may be less a sliver of watermelon than a wisp in a chilled soup, a salted crunch tracing the shape of a curl of marinated yellowtail, a glistening cellophane window into the soul of a pistachio, a texture in a sorbet, a jelly exposing its cucumberlike soul. The morning after nine courses at Sona (this is one restaurant where only the tasting menu will do), it will already seem like a half-forgotten dream. 401 N. La Cienega Blvd., West Hollywood, (310) 659-7708. Dinner Tues.–Thurs. 6–10 p.m., Fri. 6–11 p.m., Sat. 5:30–11 p.m. Closed Sun.–Mon. Full bar. Takeout. Valet parking. AE, D, DC, MC, V. Modern French (With Global Influences). JG $$$[?
Westwood/West L.A.?Century City
Attari Sandwich Shop. On Fridays at Attari, ab-goosht, also called dizi, is the closest thing there is in the restaurant world to an automatic order, an intricate stew of lamb and vegetables and grain cooked for many hours and then mashed into a thick, homogeneous paste with the texture of refried beans, and an expressed liquid, the soul of the dish, that is served separately as soup. 1388 Westwood Blvd., Westwood, (310) 441-5488. Open Tues.–Sun. 11 a.m.–6 p.m. No alcohol. Street parking only. Cash only. JG $
Canary. Canary is an Iranian sandwich shop on Westwood’s Iranian strip, a house of kebabs in the most kebab-intensive neighborhood in California. Also notable are Iranian-style sandwiches made with a split-and-grilled Hebrew National frank, a hollowed-out length of toasted French bread and condiments similar to those you might expect to find on a Chicago-style hot dog, only inflected with more garlic. 1942 Westwood Blvd., Westwood, (310) 470-1312. Open daily 11 a.m.–midnight. No alcohol. Takeout. Parking lot. MC, V. Iranian. JG ¢b?
Beverly Hills and vicinity
Talesai. The owners of Talesai on Sunset Boulevard brought all their experience and many of their best dishes to this chic, glassed-in fishbowl of a café situated at one end of a Beverly Hills mini-mall. Friendly service and beautiful Asian statuary mitigate the industrial spareness of the room, but nothing tempers the boomeranging noise during dinner. Through it all, the refined Thai cooking sings with freshness, quality and flavor — try crisp corncakes, chicken curry, rib-eye salad, all the desserts. 9198 Olympic Blvd., Beverly Hills, (310) 271-9345. Lunch Mon.–Fri. 11:30 a.m.–2:30 p.m.; dinner seven days 5–10 p.m. Beer and wine. Takeout. Lot parking. AE, D, DC, MC, V. Entrées $7.95–$12.95. Thai. MH $
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. Tues.–Sat. 9 a.m.–7 p.m., Sun. till 6 p.m. Beer, wine and liquor for takeout only. Lot parking. MC, V. Italian Deli. JG ¢b
LA99 Josie. Josie LeBalch, who spent her 20s as the chef of an Italian restaurant but cooks with a French accent, is most famous for game dishes but may be as deft with a dish like baby squid and lentils as she is with all-American preparations of duck, wild boar and elk — although her guinea fowl with wild rice is pretty special. She is large. She contains multitudes. And there’s chocolate bread pudding for dessert. 2424 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica, (310) 581-9888. Dinner Mon.–Thurs. 6–10 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 6-11 p.m., Sun. 5:30–9 p.m. Full bar. Takeout. Valet parking. AE, MC, V. Progressive American with French and Italian. JG $$
Culver City/Venice/Marina Del Rey/?Westchester and vicinity
Hal’s Bar & Grill. Since the primordial days of the Los Angeles art scene, there has always been an artists’ hangout in Venice, a place where veterans of exotic Kassel and Frankfurt could indulge newfound fondnesses for rare wines and old Calvados, a place where art stars had the clout of the kind that springs out of Hollywood. For a lot of that time, that place has been Hal’s, a bastion of decent cheeseburgers and blue-chip paintings, caesar salads and canteloupe martinis, bread pudding and pretty women at the bar. Hal’s may have been more comfortable before they replaced the loungelike sofas in the front with a zillion bar tables, but it’s still a good place to listen to live jazz on Fridays and Sundays, hang out with a diverse crowd, and sip a mean Bloody Mary or three. 1349 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Venice, (310) 396-3105. Lunch and dinner Mon. & Fri. 11 a.m.–11 p.m., Tues.–Wed. & Thurs. 11 a.m.–10:30 p.m., Sat. 10 a.m.–11 p.m., Sun. 10 a.m.–10:30 p.m. Full bar open daily until 2 a.m. Takeout. Valet parking. AE, D, MC, V. American. JG $$bÂ?
Wabi Sabi. In a neighborhood where artists once rented studios for pittances, a sleek new commercial district of antique stores, design offices and high-end restaurants has evolved — including Wabi Sabi, a skinny storefront refashioned into a Matsuhisa-derived sushi bar/Pacific Rim dinner house. Drop in for a big bowl of Cal-Asian style “bouillabaisse,” or linger through a multicourse meal of small plates (including standbys like miso-marinated bass or eggplant). But sushi, here, is the real stunner — which, given the prices, it should be. Don’t miss the lobster roll. 1635 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Venice, (310) 314-2229. Mon.–Thurs. 5:30–10:30 p.m. Fri.–Sat. 5:30–11 p.m. Sun. 5:30–10 p.m. Full bar. Street parking. AE, D, DC, MC, V.California Japanese/Pacific Rim. MH $$
San Fernando Valley
LA99 Max. Fusion chefs, even the best of them, tend to fall on one side of the spectrum or the other, either dressing up essentially Western techniques with Asian flavors and exotic ingredients or supercharging existing Asian dishes with professional French technique. Chef Andre Guerrero, who is Filipino-American, seems to split the difference about as adroitly as anyone in town. So where his “ahi towers” are nothing like traditional sushi, for example, the perfectly engineered cylinders of fried sticky-rice cake, seaweed, pickled ginger, wasabi-flavored flying-fish roe and raw fish have all the sensations of a great, trashy tuna roll. This is a midlevel restaurant, not a temple of cuisine. But Guerrero’s formidable chicken adobo is a remarkable, remarkable dish. 13355 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks, (818) 784-2915. Sun.–Thurs. 5:30–10 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 5:30–11 p.m. Full bar. Takeout. All major credit cards. California Asian. JG $$.b[?
South Bay/LAX/Long Beach and vicinity
El Pollo Inka. Beyond the roasted chicken that earned the chain its reputation, El Pollo Inka’s menu is filled with the seafood dishes typical of Lima’s industrial port suburb, Callao: hotly spiced ceviche; crisply fried catfish fillets garnished with a sort of Peruvian pico de gallo; and noodles tossed with various tentacles. The fish soup parihuela is close to the classic version, dark and pepper-hot as a superior Louisiana gumbo. 15400 Hawthorne Blvd., Lawndale, (310) 676-6665. 1425 W. Artesia Blvd., Gardena, (310) 516-7378. 23705 Hawthorne Blvd., Torrance, (310) 373-0062. 11000 Pacific Coast Hwy., Hermosa Beach, (310) 372-1433. Lunch and dinner daily (some locations close late on Fri. and Sat.). Beer and wine. Lot parking. AE, CB, DC, MC, V. Peruvian. JG ¢b
South Los Angeles
Caribbean Treehouse. Caribbean Treehouse is perhaps the only local restaurant that currently dishes up the spicy food of Trinidad and Tobago. Service is casual to the extreme — if you want another bottle of pop, you walk over to the cooler and take one out yourself. Roti, sort of a Trinidadian burrito made of chicken-potato stew or a handful of curried beef wrapped up in a grilled Trinidadian flatbread, can come pumped up with the restaurant’s fiery homemade sauce. On Saturdays, there’s the “sparrow special,” an enormous plate of food that involves jerkylike strips of salt cod, boiled cassava, sautéed onion, tomato and a certain quantity of dense, chewy dumplings. 1226 Centinela Ave., Inglewood, (310) 330-1170. Lunch and dinner Tues.–Sun. 11 a.m.–8 p.m. Beer and wine. Lot parking. MC, V. Caribbean. JG ¢
East Los Angeles
El Borrego de Oro. In the neighborhood of Boyle Heights, which is thronged with businesses selling carnitas, fried seafood, grilled beef, El Borrego de Oro — the Golden Sheep — stands out as a specialist in mutton, specifically mutton pit-roasted with maguey leaves in the style of the central Mexican state Hidalgo, a savory mess known by the rather generic term barbacoa: slivers and shards and nubs hacked from a steaming carcass, some of it attached to the bone and some of it not, some crunchy, some soft, some greasy, luscious and dark. This is pungent, powerful stuff, sweetly reeking of the gamy underbrush, like lamb that bites you back. 2403 E. Whittier Blvd., Boyle Heights, (323) 780-4213. Open daily 6 a.m.–9 p.m. Beer and wine. Takeout and catering. Lot parking. AE, V. Mexican. JG ¢b
Camilo’s. Camilo’s started out as a catering company on York Boulevard in Highland Park — the small attached café was added almost as an afterthought. But the good Cal-Mex food and neighborhood-friendly prices caught on with everyone from starving artists to thriving yups, and in no time, the café had outgrown its venue. Owners Camilo and Amelia Gonzalez have since moved their operations to a large building smack on Colorado Boulevard in Eagle Rock, and they’ve reclassified it as a “California bistro” — though to us, it still looks and feels like a friendly indie coffee shop. There are chilaquiles and eggs Benedict for breakfast, cobb salads and Cuban sandwiches for lunch, filet mignon and pasta for dinner. 2128 W. Colorado Blvd., Eagle Rock, (323) 478-2644. Breakfast and lunch Tues.–Sun. 8 a.m.–3 p.m. Dinner Tues.–Sat. 5–10 p.m. Beer and wine. Lot parking. AE, MC, V. California. MH $b
Pasadena and vicinity
AJ’s Fish & Chips. If you think Ye Olde King’s Head Pub is ye olde past its prime, have a craving for fish ’n’ chips and some place new, then venture into the arcade across from Vroman’s in Pasadena, the arched one from the 1920s that houses various art galleries, the Yucatecan restaurant El Portal and a dusty bookstore that seems to specialize in unread old sets of Kipling, you will find AJ’s Fish & Chips in the corner of the promenade that shrinks the farthest from the sun. AJ’s cook and waitresses are Thai, and the chips, French fries, are just dreadful, formerly frozen shoestrings that could use a little more time in the oil. The tartar sauce seems made by somebody who’s never tasted tartar sauce. The strongest drink on the menu is black Thai iced tea. There may not be a dartboard within miles. But the fish itself, northern cod breaded and fried to a golden crunch you may associate more with Southeast Asia than with the Sceptered Isle, is nothing short of superb. And at AJ’s you can also get a plate of ground chicken sautéed with green chiles and Thai basil that blows the roof off any steak-and-kidney pie you’d care to name. If that’s what you have in mind. 696 E. Colorado Blvd., No. 11, Pasadena, (626) 795-3793. Mon.–Sat. 11 a.m.–7 p.m. No alcohol. Takeout. Validated parking. AE, MC, V. JG $b
Din Tai Fung. It took Din Tai Fung to transform the soup dumpling — thin-walled spheroids filled with pork, seasonings and teaspoonfuls of jellied broth — into high-tech industry. The soup dumplings at Din Tai Fung are incontrovertibly engineered to be the state of the art, elastic, ultrathin wrappers bulging with the steamy weight of the soup within, served 10 to an order in bullet-shaped aluminum steamers that look like relics of the Taiwanese ’50s. Pick them up carefully, garnish simply with a shred or two of fresh ginger and a few sparing drops of black vinegar, and inhale. 1108 S. Baldwin Ave., Arcadia, (626) 574-7068. Lunch and dinner daily 11 a.m.–2:30 p.m. and 5–9:30 p.m. No alcohol. Lot parking. Takeout. MC, V. Chinese. JG ¢
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Doña Rosa. Behind one counter at Doña Rosa are racks and racks of freshly baked pan dulce, the pink-frosted conchas, the gingery puercitos and the crunchy, sugar-glazed orejas. Near another is a sort of superheated turntable on which lumps of dough bubble and bake into fresh tortillas. Taquitos fry. Shrimp steam. Thick chocolate burbles happily in a heated vat. The air outside is perfumed with the smoke from grilling carne asada, which is chopped and folded into tacos, stuffed into gorditas, or layered onto huaraches with great rivulets of Mexican crema and cheese. The Doña Rosa burrito is a majestic creature, a stretchy tortilla stuffed with rice, black beans, avocado and an oozing, orange mass of beef fried in chorizo grease, the sort of burrito that will coat your teeth for a week and live in your insides like a frisky pet. 577 S. Arroyo Parkway, Pasadena, (626) 449-2999. Open Mon.–Sat. 8 a.m.–mid., Sun. 6 a.m.–11 p.m. Wine, beer and margaritas. Lot parking. AE, MC, V. Lunch or dinner for two, food only, $10–$15. Mexican. JG ¢b?
Monterey Park/San Gabriel ?and vicinity
888 Seafood Restaurant. A good place to start is the Chiu Chow cold plate: symmetrically arranged slices of tender steamed geoduck clam, aspic-rimmed pork terrine, crunchy strands of jellyfish, cold halved shrimp in a sweet, citrus-based sauce. Or try a soup of whole perch gently poached in the heat of broth, sharp with the flavor of Chinese celery and herbs, made complexly tart with sour plum, or an astonishing dish of Chiu Chow–style braised goose. 8450 Valley Blvd., Rosemead, (626) 573-1888. Lunch and dinner seven days 9 a.m.–10 p.m. Full bar. Lot parking. MC, V. Chinese. JG $b
Venice Room. It is hard to imagine a simpler meal than a dinner at the Venice Room, or a meal more satisfying than grill-it-yourself meat, garlic bread, a baked potato and a pony of bar Scotch. Seasoned veterans hover over the communal grill, slashing and battering their steaks with knives and long metal prongs, lavishing them with garlic salt, cayenne and bulk-packaged Cajun seasoning, drizzling them with oil, massaging cracked pepper and dehydrated onion flakes into the meat’s bruised flanks. French bread crisps on the cooler edge of the grill and almost everybody seems to improvise some sort of grilled garlic bread with garlic powder and butter, while baked potatoes steam in their foil. 2428 S. Garfield Ave., Monterey Park, (323) 722-3075. Open Mon.–Sat. 9–2 a.m., Sun. till mid. Full bar. Lot parking. AE, MC, V. American. JG $$Â?