Where to Eat Now
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 $$
Pete’s Café and Bar. Pete’s has completely classic bar-’n’-grill good looks. There’s also a hint of contemporary clubbiness. The food is a functional, midpriced take on New American cooking: mac and cheese, a gilded burger (fontina, tomato aioli), steaks, bread pudding. Highlights include the martini glass heaped with shrimp, yellow and orange baby heirloom tomatoes, and green guacamole, all doused in citrus salsa. And when available, a fresh tomato soup that seems to sing, optimistically, of summer. A house specialty, blue-cheese fries, is sinful, potatoes tossed hot with the sharp salty cheese so they’re limp yet crisp and chewy — irresistible. 400 S. Main St., downtown, (213) 617-1000. Lunch and dinner Sun.–Wed. 11:30 a.m.–mid., Thurs.–Sat. 11:30 a.m.–2 a.m., breakfast Sat.–Sun. from 11:30 a.m. Full bar. Lot parking. AE, D, DC, MC, V. American. MH.$$Â?
Silver Lake/Los Feliz/Echo Park
El Caserio. The cornerstone of the Ecuadorian kitchen is the fresh chile sauce aji (pronounced ah-hee), which has a tart, fiery taste. El Caserio’s aji is spicier than most, juiced up with onion and fresh tomato, one of the best salsas imaginable, spooned straight over big, puffy white-cheese empanadas, or over the fresh-corn tamales called humitas. The shrimp dish sango de camarones revolves around a strange, thick sauce made with green plantains and peanut butter — probably unlike anything you have eaten before. 309 N. Virgil Ave., L.A., (323) 664-9266. Lunch and dinner Thurs.–Tues. 11 a.m.–9:30 p.m. No alcohol. Takeout. Lot parking. MC, V. Ecuadorian. JG ¢[
K.P.’s Deli. We have always found the Vietnamese sandwiches, banh mi, at Buu-Dien in Chinatown to be better than good, even at the present historical moment, a time when the best places in Rosemead and Santa Ana feature house-made charcuterie, house-pickled condiments and hot baguettes that are practically baked to order. Buu-Dien’s delicate sandwiches have deep soul, also a funky liver paste that is pretty irresistible. But K.P.’s Deli in Silver Lake, a spare takeout joint tucked into what looks like the back of a travel agency, is a sandwich shop of a different order: Owner Khuong Pham, who spent years running giant commercial kitchens, also serves banh mi, but supersized to Philadelphia-hoagie proportions, massive portions of shredded chicken, sweetened beef or even tofu, crammed with cilantro, Vietnamese pickled vegetables and plenty of sliced chiles into muscular, crusty baguettes. It must be the culmination of a trencherman’s dream, banh mi as robust as a meatball hero; and although the sandwiches are about triple the price of their suave Rosemead brethren, it must be noted that most of them are still $6 or $7 a shot — even the mighty, charcuterie-stuffed banh mi dac biet, which K.P.’s has inelegantly dubbed the Kold Kut. 2616 Hyperion Ave., Silver Lake, (323) 913-1818. Mon.–Fri. 11 a.m.–8 p.m., Sat. 11 a.m.–6 p.m. No alcohol. Takeout. Parking lot. AE, D, MC, V. Vietnamese. JG ¢b
LA99 Brasserie Vert. Wolfgang Puck’s restaurant in the Hollywood & Highland complex may not have much in common with a brasserie, is as restrained-looking as a corporate canteen, and isn’t even green. But Vert is a useful restaurant, a Hollywood bastion of mussels and fries, the Provençal pizza called pissaladiere, steak frites with vivid-yellow béarnaise sauce, and a delicious sole grenobloise with tiny croutons and bits of lemon pulp. Drop in for a Green Bellini, a platter of fritto misto and a shot at the best desserts in Hollywood — the apple tart is formidable. 6801 Hollywood Blvd., Suite 411, Hollywood, (323) 491-1300. Mon.–Fri. 11:30 a.m.–10 p.m., Sat.–Sun. noon–10 p.m. Full bar. Takeout. Lot parking. AE, D, DC, MC, V. French/Italian. JG $$
LA99 The Hungry Cat. The Hungry Cat is the restaurant a lot of us in Los Angeles have been waiting for, a local answer to Swan Oyster Depot in San Francisco or New York’s Pearl Oyster Bar, a place to drop into for a dozen oysters or a bowl of shrimp, a boiled crab or a bowl of chowder. The wine list is tiny, but includes a ton of obscure seafood-friendly wines — Picpoul de Pinet, anyone? — and everything is available by the glass. The crab cake, more crab than cake, is tasty if modestly portioned, made from what the establishment claims is a 100-year-old Baltimore recipe. The primary object of desire here is the lobster roll, an abstracted rendition of the New England beach-shack standard transformed into a split, crisp, rectangular object about the size of a Twinkie. In Cape Porpoise, the $22 it costs would buy you a lobster the size of a small pony. But we are in Hollywood, where the next acceptable lobster roll may be 2,800 miles away. 1535 N. Vine St., Hollywood, (323) 462-2155, www.thehungrycat.com. Mon.–Fri. 5:30 p.m.–mid., Sat. 3 p.m.–mid., Sun. 5:30–11 p.m. Beer and wine. Validated parking. AE, MC, V. Seafood. JG $$Â
Mid-Wilshire/Koreatown/Central Los Angeles
Mandarin House. Hand-pulled noodles are immeasurably better than the machine-made kind: stretchy yet supple, irregularly shaped, veritable magnets for sauce. For some reason, the vast majority of L.A. chefs skilled in noodle pulling seem to own Chinese restaurants aimed at a Korean clientele, and perhaps the best of these is Mandarin House, right in the heart of Koreatown. The kung pao shrimp may be pedestrian, but the chachiang mein, in a dense, black sauce of fermented beans and pork, is out of this world. 3074 W. Eighth St., Los Angeles, (213) 386-8976. Open daily 11:30 a.m.–mid. Beer only. Takeout/delivery. Lot parking. AE, D, MC, V. Chinese. JG $b[?
LA99 Tahoe Galbi. Natural-charcoal barbecue, which is to say the atavistic pleasure of grilling meat over live coals, is traditionally a cheap thrill. Such barbecuing as practiced at fancier Korean restaurants is usually done over well-ventilated gas grills, which are much less likely to leave your favorite blouse perforated with tiny holes like a silk colander. The newish, marble-encrusted Tahoe Galbi may be the first place in town where it is possible to enjoy both the superb meat characteristic of the best Korean restaurants and the smoky kick of live-fire cooking. When you bite into the galbi, Korean short ribs, they flood your mouth with sweet juice. 3986 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, (213) 365-9000. Daily 11:30 a.m.–10:30 p.m. No alcohol. Takeout. Valet parking. Korean Barbecue. JG $b[Â
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. 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 $$$Â
LA99 Koi. Koi kind of is what it is: a warren of intimate patios and bonsai-thick nooks, a hookup nirvana, a dining room whose seating chart seems ripped straight from the pages of Us Weekly. Many of the customers are impossibly beautiful, but the lighting, a grid of dim spotlights more intricate than anything Robert Wilson ever devised for an opera production, makes even modestly attractive people look like extras on The O.C. Everybody loves Koi: Its matrix of sushi, celebrity and sex bumped the Roku paradigm up a few levels, and at the moment, it may be one of the most imitated restaurants in the world. 730 N. La Cienega Blvd., West Hollywood, (310) 659-9449. Dinner Mon.–Wed. 6–11 p.m., Thurs. 6–11:30 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 6–mid., Sun. 6–10 p.m Full bar. No takeout. Valet parking. AE, MC, V. Sushi/Japanese. JG $$$Â
Westwood/West L.A./Century City
Aroma Café.Pljeskavica is a thin, Balkan hamburger, as big and round as a phonograph record, flavored with salt and onions and peppers and briefly cooked over a hot charcoal fire, a chewy meat patty that still has all its juice. In Los Angeles, pljeskavica is served more or less exclusively at this coffeehouse that offers probably the only Bosnian cooking in town. Tucked into its sturdy, focaccia-style bun, Aroma’s pljeskavica is as daunting in its appearance as it is difficult to pronounce. The feta cheese roasted with herbs in tinfoil is goopy, salty, grand, like a great grilled cheese sandwich without the bread. 2530 Overland Ave., West Los Angeles, (310) 836-2919. Open Thurs.–Tues. 11 a.m.–10 p.m. BYOB. Lot and street parking. MC, V. Eastern European. JG $
LA99 Clementine.At lunchtime, there may be no happier place in Los Angeles than Annie Miler’s cheerful takeout café across from the Century City Shopping Mall, home to Southern ham biscuits, a showcaseful of carefully composed roast-vegetable salads, and an anthology’s worth of grilled cheese sandwiches crisped in an Italian sandwich press. The Angelina-style hot chocolate is a local legend. 1751 Ensley Ave., Los Angeles, (310) 552-1080. Mon.–Fri. 7 a.m.–7:30 p.m., Sat. 8 a.m.–5 p.m. No alcohol. Parking in rear lot and on street. AE, DC, MC, V. California. JG $b[
Beverly Hills and vicinity
LA99 The Grill on the Alley.Yes, the steaks are good; yes, the martinis are perfect; yes, the corned-beef hash (well-done, thank you very much) is sublime. But within the decidedly non-soothing confines of the Grill, where show-business moguls still pack into the booths in the front dining room as thickly as commuters on a rush-hour MTA bus, you will also find this town’s essential rice pudding: touched with cinnamon, drizzled with heavy cream. If Musso’s rice pudding is a lullaby, the Grill’s is a lullaby as sung by Renée Fleming. 9560 Dayton Way, Beverly Hills, (310) 276-0615. Mon.–Thurs. 11:30 a.m.–10:30 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 11:30 a.m.–11 p.m., Sun. 5–9 p.m. Full bar. Takeout. Valet parking; free street parking before 6 p.m. AE, DC, D, MC, V. Traditional American Steak House. JG $$$bÂ
Talesai. The owners of Talesai on Sunset Boulevard brought all their experience and many of their best dishes to this chic, glassed-in fishbowl of a café situated at one end of a Beverly Hills mini-mall. Friendly service and beautiful Asian statuary mitigate the industrial spareness of the room, but nothing tempers the boomeranging noise during dinner. Through it all, the refined Thai cooking sings with freshness, quality and flavor. 9198 Olympic Blvd., Beverly Hills, (310) 271-9345. Lunch Mon.–Fri. 11:30 a.m.–2:30 p.m. Dinner daily 5–10 p.m. Beer and wine. Takeout. Lot parking. AE, D, DC, MC, V. Thai. MH $
LA99 Josie. Josie LeBalch, who spent her 20s as the chef of an Italian restaurant but cooks with a French accent, is most famous for game dishes but may be as deft with a dish like baby squid and lentils as she is with preparations of duck, wild boar and elk — although her guinea fowl with wild rice is pretty special. She is large. She contains multitudes. And there’s chocolate bread pudding for dessert. 2424 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica, (310) 581-9888. Dinner Mon.–Thurs. 6–10 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 6-11 p.m., Sun. 5:30–9 p.m. Full bar. Takeout. Valet parking. AE, MC, V. Progressive American with French and Italian. JG $$$
LA99 Vincenti Ristorante. The western stretch of Brentwood has been called the Los Angeles answer to Little Italy by some, although the New York neighborhood that its intense concentration of Tuscan-lite restaurants brings to mind tends to be the lesser avenues of the culinarily challenged Upper East Side. But Vincenti is the real thing, a spare, elegant embassy of modern Italian cooking: minimally sauced pastas and house-cured meats; pungent flavors and abundant herbs; and an obsession with grilled steak that is unmistakably Italian. Such refinement comes at a fairly high cost — on busy evenings, the line of 745s outside the valet station can reach halfway to infinity. At these times, it is good to remember that Monday is pizza night. 11930 San Vicente Blvd., Brentwood, (310) 207-0127.Mon.–Sat. 6–10 p.m., Lunch Friday noon–2 p.m. Full bar. Takeout. Valet parking. AE, D, MC, V. Italian. JG $$$b
Culver City/Venice/Marina Del Rey/?Westchester and vicinity
Baby Blues Bar-B-Q. There have been gun battles fought in the Carolinas between partisans of mustard-based barbecue sauce and those who prefer their pork doused with vinegar. Certain barbecue cooks in beef-loving Texas would just as soon throw your mother-in-law on the grill as a pork rib. But Baby Blues serves it all. Like the best uptown essays into the art form of barbecue, the cooking here arises less out of fierce, quasi-religious devotion than out of genial connoisseurship. As such, the restaurant may be lacking in the charming, cussed idiosyncrasies that lead otherwise sane individuals to chatter in cumin-tinged tongues. It’s just a nice, slightly pricey place to eat ribs, baby-back or otherwise. 444 Lincoln Blvd., Venice, (310) 396-7675. Sun.–Thurs. 11:30 a.m.–10 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 11:30 a.m.–mid. Beer and wine. Takeout. MC, V. Barbecue. JG$$b?
Stroh’s Gourmet. Since its inception, Stroh’s (a small corner shop on Abbot Kinney) has had a following. In addition to the cheese case, a cold case of drinks (including large glass bottles of Badoit water, which are rare here and price-controlled in France) and a small selection of high-priced, premium groceries (chestnut honey, organic coffee, rustic pasta, anchovy paste, that sort of thing), there’s a third refrigerated case, displaying a large array of big, shaggy sandwiches, all freshly made and wantonly stacked in preparation for the hungry hordes — who do indeed come. 1239 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Venice, (310) 450-5119. Breakfast, lunch and dinner Mon.–Sat. 7:30 a.m.–7 p.m., Sun. 9 a.m.–6 p.m. No alcohol. Takeout. Lot parking. AE, MC, V. Sandwiches. MH $b
San Fernando Valley
Dos Arbolitos.Dos Arbolitos — behind a bank in a North Hills shopping center, a scant mile from its first location — is a little swankier than the original, but mostly it’s the same menu plumped out with various seafood cocktails and the like. Sure, the sopes are uninspired; the pozole is too funky and rich. But the chef, Mauricio, continues in the best Dos Arbolitos tradition. Campestre, involving long-braised pork steaks, rubbed with a smoked-chile paste and topped with fried green pepper and a swirl of blackened strands of onion, is tender enough to cut with a plastic fork. Costillitas are wonderful, tiny little chewy ribs blanketed with a salty, grainy sauce of chiles and tomatillos that stains the soft meat the color of an Ensenada sunset. 9034 Woodley Ave., North Hills, (818) 891-6661. Breakfast, lunch and dinner daily 7 a.m.–9 p.m. Beer and wine. Takeout. Lot parking. MC, V. Mexican. JG ¢
Green Cottage. This Iranian-American family restaurant, a converted pie shop, has the long tables, and the bilingual multigenerational families, and the sassy waitresses, and the twinkly lights, and the lounge singer who knows all the verses to both “That’s Amore” and “Volare.” The massive plates hold more than any one person could possibly consume. It is all so very American, as American as apple pie. Except that the food that everybody is overeating happens to be lamb kebabs and koobideh and the sticky pomegranate-chicken stew called fesenjan; sweet rosewater ices spiked with noodles; saffron-pistachio ice cream for dessert. You can have your Old Country nostalgia; I’ll take mine — with an Alka-Seltzer chaser, please. 20022 Ventura Blvd., Woodland Hills, (818) 888-8815. Closed Mondays. Tues.–Sun. noon–10 p.m. AE, D, MC, V. Iranian. JG ¢b
South Bay/LAX/Long Beach and vicinity
Hak Heang. In the Little Phnom Penh neighborhood of Long Beach is Hak Heang — all glowing neon, elaborate live-seafood tanks and yawning seas of tables, waitresses whipping around the room with endless streams of Tsingtao, fried fish and sputtering skewers of Cambodian shish kebab. The anchovy beef, a small, marinated steak grilled medium rare, sliced thin, and served with a relish of shaved raw eggplant, fermented fish, garlic and a little vinegar, is a rare Cambodian dish that would make almost as much sense at a country restaurant in southern Piemonte as it would along the banks of the Tônlé Sap. 2041 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach, (562) 434-0296. Breakfast, lunch and dinner daily 8 a.m.–9 p.m. Full bar. Takeout. Lot parking. Cash only. Cambodian. JG ¢
South Los Angeles
Sanuki No Sato. Udon noodles come in all the standard flavors: topped with crisp buttons of tempura batter in a plain soy-enriched broth, or with chewy bits of rice cake, or with exquisitely slimy Japanese mountain yams. Yukinabe udon — served in a rustic-looking iron kettle and buried beneath half an inch of grated daikon, a sprinkling of grated wasabi and a ferociously spiced cod-egg sac — is refreshing in spite of its bulk, an exotic bowl you could eat every day. 18206 S. Western Ave., Gardena, (310) 324-9184. Open daily, 11:30 a.m.–2:30 p.m. and 5:30–10 p.m. Beer and wine. Lot parking. AE, DC, MC, V. Japanese. JG $ b[
East Los Angeles
Villas Durango.Villas Durango is a dark, slightly more upscale spot that serves cold beer and accepts credit cards. The menu is extremely basic, but the homey soups aren’t bad, and the bean-stuffed tortillas called panuchos and the codzitos — fat Yucatecan taquitos — are almost as tasty as the neighborhood gossip that always seems to buzz around the room here. 5672 York Blvd., Highland Park, (323) 255-1491. Open daily 8:30 a.m.–10 p.m. No alcohol. Takeout. Street parking. Cash only. Regional Mexican. JG ?¢?b
Pasadena and vicinity
Canadian Cafe. Until a few months ago, poutine was on a longish list of foods, from creole cream cheese to real Tuscan lardo, that were simply unavailable in Los Angeles. Even if there were a place in town that sold the cheese curds that are a necessary component of poutine, the implicit heaviness of a dish composed of French-fried potatoes smothered in gravy and molten curds seems more appropriate to the endless gloom of Quebec winters than to Surf City, USA. But the Canadian Cafe, in Monrovia, is a divey temple to all things Canadian, walls emblazoned with moose and Mounties, pennants and maps. The café specializes in Canadian-style rotisserie chicken, and it is possible to snack on raisin-stuffed Canadian butter tarts, Tim Horton coffee and a tasty sandwich called a “bacon buddy,” which is made with cured, unsmoked pork loin rolled in cornmeal, which I gather is the real Canadian bacon. The poutine at Canadian Cafe seems authentic enough: fries; shiny, clotted brown gravy; and gooey, runny cheese curds that the restaurant supposedly imports from northern Quebec. Poutine may not be as useful a Montreal import as Eric Gagné, but it’s nice to know that it’s around. 125 E. Colorado Blvd., Monrovia, (626) 303-2303. Tue.–Sat. 7 a.m.–7 p.m. No alcohol. Takeout. Street parking. D, MC, V. Canadian. JG $b
Soda Jerks. The ice cream served at Soda Jerks, an old-fashioned soda fountain in Pasadena, is Fosselman’s — an excellent local brand that’s been made in Alhambra by the Fosselman family for the last 80 years. Soda Jerks is a kid-friendly place, with cheerful college-age attendants behind the counter. You can order lunch (great hot dogs!) before your ice cream, or you can cut to the chase: unwieldy scoops of toasted almond, coconut-pineapple or rocky road in a sugar cone. I love cones — cake or sugar — but coming to one always makes me sad; it means the end is in sight. 219 S. Fair Oaks Ave., Pasadena, (626) 583-8031. Open weekdays 8 a.m.–9:30 p.m., weekends till 10 p.m. No alcohol. Takeout. Parking lot. AE, MC, V. Ice Cream. MH ¢b
Monterey Park/San Gabriel and vicinity
Lu’s Garden. Lu’s classic porridge-house cooking tends to be the sort of homey fare you might see at dinner at a Chinese friend’s house: whole tiny squid sautéed in dark soy sauce; ground pork simmered with a handful of winter pickles; briskly garlicked seaweed salad; cold, chopped mustard greens. Go for fish, a pickle and a vegetable; try something you’ve never seen before. 534 E. Valley Blvd., Suite 12, San Gabriel, (626) 280-5883. Lunch and dinner daily 11 a.m.–mid. Beer only. Lot parking. Cash only. Chinese. JG ¢b[?
LA99 Mission 261. Mission 261 may be the most ambitious Chinese restaurant ever to open in the United States, a mammoth Cantonese banquet hall fitted into a sprawling adobe complex built 100 years ago as San Gabriel’s city hall. The suckling pig, a house specialty, is made from an animal so young it is practically prenatal; the braised pork belly is the essence of melting fat; the fried whole chicken with fermented taro is practically a sacrament. The steamed rock cod is the standard by which all local Chinese kitchens should be measured, and if you’re into plundering the endangered species list, Mission 261 does that too. And the dim sum is extraordinary, possibly the best in California at the moment — less a teeming mass-feed than a sort of aestheticized dim sum meal, where you sit with a pot of really great chrysanthemum tea and a few small plates of attractive, exquisitely prepared food, the clatter of plates replaced by the contemplative sounds of live Chinese music. 261 Mission Drive, San Gabriel, (626) 588-1666. Mon.–Fri. 10:30 a.m.–3 p.m., 5:30–10 p.m. Sat.–Sun. 9 a.m.–3 p.m, 5:30–10:30 p.m. Full bar. Takeout. Lot parking. AE, D, MC, V. Cantonese. JG $b
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