Downtown Los Angeles/Highland Park
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., dwntwn., (213) 972-3331. Dinner daily 5 p.m.–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?
TV Café. If you were the kind of artist who mounts big shows at Ace or Gagosian, merits retrospectives at MOCA, or knows the meaning of the term “catalogue raisonné,” you may well sip old Bordeaux among the Grahams and Diebenkorns at Michael’s. If you are the other kind of artist, you probably already know the mammoth vegetarian burritos, serviceable hamburgers and bowls of cocido at this 24-hour entrepôt in the industrial district south of downtown. Are you dissuaded by the noisy Pac Man machine and the often-questionable clientele? Welcome to L.A. 1777 E. Olympic Blvd., L.A., (213) 624-1155. Open daily, 24 hours. No alcohol. Takeout. Lot parking. AE, MC, V. Mexican. JG ¢b?
Silver Lake/Los Feliz/Echo Park
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. Mon.–Thurs. 5 p.m.–mid., Fri. 5 p.m.–1 a.m., Sat. 11 a.m.-mid., Sun. 11 a.m.–10 p.m. No alcohol. Lot parking. AE, D, MC, V. Entrées $10–$18. American. MH ¢?
Millie’s. As several generations of Silver Lake hipsters can attest, Millie’s was designed to cure hangovers the way that penicillin was designed to cure syphilis, a hot, crowded, underventilated slice of culinary purgatory that cuts straight to the heart of the problem. Swear by the grease antidote? Millie’s chicken-fried steak with 40-weight gravy is there for you. Believe in a shock to the system? An extra-spicy Devil’s Mess omelet, which comes with antitoxin doses of everything in the kitchen, may do the trick. Bacon and strong coffee the ticket? You’ve come to the right place. For better or for worse, Millie’s cooks breakfast like your dad used to make. And as they say, Father knows best. 3524 W. Sunset Blvd., Silver Lake, (323) 664–0404. Open daily, 7:30 a.m.–4 p.m. V, MC only. No liquor. Street parking. Takeout. American. JG ¢b
LA9905 Geisha House. It would be impossible, I think, for someone in the restaurant business to visit Geisha House without seeing dollar signs dancing before his or her eyes — the bottles of champagne and expensive sake that ornament each table, the pricey plates of raw fish, the vast, two-story space teeming with light, color and horny 25-year-olds with working American Express cards. You have never seen so many people at one time focused on getting fed, tipsy and laid — Geisha House is like a giant orgone box fueled by strong drink and raw fish, and its happy vibrations radiate in concentric circles across Hollywood. Have you seen this menu before? Of course you have, at Koi: tuna tartare troweled onto crispy-rice sushi; hamachi with jalapeño; seared albacore with ponzu; cowboy rolls stuffed with grilled steak; soft-shell crab tempura. But it’s a happiness explosion, dude — you’re right in the middle of it. And the food is awfully tasty too. 6633 Hollywood Blvd., Hlywd., (323) 460-6300. Dinner nightly 6 p.m.–2 a.m. Two full bars. No takeout. Valet parking. AE, MC, V. Sushi/Japanese. JG $$$Â?
Los Balcones del Peru. The ceviches at Los Balcones are very good, not just the camarones a la piedra but also the tart assemblages of marinated raw fish and shellfish and purple squid tentacles garnished with puréed sweet potatoes, onions and marble-size kernels of the imported Peruvian corn called choclo, which are alarmingly large the first time you run into them. And then there are those warm marinated shrimp. I have never seen camarones a la piedra outside the pages of a Peruvian cookbook — Los Balcones’ owner swears that the dish is unavailable anywhere else in the United States — and I wonder where it has been hiding all my life. 1360 N. Vine St., Hlywd., (323) 871-9600. Sun.–Thurs. 11:30 a.m.–9 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 11:30 a.m.–10 p.m. Beer and wine. Validated parking at ArcLight Cinema. AE, MC, V. Dinner for two, food only, $18–$28. Peruvian. JG $b
Mid-Wilshire/Koreatown/Central Los Angeles
Papa Cristo’s. If Mexican-style octopus is your thing, try the marinated-octopus tostadas with avocado that are standards at most ceviche stands — we like the Colima stands on Alvarado Street near Temple and Third streets just west of downtown — and go extremely well with beer. (We miss the great cevicheria called El Pulpo Loco, the Crazy Octopus, that used to be in the Pico-Union district.) Or you could go for the Greek version, like the fat, garlicky tentacles at Ulysses Voyage in the Grove, but the inexpensive grilled octopi at Papa Cristo’s, attached to the C&K Market in the quaintly named Byzantine-Latino District, may be the most popular cephalopods in town. 2771 W. Pico Blvd., L.A., (323) 737-2970. Tues.–Sat. 9 a.m.–8 p.m., Sun. 9 a.m.–4 p.m. Beer and wine. Takeout. Lot parking. AE, MC, V. JG$b
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., W. Hlywd., (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 minichain 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., W. Hlywd. (323) 850-9353. Also 2209 Honolulu Ave., Montrose, (818) 957-7045. 11 a.m.–10 p.m. daily. Takeout. AE, MC, V. JG
Westwood/West L.A./Century City
Ambala Dhaba. On a stretch of Westwood Boulevard thick with student coffeehouses and Iranian hair salons, Ambala Dhaba is an outpost of the Punjab, a branch of a restaurant noted on Artesia’s Little India strip for its fiery goat curries and the boiled-milk ice cream called kulfi. It’s probably the only thing resembling traditional Indian food on the Westside. Ambala Dhaba exemplifies the time-honored side of meaty northern Indian cooking: basic, direct food almost Islamic in attitude, Pakistani in intensity of flavor, but wholly Indian in its attention to fresh vegetables, crunchy snacks, and breads. But my favorite part of a meal at Ambala Dhaba may be dessert, several flavors of house-made kulfi-on-a-stick available by the piece and by the bag, kulfi shakes made with pistachio, almond and mango, and even a mysterious dish known as kulfi-cut-in-bowl. 1781 Westwood Blvd., Wstwd., (310) 966-1772. Lunch daily 11 a.m.–3 p.m., dinner daily 5–10:30 p.m. No alcohol. Takeout. Lot parking. MC, V. Indian. JG $[
LA99 Orris. Hideo Yamashiro’s Orris is sometimes described as an Asian “tapas bar,” a place to drift in for a glass of Viognier and a snack. Orris is something else, closer to a Mediterranean take on new-wave izakaya, a Japanese pub, than to anything you might ever come across in Spain — sweet shisito peppers sprinkled with shaved Parmesan cheese and crunchy bits of fried proscuitto; smoked scallops garnished with fat salmon eggs; Dungeness crab salad in a sweetish ginger dressing. This is food to wash down with sake, not with a glass of sherry — don’t miss the lamb tataki with rosemary and sheep cheese. 2006 Sawtelle Blvd., W.L.A., (310) 268-2212. Mon.–Thurs. 6–10 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 5:30–10:30 p.m. Beer, wine and sake. Limited lot parking in rear. AE, MC, V. JG $$b[
Beverly Hills and vicinity
LA99 Enoteca Drago. In New York City, Italian wine bars are multiplying like mosquitoes. In Los Angeles, the most serious Italian wine bar is probably the posh Enoteca Drago, an outpost of Celestino Drago’s pasta-driven empire, where you can chase a plate of prosciutto, a mess of baby octopods, or even the elusive lardo — cured pig fat in the style of northwestern Tuscany, melted onto a slab of fried bread — with a glass of crisp Verdicchiofrom the Marches. Some of the wines are served in flights — sets of small pours arranged by grape or by region. Enoteca Drago does function as a full restaurant, although it is occasionally hard to remember this when you’re floating in the middle of a Brunello reverie, but you will also find great pasta with pesto and one of the few proper versions of spaghetti carbonara in town. 410 N. Canon Drive, Beverly Hills, (310) 786-8236. Open Mon.–Sat. 11:30 a.m.–11 p.m., Sun. 11:30 a.m.–10 p.m. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, DC, MC, V. Italian. JG $$bÂ
LA99 Urasawa. The experience at Urasawa is qualitatively different from that at all other sushi bars, the elevator ride up to a private floor, the rice-paper door that magically slides open, the way that everybody in the restaurant knows your name (or the name you reserve under) even before you are ushered to one of the eight chairs. Other sushi restaurants display fish triple–Saran Wrapped behind glass in a refrigerated case; at Urasawa, the fish is out in the open, lighted as carefully as the tomatoes in a Carl’s Jr. ad, all glistening pinks and flashing silvers and glowing translucence surmounted by a bulging slab of ice. The counter is a single, glass-smooth plank of Japanese cypress. (The last time I was in, Kenny G was trying to buy it from chef Urasawa for his house.) Behind the chef is a tableau of irises and hydrangeas and giant bamboo instead of the usual tangle of toaster ovens and rolls of aluminum foil. 218 N. Rodeo Drive, Beverly Hills, (310) 247-8939. Dinner Mon.–Sun. 5:30–8:30 p.m. Beer, sake and wine. No takeout. Valet and street parking. AE, DC, D, MC, V. Japanese. JG $$$$
Culver City/Venice/Marina del Rey/Westchester
LA99 Metro Café. At first glance, Metro Café might be one of the least promising restaurants in Los Angeles, a faux-’50s diner attached to a stucco chain motel. But the strange, fragrant dishes everybody seems to be eating bear little resemblance to the food listed on the menu. Metro Café is basically an informal Serbian restaurant disguised as an American diner, or at least an American diner that sometimes serves a Serbian dish or two: white-bean soup, flavored with ham imported from a Santa Monica deli; spareribs grilled with lots of garlic; or a grilled trout, nothing fancy, plopped on a bed of garlicky greens. If the owners are feeling charitable, there may be crepes for dessert, special, secret crepes stuffed with Nutella and raspberry jam. 11188 Washington Place, Culver City, (310) 559-6821. Breakfast and lunch 7 a.m.–3 p.m. Dinner Tues.–Sat. 6–10 p.m. No alcohol. Parking in Travelodge lot. MC, V. Serbian. JG $
The Shack. The Shack is a manly place, a place that hosts Jaegergirl promotions, a place where a man can watch the Lakers and drink a Rusty Nail. The Shack is also an archetypal beach hamburger dive, the kind of vaguely nautical-looking place where most of the clientele seem to treat the food as something to soak up the beer: cheesesteaks, chiliburgers, fries. The basic unit of exchange at The Shack is something called the Shack Burger, a quarter-pound of charred ground beef and a Louisiana sausage crammed together in a bun. The Shack Burger seems repellent on the surface, and it will seem repellent an hour after you eat one, but like your favorite punk rock song, a Shack Burger is three minutes of pure greatness, all grease and smoke and snap. 2518 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica, (310) 449-1171. Also at 185 Culver Blvd., Playa del Rey, (310) 823-6222. Open daily for lunch and dinner. Full bar. Takeout. AE, D, V. American. JG ¢Âb
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. Thurs.–Sat. 7 a.m.–9 p.m., Sun.–Wed. 7 a.m.–2:45 p.m. No alcohol. Takeout. Lot parking. AE, MC, V. American. JG $b
Ye Olde King’s Head. Until the recent gastropub revolution, the food at most pubs in England may have fully justified everything ever muttered in a dark moment about British food. The King’s Head, a dank, overcrowded expat hangout near the Santa Monica Promenade, is no gastropub, but it does serve some of the best beer in town, which is to say the hand-drawn drafts of Real Ale that never seem to make it anywhere else. The food is, unfortunately, all too authentic, pasties and bangers and such, but the fish and chips are everything you could wish for, sweet fillets of North Sea cod, enrobed in light batter and fried to a delicate crunch. 116 Santa Monica Blvd., Santa Monica, (310) 451-1402. Mon.–Thurs., 10 a.m.–10 p.m., Fri. 10 a.m.–mid., Sat. 8 a.m.–mid., Sun. 8 a.m.–10 p.m. Full bar open daily until 2 a.m. Takeout. Street parking. AE, MC, V. JG $$Â?b
San Fernando Valley
La Fondue Bourguignonne. La Fondue is the ’70s on a stick, a Three’s Company restaurant set come to living, breathing life: dark wood and gleaming copper; jugs of California “burgundy” siphoned into carafes; tape loops of classical music that repeat so often, you begin to suspect they are recorded on 8-track. If you have ever eaten fondue, you probably know the drill. A waiter brings out a chafing dish filled with bubbling melted Gruyère, and you dunk stale hunks of baguette into the stuff, inhaling sweetly alcoholic fumes from the cherry brandy and white wine that are always incorporated into the mixture, occasionally pausing to munch on a pickle or to take a swig of wine. For dessert? Chocolate fondue, of course. 13359 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks, (818) 788-8680. Dinner nightly 5:30–10 p.m. Valet parking. AE, MC, V. Fondue. JG $$
LA99 Krua Thai. Like any respectable Thai joint in this part of Los Angeles, Krua Thai features a sign outside boasting of the Best Noodles in Town, but unlike the rest of them, Krua Thai has a pretty fair title to the claim. In a city where great Thai noodle shops are all that keep some of us going some days, when the anguish of a sick cat or a Laker collapse can be eased, at least a little, by the knowledge of a great bowl of boat noodles, Krua Thai’s pad Thai and pad kee mao and rad na and pad see ew may be the very best of all. 13130 Sherman Way, N. Hlywd., (818) 759-7998. Also at 935 S. Glendora Ave., West Covina, (626) 480-0116. Open daily 11 a.m.–3:30 a.m. No alcohol. Takeout. Lot parking. All major credit cards accepted. Thai. JG $b[?
South Bay/LAX/Long Beach and vicinity
Pann’s. Every Angeleno has a secret backdoor shortcut to the airport, and Pann’s is smack on the route of at least two-thirds of them. It’s a grand ’50s coffee shop right on the triangle formed by the intersection of La Cienega, La Tijera and Centinela, a bright, neon-lit fortress of patty melts, Dreamburgers, banana splits and pie, bottomless cups of coffee, and a twangy soundtrack that veers from Duane Eddy to Elvis and back. Pann’s is a coffee shop, not a temple of cuisine, but we all owe it to ourselves to stop by for a plate of chicken from time to time. 6710 La Tijera Blvd., L.A., (310) 670–1441. Mon.–Sat. 7 a.m.–11 p.m., Sun. 7 a.m.–10 p.m. Beer and wine. Lot parking. AE, MC, V. American. JG$?
South Los Angeles
Harold & Belle’s. Many of the best Cajun and creole restaurants in Los Angeles seem to have gone the way of the dinosaur. Orleans and Patout’s and Gagnier’s and Sid’s Café have been gone for years. The Gumbo Pot, in Farmers Market, is past its glory days. And we recently had a Cajun-ish meal, in Monrovia, so bad that we believe the state of Louisiana may be entitled to sue for damages. We highly recommend Harold & Belle’s, an old-line creole restaurant down by USC, where the smoked sausage is delicious, the fried seafood is formidable, the crawfish étouffée is really worth checking out, and the oyster po’ boys are fine. Plus, you can get a decent drink at Harold & Belle’s, which, as anybody who has spent more than a couple of days in New Orleans can tell you, is what dinner is all about. 2920 W. Jefferson Blvd., L.A., (323) 735-9023. Mon.–Sat. 11:30 a.m.–10:45 p.m., Sun.–Thurs. 11:30 a.m.–9:45 p.m. Full bar. Takeout. Parking lot. AE, MC, V. JG$Âb
East Los Angeles
La China Poblana. In the auto-repair district of East Los Angeles, La China Poblana — a weather-beaten truck parked in its own lot — may be the best place in East L.A. to find the cemita, the classic street food of Puebla, a multilayered sandwich on a dense, toasted sesame-seeded bun. The cemitas roll is sliced, crisped on the stove and crammed full of good stuff: thin slivers of avocado, slices of ghost-white panela cheese, and perhaps a tangle of pickled onions, carrots and jalapeño peppers. But the most popular filling by far is the milanesa — beef pounded to the thickness of a playing card, dredged in flour, and fried in clean oil to a sort of bronzed, leathery crispness that is closer in every way to a really large Maui potato chip than to anything you might call steak. 3527 E. Whittier Blvd., L.A. No phone. Open daily for lunch and dinner. No alcohol. Takeout. Cash only. Mexican. JG ¢b
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. 211 E. Broadway, Glendale, (818) 240-7411. Daily 11:30 a.m.–10 p.m. Beer and wine. Validated parking. AE, MC, V. Persian/Armenian. MH ¢b[
Pasadena and vicinity
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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 ¢
LA99 Firefly Bistro. Monique King’s Firefly Bistro — which she runs with husband and co-chef Paul Rosenbluh — is a comfortable restaurant, the kind of neighborhood place you drop into a couple of times a month because you like the idea of cornmeal-fried anchovies in your caesar salad, or of a paella that tastes more like an uptown version of jambalaya, or of a strawberry shortcake that just happens to be frosted with a superior lemon curd. Asian touches pop up now and again, and a few Mexican things, and quite a few folky flavors from Spain. (The tapas served to coincide with the Thursday-evening farmers market right outside the bistro’s doors have become a South Pasadena tradition.) But King’s culinary specialty is probably the food of the African-American diaspora, and the best dishes on the menu run toward things like crawfish jambalaya, and the pecan-crusted catfish fillets stacked up like poker chips. 1009 El Centro St., South Pasadena, (626) 441-2443. Dinner Tues.–Sun. 5:30–9:30 p.m. Lunch Tues.–Fri. 11:30 a.m.–2:30 p.m. Brunch Sat.–Sun. 10 a.m.–2 p.m. Beer and wine. Street parking. AE, D, MC, V. Modern American. 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 wo rth the drive across town. 1823 S. San Gabriel Blvd., San Gabriel, (626) 288-7265. Lunch Tues.–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