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Where to Eat Now

Downtown Los Angeles/Highland Park

Beverly Soontofu. The tofu casserole, soontofu, comes bubbling and sputtering, splattering the paper place mat with a fine red mist, forming a burnt crust on the rim of the red-hot cast-iron bowl in which it is served. 2717 W. Olympic Blvd., No. 108, downtown, (213) 380-1113. Breakfast, lunch and dinner seven days, 9:30 a.m.–10:30 p.m. Beer and wine. Lot parking. MC, V. Korean. JG ¢?b[

Birriera Chalio. If you’re in the mood for a lot of goat, practically goat by the yard, it might be difficult to do better than a long, goaty lunch among the mounted animal heads at the original Birriera Chalio on Calle Primero, where the waitresses will bring plate after plate of the restaurant’s signature Zacatecas-style birria — chewy riblets and soft chunks of shoulder and muscley knots of leg meat — until you practically have to beg them to stop. Birriera Chalio on Calle Primero, 3580 E. First St., Los Angeles, (323) 268–5349. Mon.–Fri. 7 a.m.–8 p.m., Sat.–Sun. 7 a.m.–9 p.m. Beer and wine. Lot parking. Takeout. Latin. JG $b

 LA99  Chichén Itzá. This place may have the most serious Yucatecan cooking in town, its menu a living, chile-intensive thesaurus of the panuchos and codzitos, sopa de lima and papadzules, banana-leaf tamales and shark casseroles that make up one of Mexico’s most thrilling cuisines. In Mercado La Paloma, 3655 S. Grand Ave., Los Angeles, (213) 741-1075. Sun.–Wed. 8 a.m.–6:30 p.m., Thurs.–Sat. 8 a.m.–8 p.m. No alcohol. Takeout. Lot parking. AE, MC, V. Yucatecan. $$

 LA99  Ciudad. Cuchifritos at happy hour. Fatally strong mojitos. Peruvian-style ceviches and Bolivian-style tamales, Caribbean paella and a classic pescado Veracruzana, Bahia-style moqueqas and a fritanga that would knock them silly in Managua. 445 S. Figueroa St., downtown, (213) 486-5171. Mon.–Tues. 11:30 a.m.–9 p.m., Wed.–Thurs. 11:30 a.m.–10 p.m., Fri. 11:30 a.m.–11 p.m., Sat. 5–11 p.m., Sun. 5–9 p.m. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, D, MC, V. Pan-Latino. $

Silver Lake/Los Feliz/Echo Park

The Kitchen. 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.–Thurs. 5 p.m.–mid., Fri. 5 p.m.–1 a.m., Sat. noon–2:30 a.m., Sun. noon–10 p.m. No alcohol. Lot parking. AE, D, MC, V. Entrées $10–$18. American. MH ¢?

Pattaya. First, it has a parking lot, a true boon in this bustling, ever-hippifying neighborhood. Second, it opens daily at 11 a.m. for lunch, and stays open nightly until 4 a.m., which means that you can get an excellent curative hot pot of chicken soup before you call it quits on a long evening out. 1727 N. Vermont Ave., Los Feliz. (323) 666-0880. Open seven days 11 a.m.–4 a.m. Beer and wine. Takeout. Lot parking. AE, MC, V. Entrées $10 & up. Thai. MH $Â[?

Rambutan Thai. 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. 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. Entrées $8–$14. AE, MC, V. Thai. MH $ [

Say Cheese. 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). 2800 Hyperion Ave., Silver Lake, (323) 665-0545, fax (323) 665-6465. Open Mon.–Sat. 8:30 a.m.–5:30 p.m (store open until 6:30), Sun. 10 a.m.–5 p.m . No alcohol. Lot parking. AE, MC, V. Sandwiches $8–$9.50. MH ¢b

Hollywood/Melrose/La Brea/Fairfax

  LA99? Cobras & Matadors. This dark, buzzy tapas parlor is teeming with olive oil and garlic, octopus and cured pig, grilled meats and pungent concoctions of seafood and paprika and beans rushed to the table still crackling in unglazed crocks. 7615 W. Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 932-6178. 4655 Hollywood Blvd., Los Feliz, (323) 669-3922. Dinner Sun.–Thurs. 6–11 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 6 p.m.–mid. BYOB. Valet parking. MC, V. Spanish. $ JG $Â

El Coyote. Many restaurants resemble this place — from the cheap margaritas, to the “Mexican pizza” available in the ever-crowded bar — but I could pick an El Coyote combination plate blindfolded out of 100 others, and most of the regulars could, too. 7312 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 939-2255. Lunch and dinner Sun.–Thurs. 11 a.m.–10 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 11 a.m.–11 p.m. Full bar. Valet parking. MC, V. Mexican. JG $

Grub. Try the Mt. Olympus, a platter mounded with wild-mushroom couscous, lemony hummus, a mash of sun-dried tomatoes, crumbled feta, artichoke hearts, and an unseen but powerfully present mass of garlic — all to be scooped with warm, soft, oily pita chips. Or the decadent After School Special, a grilled cheese sandwich made with Cheddar and Swiss, on sourdough and fried in, oh, maybe a half-stick of butter. 911 Seward St., Hollywood, (323) 461-3663. Breakfast Mon.–Fri. 8–10:30 a.m. Lunch Mon.–Fri. 11 a.m.–3 p.m. Brunch Sat.–Sun. 9 a.m.–2 p.m. No alcohol. Takeout daily, delivery Mon.-Fri. Street parking. AE, D, MC, V. American. Nancy Rommelmann $b[

 

Hi Thai Noodle. 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?

Mid-Wilshire/Koreatown/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. 201 N. Western Ave., Los Angeles, (323) 871-0703. Open daily for lunch and dinner. Beer and wine. Lot parking. MC, V. Korean. JG $$

El Cholo. 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. Mexican. JG $Â

Chosun Galbi. Chosun Galbi is 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. 3330 W. Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 734-3330. Open seven days for lunch and dinner 11:30 a.m–10:30 p.m. MC, V, AE. Full bar. Valet parking. Korean. JG $Â?

Hamjipark. This sticky-table dive down on Pico does a rather spectacular version of pork-neck soup, simmered until the meat has turned almost to jelly and thickened with a brick-red purée of chiles — if you weren’t nursing a hair-of-the-dog shot of soju, you might almost mistake it for a Oaxacan mole colorado. 4135 W. Pico Blvd., (323) 733-3635; also 3407 W. Sixth St., (213) 365-8773. Korean. JG $

West Hollywood/La Cienega

 LA99  A.O.C. If you are in the mood for the bacon-wrapped dates with Parmesan on the bar menu, they go so nicely with one of those big southern Italian reds, or a ripe Crozier blue with a late-bottled port, or whatever creature comes with a bit of Goin’s romesco sauce. 8022 W. Third St., Los Angeles, (323) 653-6359. Mon.–Fri. 6–11 p.m., Sat. 5:30–11 p.m., Sun. 5:30–10 p.m. Wine bar. Valet parking. AE, DC, MC, V. French-Mediterranean-­influenced small plates. $$bÂ?

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. 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. 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. Valet parking. AE, D, DC, MC, V. Modern French (with global influences). JG $$$[

Zeke’s. 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. 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. American. JG$$b

Westwood/West L.A./Century City

Indo Café. The cooking here is sort of an intelligently gentrified, Muslim-accented greatest-hits version of pan-Indonesian cuisine, with curries of all sorts. Mellow Javanese-style chicken soup is slightly soured with lemon grass, thick with slippery glass noodles, garnished with handfuls of musky-tasting toasted betel-nut chips. 10428 W. National Blvd., West Los Angeles, (310) 815-1290. Open Mon.–Thurs. 11:30 a.m.–9:30 p.m., Fri.–Sun. 11:30 a.m.–10 p.m. for lunch and dinner. No alcohol. Street parking.Indonesian. JG$b

John o’ Groats. The restaurant is named after a town at the northernmost point in Scotland, but give or take an order of fish ’n’ chips or two, the menu is pretty much all-American, with baking-powder biscuits, fluffy omelets, smoked pork chops and stretchy buckwheat pancakes. 10516 W. Pico Blvd., West Los Angeles, (310) 204-0692. Breakfast and lunch daily 7 a.m.–3 p.m. Beer and wine. Street parking. MC, V. American. JG ¢

 

Tanino. The earthy-yet-refined Italian cooking is most often excellent — the lemon-drenched raw-artichoke salad, fresh fish, and a delicate panna cotta that trembles rather than bounces. 1043 Westwood Blvd., Westwood, (310) 208-0444. Lunch Mon.–Fri. 11:30 a.m.–3 p.m. Dinner Mon.–Sat. 5 p.m.–11 p.m., Sun. 4–10 p.m. Full bar. Takeout. Valet parking. AE, DC, MC, V. Italian. MH $$

Tlapazola Grill. Try Tlapazola’s mole negro. It has a lingering sweetness that seems to exist as an afterimage on the tongue. 11676 Gateway Blvd., West L.A.; (310) 477-1577. Lunch and dinner Sun. and Tue.–Thurs. 11 a.m.–10 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 11 a.m.–11 p.m. Full bar. Takeout. Lot parking. MC, V. Mexican. JG $?b

Beverly Hills and vicinity

Il Pastaio. The food is reliably delicious. Try the chewy garganelli with broccoli and sausage, and spelt spaghetti dressed simply in butter, ricotta and lemon zest. 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. Italian. MH $$[

Mastro’s. 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. Meat dominates the menu; steak to be exact. Order the Kansas City bone-in, the porterhouse or the bone-in rib-eye. 246 N. Cañon Dr., Beverly Hills, (310) 888-8782. Open for dinner weekdays 5–11 p.m., weekends 5 p.m.–mid. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, D, DC, MC, V. American. MH $$$Â?

 LA99  Matsuhisa. Get the new-style shrimp sashimi, sashimi salad, miso-marinated cod and toro tartare with caviar, you may remember to sit at the sushi bar next time and pull the best out of the chefs. 129 N. La Cienega Blvd., Beverly Hills, (310) 659-9639. Lunch Mon.–Fri. 11:45 a.m.–2:15 p.m.; dinner Mon.–Sun. 5:45–10:15 p.m. Full bar. Valet parking. All major credit cards. Japanese. JG $$$

 LA99  Urasawa. Waitresses refill your glass with sake, replace hot towels and remove plates so efficiently that you are barely aware of them at all. 218 N. Rodeo Drive, Beverly Hills, (310) 247-8939. Mon.–Sun. 6–8:30 p.m. Full bar. Valet. AE, MC, V. Japanese.JG $$$

Santa Monica/Brentwood

 LA99  Father’s Office. Try a cheeseburger: dry-aged beef cooked exceptionally rare, dressed with onions cooked down to the sweetness of maple syrup, Gruyère and Maytag blue cheeses, smoky bacon, arugula, and a tomato compote, all on a French roll. 1018 Montana Ave., Santa Monica, (310) 393-BEER, www.fathersoffice.com. Food served Mon.–Wed. 5–10 p.m., Thurs. 5–11 p.m., Fri. 4–11 p.m., Sat. 3–11 p.m., Sun. 3–10 p.m. 21 and over only. Beer and wine. Takeout. Difficult street parking. AE, M, V. California contemporary. JG $

The Hump. Eat kampachi sashimi and watch the planes pop on and off the runway. Try the chopped Tataki-style sashimi. 3221 Donald Douglas Loop South, Third Floor, Santa Monica, (310) 313-0977. Lunch Mon.–Fri. noon–2 p.m., dinner seven nights 6–10:30 p.m. Full bar. Lot parking. AE, DC, MC, V. Japanese. MH $$$

 LA99  JiRaffe. The food tends to be elegant, almost ladylike, with the sort of seasonality you might expect from a serious restaurant located a few hundred yards from the best farmers' market in Southern California. 502 Santa Monica Blvd., Santa Monica, (310) 917-6671. Mon. 6–9 p.m., Tues.–Thurs. 6-10 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 6–10:30 p.m., Sun. 5:30–9 p.m. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, MC, V. California Bistro. JG $$$[?

Violet. Violet has all the appropriate buzzwords on its menu: the harissa aioli, the braised veal cheeks, the rare ahi tuna with wasabi mashed potatoes. 3221 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica, (310) 453-9113, www.­violetrestaurant.com. Lunch Tues.–Fri. 11:30 a.m.–2 p.m., dinner Tues.–Fri. 6–10 p.m., Sat.–Sun. 5:30–10 p.m. Beer and wine. Valet parking. AE, MC, V. California cuisine. JG $$

Culver City/Venice/LAX and vicinity

Axe. The breakfast, lunch and dinner menus are seductively eclectic. Try meal-sized whole-grain pancake, a composed salad, 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 cuisine. MH $$[

Baby Blues Bar-B-Q. It’s just a nice, slightly pricey place to eat ribs, baby-back or otherwise. Baby Blues has a strong sideline in Carolina pulled-pork barbecue, stringy mounds of smoky meat that may not have quite the universal appeal of spareribs, but fit much more neatly into a sandwich. 444 Lincoln Blvd., Venice, (310) 396-7675. Open 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?

 LA99  Beacon: An Asian Cafe. Grilled-chicken skewers are powerfully flavored with the herb shiso and the tiny Japanese plum called ume. The hanger steak with wasabi is so successful, the searing tang of the horseradish doing something wonderful to the tart, carbonized flavor of grilled meat. 3280 Helms Ave., Los Angeles, (310) 838-7500. Lunch Mon.–Sat. 11:30 a.m.–2 p.m.; dinner Tues.–Wed. and Sun. 5:30–8:15 p.m., Thurs.–Sat. 5:30–9:15 p.m. Beer and wine. Lot parking. AE, MC, V. Asian Fusion. JG $bÂ[

 

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. 10831 Venice Blvd., Los Angeles, (310) 837-8957. Open daily 11 a.m.–10 p.m. BYOB. Lot parking. MC, V. Brazilian. JG ¢b

San Fernando Valley

Sunshine. The menu here is a little left of center, featuring perfectly adequate versions of standards like chicken sautéed with basil and green curry, stinkily pink yen ta fo noodles and hot-sour shrimp soup, but rewarding of mild experimentation. 13212 Sherman Way, North Hollywood, (818) 764-6989. Open Sun.–Thurs. 11 a.m.–10 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 11 a.m.–11 p.m. Beer and wine. Takeout. Lot parking. D, MC, V. JG $$b?

Tama Sushi. Start with a plate of assorted sashimi. And don’t miss his live scallop sushi, dressed in lime juice with a sprinkle of Italian sea salt. 11920 Ventura Blvd., Studio City, (818) 760-4585. Open for lunch daily 11:30 a.m.–2:30 p.m. Dinner nightly 5–9:30 p.m. Beer and wine. Valet parking. AE, D, DC, MC, V. Japanese. MH $

Top Thai. There is a semisecret section of the menu crammed with Northern-style dishes — fresh chile dips served with chips of fried pigskin, and sticky rice, and sour sausages, and fragrant pork stews. 7333 Reseda Blvd., Reseda, (818) 705-8902. Closed Wed. Mon.–Tues. and Thurs.–Sun. 11:30 a.m.–3 p.m., 5–9 p.m. Beer and wine. Takeout. Lot parking. AE, MC, V. JG $b

Woodlands. Woodlands is strictly a buffet restaurant, and on the steam table you’ll find the crunchy fried lentil doughnuts called vada; puffs of poori bread; buttery rounds of paratha; knobby lumps of limp vegetable pakora; and a vat of Woodlands’ special lemon rasam, a thin, peppery Tamil vegetable sauce for rice that doubles as a soup and as a healing tonic. 9840 Topanga Canyon Blvd., Chatsworth, (818) 998-3031. Open Tues.–Sun. 11:30 a.m.–3 p.m. and 5–10 p.m. $7.95 lunch buffet Tues.–Fri., $9.95 brunch buffet Sat.–Sun. Beer and wine. Takeout. Lot parking. AE, MC, V. Also at 11833 Artesia Blvd., Artesia, (562) 860-6500. JG $$b[

South Bay/LAX/Long Beach and vicinity

Al-Noor. Nehari is more or less the Pakistani national dish, an intense, mahogany concoction of lamb shanks flavored with garlic, chiles, and an immoderate amount of shredded fresh ginger. Nehari can sometimes be as genteel as a country French ragout, but the nehari at Al-Noor — also a respectable venue for Pakistani breads, spicy stews and smoky, tandoor-cooked meats — is simmered down to a steaming, creamy mass with the density of a dwarf star, bubbling and glistening with red-tinted oil, a stew substantial enough to fortify three hungry men after a day of hard labor. 15112 Inglewood Ave., Lawndale, (310) 675-4700. Tues.–Sun. 11 a.m.–9:30 p.m. No alcohol. Takeout. Valet parking. D, MC, V. Indian. $b

 LA99  Al-Watan A bare, smoky dining room adjacent to a Muslim butcher shop, Al-Watan is the summit of basic Pakistani cooking in Los Angeles, spicy, meaty, and deeply inflected by the flavors of ginger, cardamom and chiles, with some of the most vividly smoky tandoor-cooked meats you will ever taste. First among the stews is haleem, beef braised with shredded wheat until it breaks down into a thick gravy with the flavor of well-browned roast-beef drippings, but as meaty as Al-Watan may be, even vegetarians can be happy here: Navratan korma, a mixture of cauliflower, green beans and carrots stir-fried with chile and plenty of spices, is like a wonderful Muslim ratatouille, the flavors of each vegetable fresh and distinct while contributing to the cumulative effect of the cumin-scented whole. 13611 Inglewood Ave., Hawthorne, (310) 644-6395. Open daily 11 a.m.–10 p.m. No alcohol. MC, V. Indian. JG $b

Chantilly. Our favorite alternative Japanese cream puffs can be found at this gorgeous Lomita Japanese bakery that resembles a high-class Tokyo tearoom. The cream puffs are especially good — airy, eggy pastries stuffed to order with blackish, sesame-flavored whipped cream and sprinkled with a sweet powder made of caramelized soy, a cream puff that takes full command. Nojima claims that sesame cream puffs are fairly common in Tokyo, but there is nothing remotely like them in Los Angeles. A Chantilly puff is a work of art. 2383 Lomita Blvd., No. 104, Lomita, (310) 257-9454. Open daily 11:30 a.m.–7 p.m. No alcohol. Takeout. Parking lot. CB, MC, V. JG ¢b

Tombo. Okonomiyaki, especially the kind that you cook yourself at a hot griddle set into a dining table, is one of those odd dishes whose whole really does transcend the sum of its rather grisly parts: Japanese mayonnaise. Tonkatsu sauce. Bubbling oceans of gooey batter scorched black around the edges. Crunchy, superheated bean sprouts that emit little puffs of steam when you bite into them. Unnaturally pink nubs of pork that collapse into gristle. Carrots charred into carrot pudding. It’s a stinking, queasy-making mess that you could probably eat every day of the week. If you’re really in a festive mood, you could throw some Spam in, too. At Tombo, a sticky-table okonomiyaki parlor in Torrance, not far from Gardena, you can try the monjayaki, beef broth you reduce yourself until it reaches the rubbery consistency of a cat’s chew toy, which is every bit as good — and bad — as it sounds. 2106 Artesia Blvd., Torrance, (310) 324-5190. Lunch Tues.–Sat. 11:30 a.m.–2 p.m., Sun. noon–2:30 p.m. Dinner Tues.–Sat. 5:30–10 p.m., Sun. 5–10:30 p.m. Beer and wine. Takeout. Lot parking. MC, V. JG $b

 

South Los Angeles

By Brazil. You eat meat until you die. Massive, garlicky heaps of short ribs and spareribs and sausage and rump roast and chicken are sliced off metal spears onto your plate by a parade of meat-bearing waiters, all for the fixed price of $21.99. And while the buffet may be nothing to write home about, come evening there’s the classic churrasco (barbecue), brought to your plate until you cry uncle. 1615 Cabrillo Ave., Torrance, (310) 787-7520. Lunch and dinner seven days, 11:30 a.m.–9:30 p.m. Full churrasco on weekends. Beer and wine. Lot parking. AE, D, DC, MC, V. Brazilian.JG $Â

 LA99  Phillips’ Barbecue. Crusted with black and deeply smoky, the spareribs at Phillips’ Barbecue are rich and crisp and juicy, not too lean. Beef ribs, almost as big around as beer cans, are beefy as rib roasts beneath their coat of char, tasty even without the sauce. They are the best ribs in Los Angeles, perhaps the only ribs that can compete on equal terms with the best from Kansas City or Tuscaloosa. And the extra-hot sauce, so crowded with whole dried chiles that the ribs occasionally look as if they have been embellished with Byzantine mosaics, can be pretty exhilarating. Tucked into a mini-mall between a liquor store and the local chapter of Alcoholics Anonymous, the original Phillips’ might be a little hard to find, although if you keep your window open, you should be able to sniff it out from half a mile away. But the newest location, in the well-scrubbed chalet-style Crenshaw building that until recently housed the well-regarded Leo’s Bar-B-Q, is only a couple of blocks south of the 10 freeway. 4307 Leimert Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 292-7613. Mon. 11 a.m.–8 p.m., Tues.–Thurs. 11 a.m.–10 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 11 a.m.–mid., Sun. 11 a.m.–6 p.m. 2619 S. Crenshaw Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 731-4772. Tues.–Thurs. 11 a.m.–10 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 11 a.m.–11 p.m., Sun. 11 a.m.–6 p.m. Also at 1517 Centinela Ave., Los Angeles, (310) 412-7135. No alcohol. Takeout. Lot parking. Cash only. Barbecue. JG $b?

Rincon Hondureño. There are perhaps a couple of dozen Honduran restaurants scattered around Westlake and Huntington Park; but nowhere, except at Rincon Hondureño, will you find sopa de caracol as good, or curry-tinged arroz con pollo, or coconut-infused fish soup that revolves around a whole, fresh rock cod as highly peppered as pastrami. For breakfast, there is hash fish, finely minced whitefish sautéed with onions and peppers, served with red beans, plantains and the inevitable square of salty, white cheese that seems to come with everything here. This is an easy place to spend an afternoon. 1654 W. Adams St., Los Angeles, (323) 734-9530. Lunch and dinner Mon.–Fri. 7:30 a.m.–9:30 p.m., Sat.–Sun. 8 a.m.–9:30 p.m. Beer only. Takeout. Street parking. Cash only. Honduran. JG ¢

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 seven days, 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

Al and Bea’s. Al & Bea’s is one of the greatest of the Eastside’s classic burrito palaces, a low, ancient, heavily fortified kitchen, but the plainness of the food at Al & Bea’s may come as kind of a shock. Your choices are basically limited to red chile or green, meat or no meat, and whether to pay the extra 15 cents for cheese. When you order, the guy behind the register flips your ticket out of his pad like a cardsharp showing you the four of clubs. You pull your napkin from a roll. Then you wait, and eavesdrop on the line. In addition to burritos, there are old-fashioned fried tacos with guacamole, which are delicious, and hot, oily taquitos, which are even better. The fried jalapeños, stuffed with something very like the shiny, processed cheese you find topping nachos in movie theaters and at Dodger Stadium, are more compelling than they have any right to be. 2025 E. First St., East Los Angeles, (323) 267-8810. Open Mon.–Fri. 9 a.m.–8 p.m., Sat. 10 a.m.–8 p.m. No alcohol. Takeout. Street parking. Cash only. Mexican. JG ¢b

 

Antojitos Denise’s. In a land dominated by carne asada, Denise’s is where to go for pork, a bagful of one of three or four different kinds of house-made chicharrones (fried pork rinds), the pickled pigskin called cueritos, or a pound or two of roast pork. If you have a buck for a taco, you can taste the carnitas, among the best in East L.A., dense-textured, with the full, almost gamy flavor of slow-cooked pig. Also good are the tacos with chicharrones stewed in spicy tomato sauce — numbingly rich, a 1,500-calorie taco. 4060 E. Olympic Blvd., East L.A., (323) 264-8199. Mon.–Sat. 8 a.m.–8 p.m., Sun. 8 a.m.–6 p.m. No alcohol. Lot parking. D, MC, V. Mexican. JG ¢b

Gallo’s Grill. With its tiled patio furnished with oversize wooden tables, shaded from the sky by a canopy, and decorated with citrus trees and “peeling” brick, this sweet Mexican steak house serves everybody’s idea of a great Eastside meal: warm, thick corn tortillas (or paper-thin flour tortillas) patted to order, fresh salsas brought to the table perched on intricate wrought-iron stands, garlicky steaks served still sizzling, flanked by bushels of charred scallions on superheated platters. The beef is prepared in a specifically Mexican way, butterflied and re-butterflied and laid open like a scroll, a broad, thin filete abierto marinated enough to allow for a bit of juice. 4533 Cesar E. Chavez Ave., Los Angeles, (323) 980-8669. Lunch and dinner Wed.–Mon. 11 a.m.–9 p.m. No alcohol. Lot parking. D, MC, V. Mexican. JG $ b

Juanito’s. I am not sure that I have ever tasted a tamale as wonderful as the tamales that sell for $20 a dozen at the venerable Juanito’s in East L.A., savory tamales steamed in rich stock instead of water, slender, pliant shells of masa lovingly patted into cornhusks, unrolling to reveal tender, superthin tubes of masa that seem almost engineered around fillings of pork in dusky red-chile sauce, stewed chicken, or melted cheese spiked with sweet green chiles. A Juanito’s tamale, made the same way since Kennedy was in the White House, is a tamale worthy of a great metropolis. 4214 E. Floral Drive, East L.A., (323) 268-2365. Open Mon.–Sat. 7 a.m.–6 p.m., Sun. 7 a.m.–3 p.m. Mexican. JG ¢b[

Burbank/Glendale/Eagle Rock

Blue Hen. While you will probably not experience anything akin to culinary epiphany at Blue Hen, it is an unusually pleasant place to linger, listening to old soul tunes on the sound system and jacking yourself up on glasses of super-strong Vietnamese filtered coffee with condensed milk. There are fresh spring rolls to snack on, arranged prettily around geometric smears of sweet bean sauce, and turmeric-garlic fries that turn your fingers yellow as a chain smoker’s. Big bowls of chicken porridge seem custom designed to soothe mornings-after, and delicious Vietnamese sandwiches of turmeric-glazed chicken and herbs are a sweet, spicy variant on the banh mi you can get on any corner in Westminster. 1743 Colorado Blvd., Eagle Rock, (323) 982-9900, www.eatatbluehen.com. Open Mon., Wed.–Fri. 11:30 a.m.–3 p.m. and 6:30–9 p.m., Sat. 11:30 a.m.–10 p.m., Sun. 4–9 p.m. No alcohol. Lot parking. MC, V. Vietnamese. JG $ [

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. Dinner for two, food only, $20–$25. AE, D, MC, V. Mexican. JG $b?

 LA99  Casa Bianca. Of all the neighborhood pizza parlors in Los Angeles touted as the best this side of New Haven, one of them actually has to be the best. And my vote goes to Casa Bianca, especially if the pizza happens to include the fried eggplant, the sweetly spiced homemade sausage — or preferably both. The lines are extremely long, but the crust is chewy, and speckled with enough carbony, bubbly, burnt bits to make each bite slightly different from the last. Remarkable. And there’s freshly filled cannoli for dessert. 1650 Colorado Blvd., Eagle Rock, (323) 256-9617. Dinner Tues.–Thurs. 4 p.m.–mid., Fri.–Sat. 4 p.m.–1 a.m. Beer and wine. Street parking. Cash only. Italian. JG $b?

 

Chili John’s. From a series of stainless-steel vats in the center of the room, the counterman at Chili John’s scoops out pinkish beans, mounding them high in a yellow plastic bowl, then he carefully spoons thick, brick-red chili over the beans until the bowl nearly brims over onto the counter. With a flourish, he tops off the chili with a splash of bean water. He cocks an eyebrow, which means: “Would you like an extra little drizzle of orange grease with that?” Of course you do. 2018 W. Burbank Blvd., Burbank, (818) 846-3611. Lunch and dinner Tues.–Fri. 11 a.m.–7 p.m., Sat. till 4 p.m. Closed July and August. No alcohol. Takeout. Lot parking. Cash only. Chili. JG ¢b

Pasadena and vicinity

Chang’s Garden. The spareribs steamed in lotus leaves at Chang’s Garden — with pounded-rice flour and a little rice wine — are magnificent things, little essays on the virtues of long-cooked pork. There is a very nice simmered beef and tripe in chile oil, and splendid fresh Chinese bacon with garlic and chile. Vegetable dishes tend to be pretty good too. Try the pudding-like slabs of Japanese eggplant cooked down with garlic and chile or the cubes of tofu dusted with flour and fried until the inside becomes molten. 627 W. Duarte Road, Arcadia, (626) 445-0606. Open daily, 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. MC, V. Beer and wine. Lot parking. Chinese. 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 ¢

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. Beer and wine. Street parking. AE, D, MC, V. Modern American. JG $$b[

Gerlach’s Grill. This little carryout place is run by a Japanese-influenced Iranian chef taking on an Italian-tinged California-grill menu that happens to include tacos. Got that? Beyond the multiculti stuff, you’ll find the standard array of kebabs: tender things made from grilled filet mignon; garlicky lamb kebabs; heartily spiced minced-beef kebabs called kubideh; black-edged chicken kebabs; and tastefully underdone kebabs of tuna and halibut. Kebabs here generally come with a big salad, a mountain of saffron-tinged basmati rice and a charred ripe tomato, all neatly tucked into a foam clamshell. 1075 S. Fair Oaks Ave., Pasadena, (626) 799-7575. Open Mon.–Sat. 10 a.m.–9 p.m., Sun. noon–8:30 p.m. Takeout and delivery. AE, DC, MC, V.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

 

Dai Ho Kitchen. Dai Ho Kitchen’s spicy beef noodle soup is an angry red brew spiked with chopped herbs, golf ball–sized chunks of long-simmered meat and noodles — slithery, linguine-thick noodles, disarmingly soft, that like all the best pasta seem to have mastered the trick of appearing almost alive. The house-special cold appetizer of spicy tripe, pressed tofu and sliced pork shank is delicious. But Dai Ho’s version of the beef noodle soup is on a plane of its own, a dense, stinky taste of Valhalla. 9148 Las Tunas Dr., Temple City, (626) 291-2295. Lunch Tues.–Sun. 11:30 a.m.–3 p.m.; dinner, takeout only. No alcohol. Lot parking. Cash only. Chinese. JG ¢b

El Gallo Pinto. El Gallo Pinto may not seem like much, but some Nicaraguans drive 100 miles on weekends for the tripe stew mondongo, the plain beef-and-tuber casserole called baho, or the Indio Viejo, a mild yet undeniably exotic stew of the sort you might use to fortify yourself on a cool mountain night. And everybody eats the gallo pinto, Nicaraguan rice and beans served in big mounds shaped like family-sized cans of tuna, slightly oily, seasoned simply, with an intense, chocolate-like flavor from the sautéed beans. “This food is not fancy,” says owner José “Chepe” Cabrales, “but we Nicaraguans feel it in our bones.” 5559 N. Azusa Ave., Azusa, (626) 815-9907. Open daily for lunch and dinner, 11 a.m.– 8:30 p.m. Beer and wine. Entertainment on weekends. Lot parking. AE, D, MC, V. South American. JG ¢

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[?

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