Downtown Los Angeles
?LA99? Mama’s Hot Tamales Café. On weekends, a line of wooden tamale carts runs along the eastern edge of MacArthur Park, each run by a vendor from a different part of Latin America selling his or her particular kind of tamale: banana-leaf-wrapped Oaxacan tamales oozing black mole sauce, wet chicken tamales from Honduras, green-chile tamales from Acapulco, densely sweet little torpedoes from El Salvador and grainy tamales from Michoacán. The driving force behind the vending district is Mama’s Hot Tamales Café, a sprawling, brightly painted complex across the street from the park that provides the kinds of curatorial services and logistical support to the district’s tamale masters and also happens to sell a rotating selection of the handmade tamales in the restaurant itself. 2124 W. Seventh St., L.A., (213) 487-7474. Mon.–Fri. 11 a.m.–3:30 p.m., Sat. 11 a.m.–3:30 p.m. & 5:30–10 p.m., Sun. 9:30 a.m.–3:30 p.m. No alcohol. Coffee bar. Takeout. Validated parking around the corner on Lake Street in the Unified parking lot. AE, MC, V. Breakfast or lunch for two, food only, $7–$14. Mexican. JG ¢b[
El Taurino. Some of the best tacos in town come from the truck that spends its weekends parked behind the downtown Mexican restaurant El Taurino. Inside the truck, a gleaming column of marinated pork al pastor rotates on a great big stick before a simulated shepherd’s fire, as bits of the outside layer of meat caramelize and drip juice. Somebody hacks off a few slivers, slivers you know are meant for your very taco, and rushes to anoint the pork with finely chopped onion, cilantro and a stupendous, dusky hot sauce that perfectly accents the sweetness of the meat. These tacos tend to get eaten before you reach your car. Truck operates on weekends behind 1104 S. Hoover St., dwntwn., (213) 738-9197. JG ¢
?LA99? Tiara. Its giant range hood tricked out to resemble the kind of glittery diadem that Godzilla might wear when he was exploring his feminine side, Tiara, Fred Eric’s new Fashion District restaurant-cum-organic-market, shoots the girly aesthetic up with steroids. Eric is the chef who practically invented the hypereclectic style of the modern Los Angeles restaurant, and the Asian-tinged, pan-Mediterranean menu is painted in 17 shades of farmers’-market salad. I suspect there is not a single peculiar diet or system of culinary belief the kitchen is not prepared to handle. 127 E. Ninth St., dwntwn., (213) 623-3663. Food served Mon.–Fri. 11:30 a.m.–3 p.m. Market open Mon.–Fri. 8 a.m.–5 p.m. Beer, wine, sake and champagne only. Street parking. All major credit cards. California Seasonal. JG $$Â?
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 24 hours, seven days. No alcohol. Takeout. Lot parking. AE, MC, V. Mexican. JG ¢b?
Silver Lake/Los Feliz/Echo Park
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. 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. Beer, wine. Takeout. Lot parking. AE, D, MC, V. $6–$18. 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 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. Mon.–Fri. 11:30 a.m.–11 p.m., Sat. noon–mid., Sun. noon–11 p.m. Beer, wine and sake. Lot parking. Entrées $8–$14. AE, MC, V. Thai. MH $ [
Vermont. Anchoring the commercial corridor of Vermont Avenue north of Sunset, Vermont is like a reliable friend. The owners often wander through the dining room, with its palmettos and pillars and gentle lighting, and they always like to chat. You may not be bowled over by anything you eat, but you’ll be back. 1714 N. Vermont Ave., Los Feliz, (323) 661-6163. Lunch Mon.–Fri. 11:30 a.m.–3 p.m. Dinner 5:30–10:30 p.m. (until 11:30 p.m. Fri.–Sat.). Full bar. Parking in rear. AE, MC, V. Entrées $13–$18. California. MH $
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, steak frites with vivid-yellow béarnaise sauce, and a delicious sole grenobloise. Drop in for a Green Bellini, a platter of fritto misto and a shot at the best desserts in Hollywood. 6801 Hollywood Blvd., Suite 411, Hollywood, (323) 491-1300. Mon.–Fri. 11:30 a.m.–10 p.m., Sat. noon–10 p.m., Sun. noon–9 p.m. Full bar. Takeout. Lot parking. AE, D, DC, MC, V. Entrées $16–$24. French/Italian. JG $$
?LA99? Los Balcones del Peru. A scant block below the glowing Sunset + Vine complex, so close to the ArcLight Theater that it shares its parking lot, Los Balcones del Peru lies at the precise border of redeveloped Hollywood and its shadow, a breath of authenticity a few steps south from the overamped velvet-rope district, and home to camarones a la piedra, a warm shrimp preparation from the tropical northern coast of Peru that is one of the most formidable ceviches in town. Los Balcones also may be the only Peruvian restaurant in town without tapes of Andean panpipe music, which is almost a miracle, at least if you ignore the occasional charanga version of “Feelings.” It is easy to spend hours here after a movie at the ArcLight, eating fried fish, drinking Peruvian beer from the Inca city of Cuzco. 1360 N. Vine St., Hollywood, (323) 871-9600. Sun.–Thurs. 11 a.m.–9 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 11 a.m.–10 p.m. Beer, wine. Validated parking at ArcLight Cinema. AE, MC, V. Dinner for two, food only, $18–$28. Peruvian. JG $$b
?LA99? Providence. Ever since Michael Cimarusti left the stoves at Water Grill, well-heeled Los Angeles fish lovers have been waiting expectantly for his new restaurant in the old Patina space, which was widely rumored to become the Los Angeles equivalent of fish palaces like Le Bernardin and Oceana in New York. At this glowing new restaurant, he managed to fulfill even those super-high expectations — this is among the best restaurants ever to hit Los Angeles. 5955 Melrose Ave., Hancock Park, (323) 460-4170. Mon.–Fri. 6–10 p.m., Sat. 5:30–10 p.m., Sun. 5:30–9 p.m., plus lunch Fri. noon–2:30 p.m. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, MC, V. Entrées $30–$40. Modern American Seafood. JG $$$b[Â?
Mid-Wilshire/Koreatown/Central Los Angeles
?LA99? Guelaguetza. Are you in the mood for fried grasshoppers with chile and lime? Even if you aren’t, at Guelaguetza, the best of the Oaxacan-style restaurants by far, you’ll find dishes you may have only read about in cookbooks or glossy magazines. At the original Koreatown location of Guelaguetza, not far from the biggest concentration of Oaxacan restaurants and bakeries this side of Oaxaca, you’ll find tlayudas the size of manhole covers, delicate beverages made from squash, and delicious, mole-drenched tamales. The black mole is rich with textured spice — it’s as simple yet as nuanced as a great Côte Rôtie. 3337½ W. Eighth St., L.A., (213) 427-0779. Open daily 8 a.m.–10 p.m. No alcohol. Street parking. AE, MC, V. Oaxacan. JG ¢b
Taylor’s Steak House. Taylor’s is a real urban steak house, a two-fisted meat-and-martini joint where an account executive can blow his Pritikin thing with massive hunks of well-aged sirloin, at about half what he’d pay in one of those Beverly Hills joints. The filet mignon here is soft, buttery, as rare as you order it, and crusted with char. But the glory of Taylor’s is the culotte steak, a softball-shaped prime thing cut from the top of the sirloin. If you order it rare, the interior is scarlet, dripping juice, marbled with fat, full of the tremendous mineral sourness of great meat. It’s the steak that time forgot. 3361 W. Eighth St., L.A., (213) 382-8449. Open daily for lunch 11:30 a.m.–4 p.m.; dinner 4–10 p.m. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, DC, MC, V. $19.75–$30.95. American. JG $
West Hollywood/La Cienega
?LA99? The Griddle. The Griddle is an instant Hollywood institution, an alternate universe of unshaven, bed-headed young actors in muscle shirts and those who would ogle them, of guys from the craft unions, gangs of pretty script readers, and middle-aged men preening in Robert Evans shades. Coffee comes to the table in squat plunger pots, and the enormous pancakes are available blanketed in cinnamon streusel, or spiked with Kahlua and Bailey’s, or smothered under an improbable mass of whipped cream and crumbled Oreos, and they are not the best pancakes in Los Angeles, but they’re good enough. 7916 Sunset Blvd., W. Hlywd., (323) 874-0377. Breakfast and lunch Mon.–Fri. 7 a.m.–4 p.m., Sat.–Sun. 8 a.m.–4 p.m. Beer. Lot parking in rear. AE, D, MC, V. American. JG $b
?LA99? Koi. Koi’s warren of intimate patios and forested corners is a hookup nirvana, a dining room whose seating chart seems ripped straight from the pages of Us Weekly. Its matrix of sushi, celebrity and sex bumped up the paradigm. It is widely believed, however, that the post-Matsuhisa-style cuisine at Koi is an afterthought, that the avocado-laden tuna tartare on crispy won tons, the tuna sashimi with jalapeño, and the albacore Italiano are secondary to the rush, the scene, even the steak. But somebody has been paying attention behind the sushi bar lately. And if you’re going to eat something like a baked-crab hand roll, you might as well have a good one. It’ll give you something to do while you eavesdrop on Lindsay Lohan or the Black Eyed Peas. 730 N. La Cienega Blvd., L.A., (310) 659-9449. Dinner Mon.–Wed. 6–11 p.m., Thurs. 6–11:30 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 6 p.m.–mid., Sun. 6–10 p.m. Full bar. Valet parking. All major credit cards. California Contemporary. JG $$$Â
?LA99? Norman’s. Note: the restaurant will be closing this Saturday. Norman Van Aken’s style of cooking, sometimes called Floribbean cuisine and developed at his Palm Beach restaurant, processes Caribbean recipes through the matrix of French technique, often inflecting a dish with an Asian flavor or two: the kind of French toast you’d hope to find in an $800-per-night Antigua resort, for example, piled with seared foie gras and gingered lime zest, or duck cracklings served with a loose polenta that can’t decide whether its flavors come from Valencia or the Yucatán. Sommelier Peter Birmingham, the public face of Norman’s, seems to have as much fun matching wines (and rums) with the restaurant’s crazy-quilt cuisine as his best customers do drinking them. 8570 Sunset Blvd., W. Hlywd., (310) 657-2400. Tues.–Thurs. 6–10 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 6–10:30 p.m. Lounge open Tues.–Sat. at 5:30 p.m. Full bar. Takeout. Valet parking. AE, MC, V. $27–$39. Caribbean. JG $$$Â
Westwood/West L.A./Century City
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. And although there seem to be no actual groats on the menu — which is kind of a relief — the steel-cut Irish oatmeal with bananas and heavy cream is fine. The best breakfasts on the Westside. 10516 W. Pico Blvd., W.L.A., (310) 204-0692. Breakfast and lunch daily 7 a.m.–3 p.m. Beer and wine. Street parking. MC, V. Entrées $9–$14. American. JG ¢
?LA99? Nook. Sometimes you get the feeling that the owners of Nook are running less an American bistro than a joke about an American bistro. As faithfully as they reproduce the fundamentals of the kinds of fancily unfancy restaurants that pepper every urban neighborhood from San Diego to Augusta, Maine, they are also poking fun at them with every dried-cranberry garnish and each day-boat scallop, each crusty roast chicken and dish of iconic macaroni and cheese. Almost every aspect of the restaurant is as ironically pitch-perfect as the Neil Diamond songs on a Silver Lake DJ’s iPod. 11628 Santa Monica Blvd., No. 9, W.L.A., (310) 207-5160. Lunch Mon.–Fri. 11:30 a.m.–3 p.m.; dinner Mon.–Sat. 5–10 p.m. Beer and wine. Lot parking. AE, MC, V. Dinner for two, food only, $30–$60.American Bistro. JG $$b[Â
Beverly Hills and vicinity
?LA99? The Lodge. A waitress will try to sell you a third or fourth martini. The $75 porterhouse-for-two starts to seem not only possible but desirable in the heat of The Lodge moment, and if you do the math, it is one of the least costly items on the menu. But, for example, while every steak house in town has the au courant wedge-of-iceberg salad, The Lodge ups the ante by pairing its wedge with another wedge. The potatoes are not just baked, but salt-baked, crunchy-skinned, accompanied by enough condiments to crank the vibe from Ornish all the way up to Atkins with just a few dips of the fork. 14 N. La Cienega Blvd., Beverly Hills, (310) 854-0024. Open nightly 5:30 p.m.–1 a.m. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, MC, V. California Steak House. JG $$
Mastro’s. One of a small chain of Scottsdale-based steak houses, Mastro’s has the look of desert resorts, supper clubs, casinos and other booze-filled refuges where the dreaded sun don’t shine. The excellent service staff is adept, adaptable and good-natured, even when their customers — Beverly Hills carnivores — are not. Meat dominates the menu; steak to be exact. Order the Kansas City bone-in, the porterhouse or the bone-in rib eye. Start with the horseradish-spiked caesar salad, or the traditional iceberg wedge with blue cheese. Sides — fried onions, creamed corns, sugar snap peas, potatoes gratin — are fresh, enormous, delicious: Split ’em. Finish with a paradigmatic Key lime pie. 246 N. Cañon Dr., Beverly Hills, (310) 888-8782. Open for dinner weekdays 5–11 p.m., weekends 5 p.m.–mid. Entrées $20–$47. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, D, DC, MC, V. American. MH $$$Â?
Mélisse. It’s so French, this fancy, formal restaurant owned and cheffed by Josiah Citrin in Santa Monica. The room is sedate and a tad fussy — très authentique, from the massive chandelier down to the little footstools designed to keep your Gucci bag off the ground. Citrin gives his classical French training, high-end purveyors and farmers-market produce a real workout. Bring a big appetite and a credit card and let this restaurant have its way with you: The great service, comfortable seats, course after course of carefully prepared fresh ingredients all add up, plate by plate, element by element, to a complete, pleasurable and singularly French experience. 1104 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica, (310) 395-0881. Dinner Tues.–Thurs. 6–9:30 p.m., Fri. 6–10 p.m., Sat. 5:45–10 p.m. Closed Sun.–Mon. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, D, DC, MC, V. Entrées $27–$38. French. MH $$$
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 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. 185 Culver Blvd., Playa del Rey, (310) 823-6222. Open daily for lunch and dinner. Full bar. Takeout. AE, D, V. Lunch for two, food only, $9-$14. American. JG ¢Âb
Culver City/Venice and vicinity
?LA99? Beacon: An Asian Cafe. Beacon marks the triumphant return to form of Kazuto Matsusaka, who was chef for almost a decade at Wolfgang Puck’s Chinois in the ’80s. His current versions of miso-marinated cod, vegetable nabemono and grilled shisito peppers are all fine. Grilled-chicken skewers are powerfully flavored with the herb shiso and the tiny Japanese plum called ume. You’d probably never find anything like Matsusaka’s salad of perfectly ripe avocado dressed with toasted sesame seeds and minced scallions in Tokyo, but the salad follows classical principles, and it is luscious. 3280 Helms Ave., Culver City, (310) 838-7500. Lunch Mon.–Sat. 11:30 a.m.–2 p.m.; dinner Tues.–Wed. & 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[
?LA99? Beechwood. Only in the 21st century could you find a restaurant quite so midcentury modern, with sleek love-seat sofas and machine-polished wood and a quantity of prefabricated design that probably would have amused Ray and Charles Eames back in the days when their aesthetic was found more in your kindergarten classroom than in fashionable cafés. Chefs Brooke Williamson and Nick Roberts, a kitchen team who have been the Next Big Thing in Los Angeles since their late pubescence, seem to have settled into variations on the theme of bar snacks here, the farmers-market-inflected rib-eye burgers, sticky pork ribs and burrata-tomato salads you may remember from their last venture, Amuse, plus a slightly more formal New American menu for the serene back dining room. 822 Washington Blvd., Venice, (310) 448-8884. Dinner menu Tues.–Sat. 6–11 p.m.; bar menu served late into the evening and also Sun.–Mon. Full bar. Valet parking. New American. JG $$
?LA99? Ford’s Filling Station. Ford’s, whose chef-owner is Benjamin Ford, formerly of the restaurant Chadwick, is a bar that happens to have ambitious, organic food as opposed to a restaurant that happens to have a bar attached, a gastropub where you can enjoy pretty decent cooking while being bounced around like a pachinko ball. If you manage to power your way to a barstool or to an actual table, you will find most of the usual Los Angeles gastropub classics. There is a hamburger tricked out with blue cheese and an onion compote, the requisite butter-lettuce salad with bacon, and a decent selection of cheeses and meats, some of them procured from Armandino Batali in Seattle, to help down the wine. And there’s butterscotch pudding for dessert. 9531 Culver Blvd., Culver City, (310) 202-1470. Mon.–Fri. 11 a.m.–11 p.m., Sat. 5–11 p.m. Full bar. Parking at city lot around the corner. AE, MC, V. California Contemporary. JG $$
San Fernando Valley
?LA99? Krua Thai. Like any respectable Thai joint in this part of Los Angeles, Krua Thai features a sign outside boasting of serving 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 keeps some of us going some days, when the anguish of the Dodgers’ annual 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. In its way, Krua Thai could be the Thai equivalent of a delicatessen like Canter’s: cheerful, fast, popular across ethnic lines, and open very, very late. 13130 Sherman Way, N. Hlywd., (818) 759-7998. Open daily 11 a.m.–3:30 a.m. No alcohol. Takeout. Lot parking. All major credit cards accepted. Lunch or dinner for two, food only, $12–$24. Also at 935 S. Glendora Ave., West Covina, (626) 480-0116. Thai. JG $b[?
Minibar. A small-plates restaurant situated in a patch of Universal City that doesn’t like to admit it’s part of the San Fernando Valley, Minibar is a tall lounge with sofas, throbbing post-rock and hidden antechambers. The snack-food-intensive menu — put together by Sharon Hage, who is often called Dallas’ answer to Alice Waters, and executed by Noah Rosen — is as cross-cultural as they come. And there’s a lot of interesting wine priced around $20 a bottle — which is good, because it takes a lot of experimentation to figure out the proper thing to drink with plantain latkes smothered in Salvadoran crema. Go with the Albarino, I say. Merlot and plantains are just not a match. 3413 Cahuenga Blvd., Universal City; (323) 882-6965. Sun.–Thurs. 5:30–11:30 p.m.; Fri.–Sat. 5:30 p.m.–1 a.m. Full bar. Takeout available until 9 p.m. (8 p.m. Fri.–Sat.). Valet parking. AE, D, DC, MC, V. $35–$45 per person. Global tapas. JG $$?
Señor Fred’s. The food at this stateside Mexican restaurant with American sensibilities is pretty good, and sometimes even surprises with an occasional spike in quality and deftness. Taquitos have a delicate chewiness and related textural pleasures. An ensalada pico de gallo — big chunks of papaya, orange, cucumber, jicama and mango tossed in a lime-and-chile dressing — is especially spirited and quenching. 13730 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks, (818) 789-3200. Lunch and dinner Sun.–Thurs. 11:30 a.m.–mid., Fri.-Sat. 11:30 a.m.–2 a.m. Full bar. Valet parking. Entrées $8.50–$18.50. AE, D, MC, V. Mexican. MH$$b[Â?
Tama Sushi. Studio City’s Tama Sushi is owned and run by veteran sushi master Michite Katsu and his wife, Tama. Katsu’s first restaurant, which opened on Hillhurst in the ’80s, was seminal for its beauty and art, both on and off the plate; subsequent establishments upheld his aesthetic standards. Now, there’s only Tama Sushi, with Katsu himself expertly carving up fish at the bar. Start with a plate of assorted sashimi, and you’ll find he cuts fish as a gem cutter works with rubies, accentuating inherent virtues. 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 daily for lunch 11:30 a.m.–2:30 p.m.; dinner nightly 5–9:30 p.m. Beer, wine, sake. Valet parking. AE, D, DC, MC, V. Sushi and sashimi, $1.50–$15. Japanese. MH $
?LA99? Wat Thai. At the northern end of drab, endless Coldwater Canyon Boulevard lies this massive, gold-encrusted Thai Buddhist temple, grounds crowded with parishioners, saffron-robed monks, and small children who run about as if the temple were a private playground. On weekend afternoons and during festivals, the air around the temple almost throbs with the smells of Thai cooking; the inexpensive Thai feast is open to everyone who cares to come. 8225 Coldwater Canyon Blvd., N. Hlywd., (818) 785-9552 or www.watthaiusa.org/engmenu.html. Open weekends only, 10 a.m.–2 p.m. No alcohol. Parking lot. Cash only. Thai. JG $$b
South Bay/LAX/South Los Angeles
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. 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. & Sat.). Beer and wine. Lot parking. AE, DC, MC, V. Entrées $5–$17. Peruvian. JG ¢b
Flossie’s. Flossie’s, located on the eastern edge of Torrance, a couple of blocks from El Camino College and a two-minute drive from the sushi bars and poi slingers of Gardena, is the closest you can get in Los Angeles to Mississippi boarding-house cuisine. What Flossie’s serves is mostly daily specials, except for the perfect Southern fried chicken, which is always on hand. Come hungry. 3566 Redondo Beach Blvd., Torrance, (310) 352-4037. Lunch and dinner Tues.–Thurs. 11 a.m.–8 p.m., Fri. 11 a.m.–9 p.m., Sat. noon–9 p.m., Sun. noon–7 p.m. No alcohol. Takeout. Lot parking. Cash only. Dinner for two $12–$18. Southern. JG ¢
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 and the oyster po’ boys are fine. 2920 W. Jefferson Blvd., L.A., (323) 735-9023. Fri.–Sat. 11:30 a.m.–11 p.m., Sun.–Thurs. 11:30 a.m.–10 p.m. Full bar. Takeout. Parking lot. AE, MC, V. JG $Âb
Kotohira. Kotohira is one of the few places in the United States that still makes udon by hand: thick, white and long, diminishing to squiggles at the ends, clean in flavor, with the bouncy resiliency of elastic ropes. 1747 W. Redondo Beach Blvd., Gardena, (310) 323-3966. Lunch and dinner Wed.–Mon. 11:30 a.m.–11 p.m. Beer and sake. Takeout. Lot parking. Dinner for two, food only, $15–$19. MC, V. Japanese. JG ¢[
East Los Angeles
Ciro’s. Stylistically, flautas can range from the greasy taquitos your college dorm used to serve, to the giant, tasteless roll-ups served by certain upscale Mexican chains. Located just down the street from El Tepeyac, beloved by local families and cops, Ciro’s is known across all East L.A. for its flautas, tiny things that come six to an order, tightly rolled and very crisp, sauced with thick, chunky, fresh guacamole and a dollop of tart Mexican cream. 705 N. Evergreen St., E.L.A., (323) 267-8637. Open Tues.–Thurs. 7 a.m.–8 p.m., Fri.–Sun. 7 a.m.–9 p.m. Beer only. Street parking. Cash only. 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. 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., L.A., (323) 980-8669. Lunch and dinner Wed.–Mon. 11 a.m.–9 p.m. No alcohol. Lot parking. Dinner for two, food only, $20–$25. 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. 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 Dr., E.L.A., (323) 268-2365. Open Mon.–Sat. 7 a.m.–6 p.m., Sun. 7 a.m.–3 p.m. AE, MC, V. Mexican. JG ¢b[
La Cabañita. The menu here is loaded with things such as entomatadas and mole, which turn out to be basically chicken enchiladas and a slightly spicy beef soup, respectively, but which sound ineffably chefly and exotic. 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. Full bar. Street parking. Dinner for two, food only, $20–$25. AE, D, MC, V. 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. 211 E. Broadway, Glendale, (818) 240-7411. Tues.–Fri. 11:30 a.m.–10 p.m., Sat. noon–10 p.m., Sun. noon–9 p.m. Beer and wine. Validated parking. AE, MC, V. Entrées $8–$14. Persian/Armenian. MH ¢b[
Pasadena and vicinity
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. 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., S. Pasadena, (626) 441-2443. Beer and wine. Street parking. AE, D, MC, V. $14–$27. Modern American. JG $$b[
Indo Kitchen. This small, crowded restaurant on an Alhambra side street serves a sharp, spicy brand of Padang-style cooking — meltingly tender slabs of beef rendang bathed in a dense sauce of coconut milk and spices, boiled eggs fried in a fire-breathing coating of belado, whole catfish fried to the crispness of potato chips. When you’re in the mood for a proper nasi Padang, there is nothing like it in Los Angeles. 5 N. Fourth St., Alhambra, (626) 282-1676. Open Tues.–Sun. 11 a.m.–9 p.m. D, MC, V. No alcohol. Lot parking. Dinner for two, food only, $11–$20. JG¢b
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Madre’s. Jennifer Lopez’s restaurant is old-fashioned and charming, with lots of ruffled shabby-chic linen, damask and crystal chandeliers. The place will make you sentimental for that rose-loving, big-hearted grandmother you never had — not to mention the heirlooms you never will inherit! The service is terrific, the food similar to what you’d find at a fancy Cuban wedding: fufu, yuca, roasted pork, oxtails, mojo-drenched chicken and shrimp — all in great heaping portions. 897 Granite Dr., Pasadena, (626) 744-0900. Tues.–Sun. 5–10 p.m. (Fri.–Sat. until 10:30 p.m.) Full bar. Bar open 5–11 p.m. Valet parking. Dress code. Major credit cards. Entrées $10–$30. Cuban. MH $$Â
Monterey Park/San Gabriel and vicinity
?LA99? Babita. Babita may be the platonic ideal of a Southern California Mexican restaurant, a comfortable place that just happens to have great food, a rough-edged Eastside joint whose service is burnished to a white-tablecloth sheen. Chef Roberto Berrelleza is a modern master of Mexican cuisine; and his fish-stuffed yellow chiles, his seared fish with huitlacoche vinaigrette and his oozy, porky chiles en nogada are worth the drive across town. 1823 S. San Gabriel Blvd., San Gabriel, (626) 288-7265. Lunch Tues.–Fri. 11:30 a.m.–2:30 p.m.; dinner Sun. & Tues.–Thurs. 5:30–9 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 5:30–10 p.m. Beer and wine. Takeout. Street parking. AE, D, DC, MC, V. Mexican. JG $b
LA99 Golden Triangle. Possibly the most compelling culinary reason to visit Whittier, the suburb that gave us Richard Nixon, MFK Fisher and conceptual artist Mark Kostabi, Golden Triangle may be the best Burmese restaurant in California. There’s the incredible ginger salad, biting shreds of the spice tossed with coconut, fried garlic, fried yellow peas, peanuts and sesame seeds. If the world ever gave it a chance, ginger salad might have the universal appeal of a Big Mac. 7011 S. Greenleaf Ave., Whittier, (562) 945-6778. Mon.–Sat. 11 a.m.–10 p.m., Sun. 11 a.m.–9 p.m. Beer and wine. Takeout. AE, D, MC, V. Thai-Burmese. JG $