Downtown Los Angeles/Highland Park
LA99 Ciudad Cuchifritos at happy hour. Fatally strong mojitos. Peruvian-style ceviches and Bolivian-style tamales, Caribbean paella and a classic pescado Veracruzana. Ciudad, the downtown outpost of Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger, may be all things to all people, but especially to all people whose pleasures include bending an elbow every now and then. 445 S. Figueroa St., dwntwn., (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. JG $$Â
La Luz del Dia. The last place you’d expect to find a real Mexican joint is among the maraca vendors and befuddled German tourists of Olvera Street, but there it is (and has been for decades), La Luz del Dia, serving cactus salad to the hordes. La Luz is a simple place, and most of what it serves are basic permutations of the two or three things it does best. So whatever you think you ordered — soft tacos, tostadas, whatever — you’ll probably get at least one helping of carnitas or picadillo, the chunky Mexican beef stew that, with its carrots and potatoes, looks like a stew somebody’s mother might have made . . . provided that somebody’s mother has an industrial-size garlic press and a Thai tolerance for chile heat. 1 W. Olvera St., dwntwn., (213) 628-7495. Mon. 10 a.m.–2:30 p.m., Tues.–Thurs. 11 a.m.–9 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 11 a.m.–10 p.m., Sun. 8:30 a.m.–10 p.m. Beer only. Lot parking. Cash only. $10–$15. Mexican. JG ¢
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. 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 that in a better world MOCA would be providing to Los Angeles artists, 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[
Silver Lake/Los Feliz/Echo Park
Blair’s Blair’s is an adult restaurant for people who don’t really consider themselves to be grown-ups even into their late 40s, a civilized refuge of caesar salads and crab cakes and shrimp cocktails that are served with a side of deviled eggs, a sort of roadhouse where the pepper steak comes with oodles of farmers-market vegetables, the salmon comes with lentils, and the roster of artisanal beers is nearly as long as the wine list. I would be surprised if anybody’s parents ate this well at Rotary Club meetings. 2903 Rowena Ave., Silver Lake, (323) 660-1882. Sun.–Thurs. 5–10 p.m., Fri. 6–11 p.m., Sat. 5–11 p.m. Full bar. Takeout. Street parking. AE, D, MC, V. $16–$32. New American. JG $$bÂ?
Edendale Grill. Housed in an old firehouse and named for Los Angeles’ first movie studio, Silver Lake’s Edendale Grill is a bit of set-dressed history. Craftsman-era lighting fixtures with mica shades cast a warm, golden glow in the dining room. The Mixville bar has an original hammered-tin ceiling and firehouse doors. The kitchen serves up its own brand of culinary nostalgia for midcentury Midwestern American cooking: oysters Rockefeller, caesar salads made tableside, Green Goddess salad dressing, sand dabs, steaks and chops, even a beet-red velvet cake from the Waldorf. 2838 Rowena Ave., Silver Lake, (323) 666-2000. Dinner Sun.–Thurs. 5:30–10 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 5:30–11:30 p.m.; Sunday brunch 10 a.m.–3 p.m. Full bar. Complimentary valet. Entrées $13.75–$27. AE, DC, MC, V. American. MH $$b?
Gingergrass. Gingergrass, a sleek Vietnamese bistro in Silver Lake, is probably the polar opposite of a place like Golden Deli, citified where the San Gabriel noodle shop is rustic, timid where the food at the other roars with flavor. But the chef, Mako Antonishek, tends to cook in a way not unfriendly to wine (the restaurant has a symbiotic relationship with Silver Lake Wine Merchants across the street), and her multicourse Mako Monday blowout dinners are legendary in the neighborhood. 2396 Glendale Blvd., Silver Lake, (323) 644-1600. Sun.–Thurs. 11:30 a.m.–3 p.m. & 5–10 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 11:30 a.m.–3 p.m. & 5–10:30 p.m. Beer, wine. Takeout. Lot parking. AE, D, MC, V. $6–$18. Vietnamese. JG $b[
Brasserie Vert. Wolfgang Puck’s restaurant in the Hollywood & Highland complex may not have much in common with a brasserie, is as restrained-looking as a corporate canteen, and isn’t even green. But Vert is a useful restaurant, a Hollywood bastion of mussels and fries, the Provençal pizza called pissaladiere, steak frites with vivid-yellow béarnaise sauce, and a delicious sole grenobloise with tiny croutons and bits of lemon pulp. Drop in for a Green Bellini, a platter of fritto misto and a shot at the best desserts in Hollywood — the apple tart is formidable. 6801 Hollywood Blvd., Suite 411, Hlywd., (323) 491-1300. Mon.–Fri. 11:30 a.m.–10 p.m., Sat. noon–10 p.m., Sun. noon–9 p.m. Full bar. Takeout. Lot parking. AE, D, DC, MC, V. Entrées $16–$24. French/Italian. JG $$
Cha Cha Cha It is hard to imagine a better brunch than Sunday mornings at the original Cha Cha Cha: strong coffee, suave tropical music and the pan-Caribbean cooking of Toribio Prado, who can rightly claim to be the first Nuevo Latino Caribbean–food chef in Los Angeles. The noise and the sceniness can be a little much at dinner (although the corn chowder is formidable), but on Sunday morning, when locals vastly outnumber screaming Corona bibbers, the buzz is exactly right. And the chilaquiles are the best in town. 656 N. Virgil Ave., L.A., (323) 664-7723. Mon.–Thurs. 9 a.m.–10 p.m., Fri. 9 a.m.-11 p.m., Sat. 8 a.m.-11 p.m., Sun. 8 a.m.–11 p.m. Beer and wine. Takeout. Lot parking. AE, D, MC, V. Entrées $20–$30. Caribbean. JG $$b?
El Coyote. Many restaurants resemble this place — from the cheap margaritas, to the “Mexican pizza” available in the ever-crowded bar, to the walls decorated with broken mirrors, to the wire-mesh-enclosed patio with its plastic smog-dusted foliage, to the guacamole dinners, to the ersatz tostadas — but I could pick an El Coyote combination plate blindfolded out of 100 others, and most of the regulars could, too. 7312 Beverly Blvd., L.A., (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. Dinner for two, food only, $18–$25. MC, V. Mexican. JG $bÂ
Mid-Wilshire/Koreatown/Central Los Angeles
El Cholo. Even in the ’20s, Angelenos vaguely remembered that the area used to belong to Mexico, and there have always been Mexican restaurants here that catered to American taste. The emblematic cuisine of these restaurants is embodied in the Number Two Dinner, the eternal combination platter of chile relleno, enchilada, rice and beans bound together with cinctures of orange cheese. And 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., L.A., (323) 734-2773. Mon.–Thurs. 11 a.m.–10 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 11 a.m.–11 p.m., Sun. 11 a.m.–9 p.m. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, D, MC, V. Entrées $6.95–$13.50. Mexican. JG $Â
LA99 Chosun Galbi For decades, Woo Lae Oak on Western was the favorite Korean restaurant of people who didn’t like Korean food all that much, a fancy place where they could convince themselves that galbi wasn’t too different from an ordinary steak dinner. Now that the Koreatown Woo Lae Oak is on hiatus, the conservative Koreatown choice is probably Chosun Galbi, a pleasant restaurant with the patio-side glamour of a Beverly Hills garden party: granite tables, gorgeous waitresses and expensive, well-marbled meat that glows as pinkly as a Tintoretto cherub. 3330 W. Olympic Blvd., L.A., (323) 734-3330. Open daily 11 a.m.–11 p.m. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, D, MC, V. Korean barbecue. JG $Â?
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 itself, you’ll find tortilla-like tlayudas the size of manhole covers, delicate beverages made from squash, and delicious, mole-drenched tamales. 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
West Hollywood/La Cienega
Cheebo. Why aren’t more restaurants like Cheebo — a smart, fun, clattery café where the food is mostly organic, very fresh, modestly priced and prepared with an inarguable flair for flavor? Try the halibut on smoky white beans, the slow-cooked pork, the chewy, thin-crusted pizza topped with house-made sausage and fennel. Sandwiches are assembled with — or, for you carb-a-phobics, without — house-made bread. Salads are diverse and luscious. 7533 W. Sunset Blvd., L.A., (323) 850-7070. Open daily for lunch and dinner, 8 a.m.–mid. Beer and wine. Takeout. Valet parking. AE, MC, V. Entreés $12–$18. Organic Italian. MH $$[
LA99 Grace If Los Angeles restaurants are like rock bands, Neal Fraser is the glamorous indie-rock hero, a chef with a wobbly, idiosyncratic style that couldn’t be further from the finish-fetish crowd pleasers, a detailed, market-oriented sort of New American cuisine, heavy on French technique and inspired by the strong flavors and intricate presentations of New York chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten. 7360 Beverly Blvd., L.A., (323) 934-4400. Tues.–Thurs. 6–10:30 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 6–11 p.m., Sun. 6–10 p.m. Full bar. Valet parking; difficult street parking. AE, MC, V. American. JG $$$
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. 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
Westwood/West L.A./Century City
Canary. Canary is an Iranian sandwich shop on Westwood’s Iranian strip, a house of kebabs in the most kebab-intensive neighborhood in California. Also notable are Iranian-style sandwiches made with a split-and-grilled Hebrew National frank, a hollowed-out length of toasted French bread and condiments similar to those you might expect to find on a Chicago-style hot dog, only inflected with more garlic. 1942 Westwood Blvd., Westwood, (310) 470-1312. Open daily 11 a.m.–mid. No alcohol. Takeout. Parking lot. MC, V. Lunch for two, food only, $12–$14. Iranian. JG ¢b?
LA99 Clementine At lunchtime, there may be no happier place in Los Angeles than Annie Miler’s cheerful takeout café across from Century City, 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. 1751 Ensley Ave., L.A., (310) 552-1080 or www.clementineonline.com. 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. American. 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. 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. Open daily for breakfast and lunch, 7 a.m.–3 p.m. Beer and wine. Street parking. MC, V. Entrées $9–$14. American. JG ¢
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, Scottsdale-based chain of steakhouses, the Beverly Hills Mastro’s has the look — volcanic rock work, blackout curtains, black-leather banquettes — of desert resorts, supper clubs, casinos and other booze-filled refuges where the dreaded sun don’t shine. 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 (the latter, ordered charred rare, is a glorious, rich, big, big-flavored piece of meat with a crusty char oozing juice). 246 N. Cañon Dr., Beverly Hills, (310) 888-8782. Dinner Mon.–Fri. 5–11 p.m., Sat.–Sun. 5 p.m.–mid. Entrées $20–$47. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, D, DC, MC, V. American. MH $$$Â?
Chez Mimi. Chez Mimi is surely the loveliest patio dining spot around, where the vine-entwined gateway alone makes it hard to remember you’re in California and not some gentrified country stable yard in southern France. Inside, in charming low-ceilinged rooms that, if we didn’t know better, we might assume were built for our far shorter 18th-century ancestors, fires snap on cold nights and Mimi herself checks in on her customers. Try the excellent bouillabaisse and the rich, soothing cassoulet. 246 26th St., Santa Monica, (310) 393-0558. Lunch Tues.–Fri. 11:30 a.m.–3 p.m., Sat. 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.; dinner Sun.-Thurs. 5:30–9:30 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 5:30–10 p.m. Full bar. Takeout. Valet parking. AE, D, DC, MC, V. $9–$29. French. MH $$
Cinch. Like so many of the restaurants designed by Dodd Mitchell, Cinch looks like the archvillain’s lair from a Sean Connery–era James Bond movie, sleek luxury fitted into a nuclear-hardened concrete bunker: dark woods, flickering candlelight, booming music and burnished chinoiserie seemingly concealing a darker, edgier function. The proto-Japanese cooking may be a perfect fit for the vaguely sinister architecture: things like fried oysters wrapped in shiso leaves; raw salmon subsumed into spring rolls; raw Kobe beef flavored with rosemary, shiso and olives — everything fashionable enough to function as a lifestyle signifier as well as an appetizer or entrée. 1519 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica, (310) 395-4139. Dinner Sun.–Thurs. 6–10 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 6–11 p.m. (bar food available one hour before and one hour after dinner). Full bar. Valet parking. All major credit cards. Entrées $12.50–$28.50. French-Japanese. JG $$Â?
The Hump. This little crow’s-nest sushi bar, named for a difficult Himalayan airway, sits atop Typhoon at the Santa Monica airport. Eat kampachi sashimi off Mineo Mizuno’s ceramics and watch the planes pop on and off the runway. Much of the fish comes directly from the famous Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo, and the chefs can go as simple or sophisticated as you like. Try the chopped Tataki-style sashimi. 3221 Donald Douglas Loop South, Third Floor, Santa Monica, (310) 313-0977. Lunch Mon.–Fri. noon–2 p.m.; dinner nightly 6–10:30 p.m. Full bar. Lot parking. AE, DC, MC, V. Entrées $35–$150. Japanese. MH $$$
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. 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, that you might wonder why nobody thought of the combination until now. 3280 Helms Ave., L.A., (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[
Hal’s Bar & Grill. Since the primordial days of the Los Angeles art scene, there has always been an artists’ hangout in Venice, a place where veterans of exotic Kassel and Frankfurt could indulge newfound fondnesses for rare wines and old Calvados, a place where art stars had the clout of the kind that springs out of Hollywood. For a lot of that time, that place has been Hal’s, a bastion of decent cheeseburgers and blue-chip paintings, caesar salads and canteloupe martinis, bread pudding and pretty women at the bar. Hal’s may have been more comfortable before they replaced the loungelike sofas in the front with a zillion bar tables, but it’s still a good place to listen to live jazz on Fridays and Sundays, hang out with a diverse crowd, and sip a mean Bloody Mary or three. 1349 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Venice, (310) 396-3105. Lunch and dinner Mon. & Fri. 11 a.m.–11 p.m., Tues.–Wed. & Thurs. 11 a.m.–10:30 p.m., Sat. 10 a.m.–11 p.m., Sun. 10 a.m.–10:30 p.m. Full bar open daily until 2 a.m. Takeout. Valet parking. AE, D, MC, V. American. JG $$bÂ?
San Fernando Valley
LA99 Krua Thai Like any respectable Thai joint in this part of Los Angeles, Krua Thai features a sign outside boasting of serving the Best Noodles in Town, but unlike the rest of them, Krua Thai has a pretty fair title to the claim. In a city where great Thai noodle shops are all that keeps some of us going some days, when the anguish of the Dodgers’ annual collapse can be eased, at least a little, by the knowledge of a great bowl of boat noodles, Krua Thai’s pad Thai and pad kee mao and rad na and pad see ew may be the very best of all. In its way, Krua Thai could be the Thai equivalent of a delicatessen like Canter’s: cheerful, fast, popular across ethnic lines, and open very, very late. 13130 Sherman Way, N. Hlywd., (818) 759-7998. Open daily 11 a.m.–3:30 a.m. No alcohol. Takeout. Lot parking. All major credit cards accepted. Lunch or dinner for two, food only, $12–$24. Also at 935 S. Glendora Ave., West Covina, (626) 480-0116. Thai. JG $b[?
Minibar. A small-plates restaurant situated in a patch of Universal City that doesn’t like to admit it’s part of the San Fernando Valley, Minibar is a tall lounge with sofas, throbbing post-rock and hidden antechambers. Op-art dots on the walls, and Keane paintings of bug-eyed waifs big as the Peter Paul Rubens allegories in the Louvre — it’s like being in the inside of Tara Reid’s head. The snack-food-intensive menu is as cross-cultural as they come. And there’s a lot of interesting wine priced around $20 a bottle — which is good, because it takes a lot of experimentation to figure out the proper thing to drink with plantain latkes smothered in Salvadoran crema. Go with the Albarino, I say. Merlot and plantains are just not a match. 3413 Cahuenga Blvd., Universal City; (323) 882-6965. Sun.–Thurs. 5:30–11:30 p.m.; Fri.–Sat. 5:30 p.m.–1 a.m. Full bar. Takeout available until 9 p.m. (8 p.m. Fri.–Sat.). Valet parking. AE, D, DC, MC, V. $35–$45 per person. Global tapas. JG $$?
Tama Sushi. Formerly known as Katsu (until a fire closed it for a year), 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 (Katsu on Third, Café Katsu) upheld his aesthetic standards. Now, there’s only Tama Sushi, a spare, understated yet charming piece of architecture, with Katsu himself expertly carving up fish at the bar — it’s both educational and joyous to watch him at work. 11920 Ventura Blvd., Studio City, (818) 760-4585. 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. Sushi and sashimi, $1.50–$15. Japanese. MH $
Chip’s. Is the coffee-shop cooking at Chip’s as artfully updated as the menu at nearby Pann’s? Not quite. Do the eggs Benedict merit a long drive? Perhaps not. Is the full-on late-’50s exterior as museum-worthy as the Wich Stand, where a teenage Brian Wilson used to go for hamburgers? Not really, even if that old drive-in is a health-food joint now. But real, over-the-top Googie-style restaurants are getting to be as rare as condors here in their birthplace, and you could do worse than a Chip’s meal of patty melts and strawberry shakes. 11908 S. Hawthorne Blvd., Hawthorne, (310) 679-2947. Open daily 6 a.m.–8 p.m. Beer and wine. Takeout. Lot parking. AE, MC, V. American. JG $b
Dinah’s Restaurant. The oven-baked German pancake at this Westchester-proximate coffee shop feeds three: It’s brown around the edges, crisp and spongy like a giant Yorkshire pudding, thickening into a dense, moist, springy crepe as you descend into the pancake’s interior. Less voracious appetites may wish to try the extra-cinnamony apple pancakes or the potato pancakes, sour, lacy-edged crepes that happen to have a little grated potato stirred into them. 6521 Sepulveda Blvd., L.A., (310) 645-0456. Open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner, 6 a.m.–10 p.m. Beer and wine. Takeout. Lot parking. Breakfast for two, food only, $6–$14. AE, DC, MC, V. American. JG $b
South Los Angeles
Tasty Q. Around Thanksgiving time, this barbecue emporium may be best known as the home of the deep-fried turkey, a Louisiana delicacy that you can order here with a couple days’ notice even when it doesn’t happen to be November. Believe us: Turkey is not something you want to deep-fry at home. The rest of the year, Tasty Q functions as a genuine drive-thru barbecue stand — but trust us on this one too — Armor All is of absolutely no use against the sauce. 2959 Crenshaw Blvd., L.A., (323) 735-8325. Open daily 10:30 a.m.– 10 p.m. No alcohol. Lot parking. AE, MC, V. $9.25-$15.50. Barbecue. JG ¢b
East Los Angeles
Alameda Swap Meet. If you duck into the subway on a Saturday afternoon, a few minutes later you can alight from the Blue Line at the Alameda Swap Meet, an immense converted factory complex south of downtown, stuffed with hundreds of stalls selling everything from sea-turtle extract to straw ranchero hats, fluffy white first-communion dresses to the latest Versace bootlegs. In the courtyard is a bewildering succession of food stalls perfuming the air with grilled meat, sputtering oil and a certain high note of stickiness. Flank steak sizzles on steel-drum grills; meat is picked from grinning roast cow’s heads and folded into tacos. One popular dish involves chile, lime, mayonnaise, kernels of fresh corn and a generous squirt of Liquid Parkay, all mixed up in a cardboard bowl. There are more than 7 million native Spanish speakers in metropolitan Los Angeles, and sometimes it seems as if they are all here at once. 4501 S. Alameda St., L.A., (323) 233-2764. Mon. & Wed.–Fri. 10 a.m.–7 p.m., Sat.–Sun. 9 a.m.–7 p.m. No alcohol. Takeout. Lunch for two, food only, $3–$10. Cash only. JG ¢?b
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. Tues.–Thurs. 7 a.m.–8 p.m., Fri.–Sun. 7 a.m.–9 p.m. Beer only. Street parking. D, MC, V. Mexican. JG ¢b
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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. 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 — try the shishlique, or lamb chops. Also recommended: the lemony hummus and a smoky eggplant dip (baba ganoush) scooped up with supple, paper-thin lavash. 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. 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 Ave., South Pasadena, (626) 441-2443. Lunch Tues.–Fri. 11:30 a.m.–2:30 p.m.; brunch Sat.–Sun. 10 a.m.–2:30 p.m.; dinner Tues.–Sun. 5:30–9:30 p.m. Beer and wine. Street parking. AE, D, MC, V. $14–$27. Modern American. JG $$b[