Downtown Los Angeles?Highland Park
LA99 Haru Ulala Los Angeles is in the middle of an izakaya renaissance, an explosion of intimate, beer-soaked taverns flipping out beakers of sake, small plates of tofu and braised seaweed, and small, oily grilled fish of every description. Haru Ulala, a neighborhood izakaya affiliated with the nearby Go-55 sushi bar, may have neither the encyclopedic sake list nor the fancy seafood selection of some other restaurants, but the steamed cow tongue, yellowtail with daikon radish, and simmered Kurobuta pork belly are delicious, the green-tea noodles are soothing, and the restaurant is open very late on weekends. If you grew up in Japan, the crayon-scrawled menu may well remind you of home. 368 E. Second St., dwntwn., (213) 620-0977. Mon.–Thurs. 6 p.m.–mid., Fri.–Sat. 6 p.m.–2 a.m. Street parking. AE, MC, V. Japanese. JG $$
Hong Kong Low Deli Open in time for early breakfast, Chinatown’s Hong Kong Low Deli serves what dim sum used to be back when everybody called them “teacakes,” i.e., dumplings without the parboiled geoduck and jellyfish salad. Baked bao, browned and hot and brushed with sticky syrup, are filled with barbecued pork in a sweet, garlicky sauce. Turnoverlike pies are made of flaky pastry, egg-washed to a deep, burnished gold, stuffed with chicken stew, barbecued pork or a truly fine pungent mince of curried beef. 408 Bamboo Lane, Chinatown, (213) 680-9827. Open daily for lunch and dinner, 9 a.m.–5:30 p.m. No alcohol. Takeout only. Cash only. Chinese. JG ¢
LA99 Kagaya Shabu shabu is pretty basic: a slice of prime meat swished through bubbling broth for a second or two, just until the pink becomes frosted with white. If you’ve done it right — and if the quality of the ingredients is as high as it is at Little Tokyo’s superb (and expensive) Kagaya — the texture is extraordinary, almost liquid, and the concentrated, sourish flavor of really good beef becomes vivid. 418 E. Second St., dwntwn., (213) 617-1016. Tues.–Sat. 6–10:30 p.m., Sun. 6–10 p.m. Wine, beer, sake. Lot parking. DC, MC, V. Japanese. JG $$
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. 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[
India Sweets & Spices The basic unit of consumption at IS&S is probably the $3.99 dinner special, a segmented foam tray laden with basmati rice, dahl, tart raita, pickles and a vegetable dish of some kind, ladled out cafeteria style from tubs in a long steam table and crowned with a whole-wheat chapati that hangs limply as yesterday’s tortilla. For an extra buck, you get a leaden, potato-stuffed samosa and a crunchy papadum; for an extra two, an Indian dessert and a mango lassi. The dinners are cheap, filling and tasty. But while the steam-table food (unless you catch it just right) is basically steam-table food, not especially different from what you’d find on any local Indian buffet, the made-to-order dishes are delicious: freshly fried bhaturas, balloon-shaped breads, served with curried chickpeas; the thin pancakes called parathas, stuffed with highly spiced cauliflower or homemade cheese; the South Indian lentil doughnuts called vada, served with a thin curried vegetable broth. 3126 Los Feliz Blvd., L.A., (323) 345-0360. Open daily for lunch and dinner, 9:30 a.m.–9:30 p.m. No alcohol. Lot parking. Cash only. Food for two, $8–$12. Also at 1810 Parthenia, Northridge, (818) 407-1498; 9409 Venice Blvd., Culver City, (310) 837-5286; 2201 Sherman Way, Canoga Park, (818) 887-0868. Indian. JG ¢b[
LA99 Chameau Chameau may describe itself as French-Moroccan, but the food is quite different from both the plain cooking you’ll find at the fashionable couscous cafés in Paris’ Marais and the new-style cuisine you’ll find in Mediterranean restaurants that happen to feature a tagine or two on their menus. Chef Adel Chagar’s flavors may be modern, lightened and fresh, but his techniques, many of them, come from the traditional Moroccan kitchen, whose methods tend to be fairly languid: chicken-stuffed b’stilla made with incredibly time-consuming warka, couscous made by hand and lamb-shoulder tagines cooked until the meat almost dissolves into a lamb-scented cloud. 339 N. Fairfax Ave., L.A., (323) 951-0039. Dinner Tues.–Sat. 6–10 p.m. Beer and wine. Street parking. AE, D, DC, MC, V. French Moroccan.JG $$
LA99 Geisha House Geisha House is a monument of conspicuous consumption, bottles of champagne and expensive sake ornamenting the tables, the most exquisite tuna tartare, the vast, two-story post–Blade Runner space teeming with light, color and horny 25-year-olds with corporate American Express cards. You have never seen so many people at one time focused on getting fed, tipsy and laid — Geisha House is like a giant orgone box fueled by strong drink and sea-urchin roe, and lewd, happy vibrations seem to radiate in concentric circles throughout the restaurant. Have you seen this menu before? Of course you have, at Koi. 6633 Hollywood Blvd., Hlywd., (323) 460-6300. Sun.–Wed. 6–10:30 p.m., Thurs. 6–11:30 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 6 p.m.–1 a.m. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, MC, V. Japanese. JG $$$Â?
LA99 Red Corner Asia The signature attraction at Red Corner Asia is a phenomenon known as Volcano Chicken, a rotisserie-cooked creation brought to the table trailing liquid streamers of fire, rising from the flames like a phoenix, whole and reborn and new as the day. Red Corner Asia describes itself as a Thai grill, and although you will find all the usual Thai curries, pan-fried noodles and crocks of chicken-coconut soup, the emphasis is on the gentler products of Thai live-fire cooking: candy-coated grilled pork ribs; crosshatched bits of grilled squid served with a tart green dipping sauce; and all the traditional satays. You can’t go wrong with the grilled-meat salads — a delicious num tok of dripping-rare grilled beef tossed with mint leaves and citrus; grilled calamari salad; a spicy salad of grilled pork. And after the meal, if you aren’t in the mood for coconut soup spiked with taro balls, know that, as George Clinton once said, “fried ice cream is a reality.” Flaming fried ice cream, with chocolate sauce and sliced mango. 5267 Hollywood Blvd., Hlywd., (323) 466-6722, www.redcornerasia.com. Open daily 11 a.m.–2 a.m. No alcohol (liquor license pending). Takeout. Valet parking on weekends. AE, MC, V. Asian Fusion. JG $$$b[Â
LA99 Table 8 At this painfully hip, house-music-blasting restaurant, Govind Armstrong has finally found his groove, which is to say beachy, vaguely Mediterranean California cuisine with impeccably sourced meat and fish, plenty of organic farmers'-market vegetables, and a rather generous notion of the places where bacon might be appropriate. (Jonathan Waxman’s cooking comes to mind, as do the first years of Campanile, one of the restaurants where Armstrong has worked.) In Los Angeles, this is what passes for classicism, sunny, global-ingredient cooking updated by a chef whose frequent-flier miles do not necessarily take him only to France. 7661 Melrose Ave., L.A., (323) 782-8258. Mon.–Thurs. 6–10 p.m. (late-night menu until 10:30), Fri.–Sat. 6–10:30 p.m. (late-night menu until 11:30). Full bar. Takeout. Valet and street parking. All major credit cards. California Seasonal. JG $$$Â
Mid-Wilshire/Koreatown?Central Los Angeles
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. Don’t miss the chewy cold buckwheat noodles with marinated stingray. And make sure to throw some shrimp on the barbie, too — the pricey little beasties crisp up like a dream. 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. The black mole, based on ingredients the restaurant brings up from Oaxaca, is rich with chopped chocolate and burnt grain, toasted chile, and wave upon wave of textured spice — it’s as simple yet as nuanced as a great, old 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
West Hollywood/La Cienega
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. The cooking can still be a little rough around the edges at Grace, but Fraser is clearly aspiring to greatness here — this is tremendously ambitious food. And there are freshly fried jelly doughnuts for dessert. What more could you want? 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 $$$
LA99 Sona What we know as California cuisine may be dedicated to revealing produce at its best, but David Myers goes after nature with blowtorches and microtomes and dynamite, determined to bend the old woman to their will. A sliver of watermelon may be less a sliver of watermelon than a wisp in a chilled soup, a salted crunch tracing the shape of a curl of marinated yellowtail, a glistening cellophane window into the soul of a pistachio, a texture in a sorbet, a jelly exposing its cucumberlike soul. The morning after nine courses at Sona (this is one restaurant where only the tasting menu will do), it will already seem like a half-forgotten dream. 401 N. La Cienega Blvd., W. Hlywd., (310) 659-7708. Dinner Tues.–Thurs. 6–10 p.m., Fri. 6–11 p.m., Sat. 5:30–11 p.m. Closed Sun.–Mon. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, D, DC, MC, V. Modern French (with global influences). JG $$$[
Westwood/West L.A./?Century City
LA99 Attari If you grew up in pre-revolution Tehran, this leafy patio is probably the café of your dreams, a pleasant place where the sandwiches are made with Iranian vegetable cutlets or extravagantly dressed hot dogs, and the clientele is as well-dressed as the lunch crowd at Spago. On Fridays, ab-goosht is the closest thing there is in the restaurant world to an automatic order, an intricate lamb stew mashed into a thick, homogeneous paste with the texture of refried beans, and an expressed liquid, the soul of the dish, served separately as soup. 1388 Westwood Blvd., Westwood (entrance on Wilkins), (310) 441-5488. Tues.–Sun. 11 a.m.–6 p.m. No alcohol. Street parking, plus validated lot parking at Borders. Cash only. Iranian. JG $
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.–12 a.m. No alcohol. Takeout. Parking lot. MC, V. 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. The hot chocolate, made in the style of the Parisian tearoom Angelina, is a local legend. 1751 Ensley Ave., L.A., (310) 552-1080, 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[
Tanino The high, decorated ceilings, marble floors, impressive woodwork and sparkling chandeliers all conspire to form one of L.A.’s loveliest restaurants — an unlikely, urbane, sophisticated European refuge in a trafficky neck of Westwood. The service is charmingly warm and professional, and the earthy-yet-refined Italian cooking is most often excellent — we’re thinking of the lemon-drenched raw-artichoke salad, chef Tanino Drago’s fine hand with 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. 5–11 p.m., Sun. 4–10 p.m. Full bar. Takeout. Valet parking. AE, DC, MC, V. Italian. MH $$
Beverly Hills and vicinity
LA99 Fogo de Chao Churrascarias, southern Brazilian steak houses, are not new in Los Angeles. But Fogo de Chao is less a restaurant than a sizzling theme park of meat, a quarter-acre of sword-wielding gauchos, smoldering logs, and soaring walls perforated with bottles of the heartier red wines. It is a land of razor-sharp knives and double-weight forks, A-1 sauce and chimichurri, and all the dripping, smoking flesh you can eat carved off swords at your table: $48.50, cash on the barrelhead. 133 N. La Cienega Blvd., Beverly Hills, (310) 289-7755. Lunch Mon.–Fri. 11:30 a.m.–2 p.m.; dinner Mon.–Thurs. 5–10 p.m., Fri. 5–10:30 p.m., Sat. 4:30–10:30 p.m., Sun. 4–9:30 p.m. Full bar. Valet parking. All major credit cards accepted. Southern Brazilian. JG $$$Â
LA99 The Grill on the Alley Yes, the steaks are good; yes, the martinis are perfect; yes, the corned-beef hash (well-done, thank you very much) is sublime. But within the decidedly nonsoothing confines of the Grill, where show-business moguls still pack into the booths in the front dining room as thickly as commuters on a rush-hour MTA bus, you will also find this town’s essential rice pudding: touched with cinnamon, drizzled with heavy cream, coaxing the nutty, rounded essence out of every grain of rice. If Musso’s rice pudding is a lullaby, the Grill’s is a lullaby as sung by Renée Fleming. 9560 Dayton Way, Beverly Hills, (310) 276-0615. Mon.–Thurs. 11:30 a.m.–10:30 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 11:30 a.m.–11 p.m., Sun. 5–9 p.m. Full bar. Takeout. Valet parking after 6 p.m.; free street parking before that. AE, D, DC, MC, V. Traditional American Steak House. JG $$$bÂ
The Shack The Shack is a manly place, a place that hosts Jaegergirl promotions, a place where a man can watch the Lakers and drink a Rusty Nail. The Shack is also an archetypal beach hamburger dive, the kind of vaguely nautical-looking place where most of the clientele seem to treat the food as something to soak up the beer: cheesesteaks, chiliburgers, fries. The basic unit of exchange at The Shack is something called the Shack Burger, a quarter-pound of charred ground beef and a Louisiana sausage crammed together in a bun. The Shack Burger seems repellent on the surface, and it will seem repellent an hour after you eat one, but like your favorite punk rock song, a Shack Burger is three minutes of pure greatness, all grease and smoke and snap. 2518 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica, (310) 449-1171; 185 Culver Blvd., Playa del Rey, (310) 823-6222. Open daily for lunch and dinner. Full bar. Takeout. AE, D, V. American. JG ¢Âb
LA99 Vincenti The mastery of the wood-burning oven at Vincenti can be deduced from a single bite — a scallop, say, sprinkled with bread crumbs and baked in its shell until it just sizzles. The adjacent rotisserie turns out the best restaurant version of porchetta in Los Angeles, loin and belly wrapped into a spiral, seasoned with fennel, and spit-roasted to a crackling, licorice-y succulence. Vincenti is the real thing, a spare, elegant embassy of modern Italian cooking: minimally sauced pastas and house-cured meats; pungent flavors and abundant herbs; and an obsession with grilled steak that is unmistakably Italian. Perfection does not come cheap, and it is certainly possible to eat several mediocre Italian meals elsewhere in this neighborhood for the price of a single superb one here. Should that thought cross your mind, it is good to remember that Monday is pizza night. 11930 San Vicente Blvd., Brentwood, (310) 207-0127. Mon.–Sat. 6–10 p.m., Fri. noon–2 p.m. (for lunch ). Full bar. Takeout. Valet parking. AE, MC, V. Italian. JG $$$b
Ye Olde King’s Head Until the gastropub revolution, the food at most pubs in England may have fully justified everything ever muttered in a dark moment about British food. The King’s Head, a dank, overcrowded expat hangout near the Santa Monica Promenade, is no gastropub, but it does serve some of the best beer in town, which is to say the hand-drawn drafts of Real Ale that never seem to make it anywhere else. The food is, unfortunately, all too authentic, pasties and bangers and such, but the fish and chips are everything you could wish for, sweet fillets of North Sea cod, enrobed in light batter and fried to a delicate crunch. 116 Santa Monica Blvd., Santa Monica, (310) 451-1402. Mon.–Thurs. 10 a.m.–10 p.m., Fri. 10 a.m.–mid., Sat. 8 a.m.–mid., Sun. 8 a.m.–10 p.m. Full bar open daily until 2 a.m. Takeout. Street parking. AE, MC, V. JG $$Â?b
Culver City/Venice and vicinity
LA99 Beechwood Only in the 21st century could you find a restaurant quite so midcentury modern, with sleek love-seat sofas and machine-polished wood and a quantity of prefabricated design that probably would have amused Ray and Charles Eames back in the days when their aesthetic was found more in your kindergarten classroom than in fashionable cafés. Chefs Brooke Williamson and Nick Roberts, a kitchen team who have been the Next Big Thing in Los Angeles since their late pubescence, seem to have settled into variations on the theme of bar snacks here, the farmers-market-inflected rib-eye burgers, sticky pork ribs and burrata-tomato salads you may remember from their last venture, Amuse, plus a slightly more formal New American menu for the serene back dining room that includes things like duck confit with dandelion greens and sautéed catfish with collards and black-eyed peas. But the restaurant is open until 1 a.m. And if you are so inclined, the fire pit in the patio may be even cozier than the one at Johnny’s French Dip Pastrami. If you ask nicely, the waitress may even bring you a plate of fried smelt to go with your Amstel Light. 822 Washington Blvd., Venice, (310) 448-8884. Dinner Tues.–Sat. 6–11 p.m.; bar menu served late into the evening and also Sun.–Mon. Full bar. Valet parking. New American. JG $$
Wabi Sabi In a neighborhood where artists once rented studios for pittances, a sleek commercial district of antique stores, design offices and high-end restaurants has evolved — including Wabi Sabi, a skinny storefront refashioned into a Matsuhisa-derived sushi bar/Pacific Rim dinner house. Drop in for a big bowl of Cal-Asian style “bouillabaisse,” or linger through a multicourse meal of small plates (including standbys like miso-marinated bass or eggplant). But sushi, here, is the real stunner — which, given the prices, it should be. Don’t miss the lobster roll. 1635 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Venice, (310) 314-2229. Mon.–Thurs. 5:30–10:30 p.m. Fri.–Sat. 5:30–11 p.m. Sun. 5:30–10 p.m. Full bar. Street parking. AE, D, DC, MC, V. California Japanese/Pacific Rim. MH $$
San Fernando Valley
Art’s Delicatessen Art’s has been the best deli in the Valley since late in the Eisenhower administration, and its dense, tasty chicken soup, puddled around matzo balls the size of grapefruit, is justifiably renowned. Among the local cognoscenti, Art’s is well-known for the succulence of its knockwurst, the creaminess of its chopped liver, and the particular garlicky smack of its house-made pickles. Lox and eggs? Matzo Brie? Kreplach soup? Crisp-skinned cheese blintzes? Well-cured salmon on fresh Brooklyn Bagel bagels? Got ’em. And as it says on the menu: “Every Sandwich Is a Work of Art.” 12224 Ventura Blvd., Studio City, (818) 762-1221. Sun.–Thurs. 7 a.m.–9 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 7 a.m.–10 p.m. Beer and wine. Takeout. Valet parking. AE, D, MC, V. Lunch or dinner for two, food only, $18–$36. Deli. JG $$[
LA99 Caioti Pizza Cafe´ When the secret history of California pizza is finally written, a greasy volume inscribed in arugula, goat cheese and white truffle oil, former Spago pizza chef Ed LaDou’s name will be known across the land. If a pizza in Denmark or Ohio has smoked Gouda and pine nuts on it, it is in no small part due to LaDou. And Caioti Pizza Café is a shrine to LaDou’s creations. The barbecue chicken pizza, with slivered red onion, smoked Gouda and barbecue sauce instead of tomato, is definitive nostalgia, a taste of multiculti post-Olympics Los Angeles. 4346 Tujunga Ave., Studio City, (818) 761-3588. Sun.–Thurs. 11 a.m.–10 p.m., Fri.–Sat. till 11 p.m.; brunch Sat. 9–11 a.m., Sun. 9 a.m.–3 p.m. No alcohol. Takeout. Street parking. MC, V. Contemporary California. JGb
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. Also at 935 S. Glendora Ave., West Covina, (626) 480-0116. Thai. JG $b[?
Sunshine Sunshine, which looks as if it has been stuffed into the shell of a former coffee shop, is a relentlessly cheerful place, brightly lit and gaudily decorated, staffed by waitresses who practically bounce to the table, bathed in upbeat Thai pop. 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. The papaya salad, barbecued-beef salad, sweet duck salad — may be closer to Thai-Chinese cooking than to the intense Isaan side of the spectrum, but they manage to be pretty good nonetheless, especially the toasted-rice salad tossed with ground pork and slithery, crunchy bits of boiled pig’s-ear cartilage. If you have ever wanted to see how closely that particular appendage could ever approach a silk-purse sort of grace, this is as close as you’re ever going to get. 13212 Sherman Way, N. Hlywd., (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. MC, V. 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 — and I do mean perfect — Southern fried chicken, which is always on hand. Wednesday is soft, sweet mountains of meat loaf; Thursday is long-smothered pork chops cooked so they fall apart when you look at them. 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. Southern. JG ¢
GaJa Okonomiyaki may be the homeliest food in creation, a squat, unlovely, vaguely circular mess of batter, cabbage and egg, slicked with a tarry black substance made from ketchup and Worcestershire sauce, inscribed with mayonnaise, and dusted with curls of shaved dried bonito that shudder and writhe on top of the pancake like a thousand pencil shavings come to gruesome life. When you are presented with your first okonomiyaki, you don’t know whether to kill it or to eat it. GaJa puts a certain amount of effort into its identity as an izakaya, a snack-intensive Japanese pub, but it is probably the premier okonomiyaki specialist in town right now. They’ll cook okonomiyaki for you in the kitchen, but most diners opt to sizzle up their own on tabletop griddles, stirring and smashing and flipping and searing. With any luck, you’ll have dinner. 2383 Lomita Blvd., Suite 102, Lomita, (310) 534-0153 or www.gajaokonomiyaki.com?. Lunch Tues.–Sat. 11:30 a.m.–2 p.m.; dinner Tues.–Thurs. 6–11 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 5:30 p.m.–mid., Sun. 5–10 p.m. MC, V. Beer, wine and soju. Lot parking. Takeout. Japanese. JG $Âb
South Los Angeles
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. Whether dunked in fish soup or anointed with curry; hot in a bowl or cold on a mat; or dry in a bowl and garnished with ginger, green onion and wisps of freshly shaved bonito — the wheaty sweetness of the noodles, set off by the clean smoky smack of the dried bonito, is among the most delicious things you have ever eaten. 1747 W. Redondo Beach Blvd., Gardena, (310) 323-3966. Lunch and dinner, Wed.–Mon. 11:30 a.m.–11 p.m. Beer and sake. Lot parking. MC, V. Japanese. JG ¢[
East Los Angeles
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., L.A., (323) 980-8669. Lunch and dinner Wed.–Mon. 11 a.m.–9 p.m. No alcohol. Lot parking. MC, V. Mexican. JG $ b
Mike’s Hockeyburger Mike may be the most prominent restaurateur in this part of town, an industrial area that seems more like an enormous, truck-choked loading dock, and his sign, which depicts a giant hockey player, was “borrowed” for the doughnut shop in Wayne’s World. But Mike sure is proudest of his Hockeyburger, which is essentially a cheeseburger garnished with a sliced, grilled all-beef hot dog. Though the Hockeyburger may be fearsome to behold, it is actually almost as delicious as it is indigestible. 1717 S. Soto St., Los Angeles, (323) 264-0444. Breakfast, lunch and dinner Mon.–Wed. 6 a.m.–7 p.m., Thurs.–Fri. 24 hours, Sat. 6 a.m.–3:30 p.m., closed Sun. Beer. Lot parking. Cash only. Lunch for two $8–$12. American. JG ¢b?
LA99 Tacos Baja Ensenada In most of Mexico, the words estilo Ensenada signify just one thing: fish tacos, specifically the fried-fish tacos served at stalls in the fish market down by the docks. In East L.A., you will come no closer to the ideal than these crunchy, sizzlingly hot strips of batter-fried halibut, folded into warm corn tortillas with salsa, shredded cabbage and a squeeze of lime, sprinkled with freshly chopped herbs and finished with a squirt of thick, cultured cream. Entire religions have been founded on miracles less profound than the Ensenada fish taco. 5385 Whittier Blvd., L.A., (323) 887-1980. Lunch and dinner Tues.–Sun. 10 a.m.–9 p.m. No alcohol. Lot parking. Cash only. Mexican. JG ¢b
Blue Hen Vietnamese food tends to be low in fat, high in antioxidant vegetables, exotic but accessible, nutritionally correct. If you’ve spent any time in L.A.’s excellent Vietnamese noodle shops, Blue Hen’s tasty but underdeveloped chicken pho, the bland chicken curry and the house version of bun cha gio, a kind of noodle salad with fresh herbs and crunchy imperial rolls stuffed with chicken and various fungi, may leave you yearning for San Gabriel’s Golden Deli. Occasionally the table salad will have slightly fewer herbs than it might — organic holy basil is not easy to find, I imagine — and sometimes you will find the slightly jarring bite of fresh peppermint in a spring roll when you might be expecting something more like opal basil or rau ram. But 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 or 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. food only. JG $ [
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?
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. AE, MC, V. Mexican. JG $b?
Pasadena and vicinity
LA99 Bistro K To put it plainly, Bistro K is a restaurant out of a foodie’s daydream, a kitchen that may rank among the dozen best in town, run by gifted and accomplished French chef Laurent Quenioux with a bring-your-own-wine policy and no corkage, where a fine, intimate dinner costs rather less than a quick meal of cheeseburgers and drinks down the road. You will find neither steak frites nor roast chicken, but there are plenty of oddities like braised snips of veal tendon garnishing medallions of rare venison, ant eggs in season and such seasonally appropriate things as oeufs en meurette, a wintry harvest dish of eggs poached in a red-wine reduction with meaty slivers of bacon. A warm salad of duck gizzards sautéed with cèpes, chanterelle mushrooms and hot chiles, one of the most satisfying appetizers I have ever eaten in Los Angeles, costs only $7. The cassoulet of duck hearts, tender nuggets of meat braised with turnips and slippery bits of poached duck’s tongue, served in a cardamom-scented mushroom sauce on a sort of footed cake plate, is worthy of a multistarred Michelin laureate. 1000 S. Fremont Ave., South Pasadena, (626) 799-5052. Wed.–Sat. 5:30–9 p.m. Free corkage. Lot parking. AE, MC, V. French Bistro. JG $$
Marston’s At breakfast, Marston’s serves exactly the sort of food a missionary might crave after a stint in rural Peru: thin, buckwheat-based blueberry pancakes, nut-crammed macadamia pancakes and thick, applewood-smoked bacon. Marston’s may be a little Calvinist in its hours, perhaps guided by the notion that laggards don’t deserve to eat anything as good as its golden, cornflake-breaded French toast. 151 E. Walnut St., Pasadena, (626) 796-2459. Breakfast and lunch Tues.–Fri. 7–11 a.m., 11:30 a.m.–2:30 p.m., Sat.–Sun. 8 a.m.–2:30 p.m.; dinner Wed.–Sat. 5:30–9:30 p.m. Beer and wine. Lot parking. MC, V. American. JG $
LA99 Pie ’n Burger Even in Los Angeles . . . where it is possible to eat not only wood-fired goat-cheese pizza with duck sausage and sun-dried fennel, but also reasonably authentic Merida-style cochinito pibil and properly made Cambodian catfish amok, hand-ground, of course, steamed to a fine fluffiness and garnished — why not! — with a single, perfect banana blossom, sometimes only a hamburger will do. Pie ’n Burger is an essential address at these times. Like all good hamburgers, paper-jacketed Pie ’n Burgers are all about texture, the crunchy sheaf of lettuce, the carbonized surface of the meat, the outer rim of the bun crisped to almost the consistency of toast, plus pink dressing and soft, sweet grilled onions. The fries are good too. 913 E. California Blvd., Pasadena, (626) 795-1123. Mon.–Fri. 6 a.m.–10 p.m., Sat. 7 a.m.–10 p.m., Sun,. 7 a.m.–9 p.m. Beer and wine. Takeout. Lot parking. Cash or check. Entrées $5–$10. American. JG ¢b
Wonton Time The wontons here are wondrous things: delicate and lightly crunchy, scented with toasted sesame oil, available either plainly steamed or plunked into a bowl of double-strength chicken broth with only a few slivers of scallion for garnish. They come only a few to an order, but they are so intricately dense, so bulky, that three or four are a meal. If you’re in the mood, the cook will throw in a skein of chewy yellow vermicelli noodles, which are rugged enough to maintain their tensile integrity in the extremely hot broth, yet not so aggressive as to overpower it. 19 E. Valley Blvd., Alhambra, (626) 293-3366. Open daily 11 a.m.–9:30 p.m. No alcohol. Takeout. Valet parking. Cash only. Chinese. JG ¢b
Zelo Gourmet Pizzeria Arcadia is kind of a conservative place, but Zelo distinctly is not. The music, played loud, ranges from surf tunes to vintage punk rock, Blue Oyster Cult to Built To Spill, and might as well have been plucked from the iPod of the coolest guy you know. But it’s all about the pizza here, and Zelo’s pizza is a different sort of pie, crust enriched with a little cornmeal, packed and crimped into a high-rimmed steel deep-dish pizza pan blackened from years in the ovens, and baked to a kind of high crunchiness. This rough and tasty cornmeal-crusted pizza was invented at Vicolo, Patty Unterman’s cramped quick-service pizza joint in San Francisco. Zelo chef Mike Freeman, who cooked for eight years at Vicolo, has taken this style and made it his own. A vegetarian pizza, available in both vegan and cheese-bearing versions, is piled with baked eggplant, roasted peppers and mushrooms. This may be the great, undiscovered Los Angeles pizza restaurant. 328 E. Foothill Blvd., Arcadia, (626) 358-8298. Open Wed.–Sat. 11:30 a.m.–9 p.m.; Sun. 3–9 p.m. Pizzas, $16, feed two or three. Beer and wine. Abundant street parking. MC, V ($10 minimum). JG¢b
Monterey Park/San Gabriel and vicinity
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Golden Deli Golden Deli’s spring rolls are crusty golden things, 4 inches long and as thick as a fat man’s thumb, five to an order, crudely rolled in a manner suggesting rustic abundance rather than clumsiness, and perfectly, profoundly crisp. You wrap them with leaves of romaine lettuce into bursting green “tacos,” along with fistfuls of mint, cilantro and basil, also a few shreds of marinated carrot and turnip, a slice of cucumber, a squirt of hot chile paste. Golden Deli has a long and complicated menu of delicious and ultra-specialized noodle combinations, but it is difficult to contemplate a meal without an order of these spring rolls. 815 W. Las Tunas Drive, San Gabriel, (626) 308-0803. Mon.–Tues., Thurs. 9:30 a.m.-9 p.m., Fri. 9:30 a.m.–10 p.m., Sat. 9 a.m.–10 p.m., Sun. 9 a.m.–9:30 p.m.. Closed August. No alcohol. Lot parking. Cash only. Entrees: $4.95–$6.95. Vietnamese/Thai. 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. The place specializes in the garbanzo-flour-thickened fish chowder called moh hin gha, the biryani-style rice dish called dun buk htaminh, and lap pad thoke, a salad made with pickled tea leaves that have the consistency of stewed collard greens and the caffeine kick of a double espresso. Then 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 $
Little Sheep If cumin were as toxic as VX gas, the atmosphere at Little Sheep could be used as a weapon of mass destruction. Little Sheep, a newish restaurant in yet another Monterey Park strip mall, is a specialist in the Mongolian hot pot, which is to say the severely aromatic hot pot of China’s extreme north, stocked with more medicinal plants than an herbalist’s shop and fairly intensive in lamb, a meat many Chinese people tend to dislike. There are juicy steamed lamb dumplings, lamb fried rice, a sort of crunchy pan-fried lamb bun and lamb chow mein. And the walls are papered with gauzy, room-size photomurals of grazing sheep and giant Mongolian shepherdesses. 120 S. Atlantic Blvd., Monterey Park, (626) 282-1089. Mon.–Fri. 11:30 a.m.–3 p.m. and 5 p.m.–midnight, Sat.–Sun. 11:30 a.m.–midnight. Beer and wine. Takeout. Lot parking. AE, D, MC, V. Food for two: $14–$24. Mongolian. JG $b?
LA99 Mission 261 Mission 261 may be the most ambitious Chinese restaurant ever to open in the United States, a mammoth Cantonese banquet hall fitted into a sprawling adobe complex built 100 years ago as San Gabriel’s City Hall. The suckling pig, a house specialty, is made from an animal so young it is practically prenatal; the braised pork belly is the essence of melting fat; the fried whole chicken with fermented taro is almost a sacrament. The steamed rock cod is the standard by which all local Chinese kitchens should be measured, and if you’re into plundering the endangered-species list, Mission 261 does that too. And the dim sum is extraordinary, possibly the best in California at the moment — less a teeming mass-feed than a sort of aestheticized dim sum meal, where you sit with a pot of really great chrysanthemum tea and a few small plates of attractive, exquisitely prepared food. 261 Mission Drive, San Gabriel, (626) 588-1666. Mon.–Fri. 10:30 a.m.–3 p.m. & 5:30–10 p.m., Sat.–Sun. 9 a.m.–3 p.m. & 5:30–10:30 p.m. Full bar. Takeout. Lot parking. AE, D, MC, V. Entrees $10–$13. Cantonese. JG $b