Where to Eat Now
Baran Does every big restaurant in the kebab-intensive blocks of Westwood’s “Tehrangeles” have the same menu? Is there a zoning ordinance that mandates barg kebabs and the insanely sour pickles called torshi, skewered chicken and the thick soup ash, alps of basmati rice and arm-long cylinders of the grilled ground-beef koobideh? Baran, perhaps the sleekest of the neighborhood’s palaces, may be tricked out like the swankiest restaurant in Qom, all burnished copper and gleaming varnish and spotlight examples of Persian calligraphy, but it too is a redoubt of lamb kebabs and beef kebabs and chicken kebabs; grilled lamb chops that rank with the sweetest, tenderest lamb in town; and tah dig, toasted rice crusts, topped with seriously tart stewed greens. If you are a fan of polos, like the gigantic, elaborate, saffron-gilded rice dishes associated with Iranian holidays, or the zereshk polo, made with barberries, which is formidable, and the polo made with sour cherries like a scoop of Baskin-Robbins cherry vanilla ice cream brought to screaming, savory life, then you will be very happy with the standard. 1916 Westwood Blvd., Wstwd., (310) 475-4500. Open daily 11:30 a.m.–11 p.m. Beer, wine. Parking lot. AE, D, MC, V. Entrees $12–$19. Iranian. JG$$b?
Bella Cucina Italiana Spaghetti and meatballs? Check. Black-and-white Rat Pack pix? Check. Exposed brick? Columbia-era Frank on the stereo? Around the corner from a club? Check, check and check again. At Bella, a chicly appointed place within staggering distance of Rokbar and Geisha House, there are plenty of mirrors to gaze into, a passable beef carpaccio with well-dressed arugula salad and a substantial martini list, which occupies the regulars somewhat more reliably than the cookie-cutter Italian cuisine. 1708 N. Las Palmas Ave., Hlywd., (323) 468-8815 or bellahollywood.com. Mon.–Wed. 6–11 p.m., Thurs. 6 p.m.–mid., Fri.–Sat. 6 p.m.–1 a.m., Sun. 6–10 p.m. Full bar. Valet parking (complimentary from noon to 3 p.m.). AE, JBC, MC, V. Italian. JG$$bÂ?
Bin 8945 We have all become familiar with the idea of the Italianate wine bar in the past year or so, intimate, themed places with a few dozen inexpensive wines, nibbles of meat and cheese, and a cheery, relaxed vibe. Bin 8945, which just opened in the raging heart of Boystown, is the other kind of wine bar, a showcase for wine more than a center of conviviality, with a serious Asian/Caribbean menu and a wine list that is expensive but dotted with values for those few of you willing to pop $120 or more for a bottle of rare or antique wine to go with your fried green tomatoes. Chef Matt Carpenter has a Bahamian background, and there are twists in the cooking you might not expect from a restaurant where the food is supposed to be incidental to the wine: grilled steak with duck-fat fries, spicy Barbados-style catfish, a rather too-elegant take on jerk chicken, and what must be L.A.’s only example of duff, a steamed Bahamian cake studded with raisins, which Carpenter has his grandmother send in from the islands. Bin 8945, 8945 Santa Monica Blvd., W. Hlywd., (310) 550-8945. Open nightly, 5 p.m.–2 a.m. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, MC, V. Entrees $26–$29. Asian/Caribbean. JG$$[Â?
BLD This bustling café from Grace’s Neal Fraser may be the most useful restaurant of our time, open for quick breakfasts of croissants and cappuccino, for sybaritic brunches of fluffy ricotta pancakes and eggs Benedict, for salady lunches and meaty feasts, for serious date-night dinners and after-movie snacks of burgers and beer and butterscotch pudding. When the bouncers at Simon won’t let you within 50 yards of the restaurant, the wait at BLD, a high-turnover place that takes no reservations, is probably about 15 minutes. Neal Fraser has long been a bwana of complexity in fourth-stage Los Angeles restaurants, rarely content to settle for one garnish where three will do. But you don’t go to BLD for an aesthetic experience — you go to eat supper. And freed of the formal requirements of the destination-restaurant menu, Fraser turns out to be a genius as a short-order cook, churning out exemplary, drippy hamburgers made with ultraprime Wagyu beef, moistening sandwiches with aioli, using smoky house-made ketchup where he can and Heinz 57 where he must, greasing home fries with La Española’s chorizo, and dropping coleslaw bombs like a 40-year fry cook with canola oil in his veins. 7450 Beverly Blvd., L.A., (323) 930-9744. Open Open daily 8 a.m.–11 p.m. (bar food till mid.) Full bar. Valet parking. AE, MC, V. Dinner for two, food only, $26–$66. American. JG$$ b[Â?
Bottle Rock The tables at Bottle Rock are the size of phonograph records, and the wobbly metal stools seem perpetually on the verge of collapse. The location, tucked behind a parking structure, is obscure, even if it is just a step or two from Culver City’s new restaurant row. But Bottle Rock, which doubles as a shop, is among the most appealing of the wine bars that have opened on the Westside over the past year — because of the house-made pâtés, because of the tomato bread and the pressed sandwiches, because of the cheese board, but mostly because of the wine, which tends to be obscure, well chosen and reasonably priced. The proprietors will open any bottle in the shop, from simple California wines to aged Barolos, if you commit to two glasses of the stuff, and the chalkboard list of available wines can change 20 times a night. The little grilled chorizos are delicious. And there is always something good to drink for $5 a glass. After a screening at Sony or a show at one of the local theaters, Bottle Rock is the perfect place to kick it. 3847 Main St., Culver City, (310) 836-WINE. Mon.–Thurs. 11 a.m.–11 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 11 a.m.–mid. Beer, wine. Lot parking. All major CC. American/French.JG$$bÂ?
Café Toros Brazilian cooking is incredibly diverse, ranging from the jungly cassava-based cooking of Minas Gerais and the spicy tropical seafood dishes of Bahia to the cosmopolitan restaurants in skyscraper-choked São Paulo. Still, if you were to take a survey of Brazilian restaurants in Los Angeles, you would be challenged to find a single restaurant that specialized in something other than sizzling portions of sausage, rib-eye and rump. Café Toros, then, may be the most unassuming Brazilian restaurant in town, a bare storefront in a Westside mini-mall. The kingdom of Jose E.F. Salgado, it is a bastion of Brazilian home cooking, a center of homey stews, garlicky beans and baked pork ribs. Especially good is the moqueca, a Bahian-style fish stew with coconut milk; the house roast chicken, cooked with tomatoes and onions; and a strange, bittersweet roast chicken made with dark Brazilian beer. Café Toros is as far from the grand, carnivorous excesses of Green Field or Fogo de Chao as it is possible to get. But to the young Brazilians who crowd into the place on weekends, Salgado’s place tastes like home. 3300 Overland Ave., W.L.A, (310) 838-8586. Open daily 10 a.m.–6 p.m. No alcohol. Takeout. Lot parking. Cash only. Lunch for two, food only, $12–$20.JG$b
Canelé Dinner at Canelé, a Southern French restaurant in the old Osteria Nonni space in Atwater, can feel a lot like crashing a dinner party, with oddly minimalist décor, people you probably know and friendly but puzzled waitresses who aren’t quite sure why you’ve stumbled into their domain. The chef/owner is Corina Weibel, a Nancy Silverton protégée who also cooked for a while at Lucques, and she works the urban rustic side of new Los Angeles cooking: the caramelized onion tart called pissaladière and an austere green salad with crème fraîche; rare roast lamb with Israeli couscous and beef bourguignon with noodles, workmanlike roast pork loin with polenta and simmered greens, and an honest flan with bitter caramel sauce. If this were your dinner party, and your kitchen guru of choice is Julia rather than Marcella or Madhur, this is the kind of food worthy of the good china. And on your way out, the hostess will hand you a small example of the restaurant’s namesake pastry, a dense, fluted cylinder of crisp-edged pudding traditional in Bordeaux. 3219 Glendale Blvd., Atwater Village, (323) 666-7133. Tues.–Sun. 5:30–10:30 p.m. Beer, wine. Street parking. AE, MC, V. Entrees $16–$22. French.JG$$b[
Capperi Restorante When you travel through Italy, it sometimes feels as if there is no town so remote and no decent restaurant so obscure that there isn’t at least one Japanese cook in the kitchen, apron stiffened with boar’s blood and tomato sauce, tending the wood fire. Some people think that Tokyo’s Italian restaurants are among the best in the world, which makes a certain sense: Italian cooking, like Japanese cooking, is based on a frank expression of fresh ingredients inflected by a limited number of seasonings. Little Tokyo’s Capperi, where almost all of the customers are Japanese, may be the most orthodox old-style Italian restaurant in Los Angeles, a living museum of the sights and smells that many of us had assumed became extinct in the 1970s: textbook linguine with seafood; pizzas annealed into ruddy planes; veal scallopine finished with Marsala, and scarcely a dollop of cod roe or a drop of balsamic vinegar in sight, reproduced as faithfully, and occasionally as soullessly, as a wax model of spaghetti marinara. Capperi, 318 E. Second St., Little Tokyo, (213) 613-1003. Open daily 11 a.m.–3 p.m. & 5–11 p.m. Pastas and entrees $10.50–$22. MC, V. Italian. JG$$?
Chop Suey Café From 1935 until it faded away 50-odd years later, the Far East Café was a mainstay of the Little Tokyo neighborhood, with battered wooden booths, tall ceilings and a neon “Chop Suey’’ sign outside as grand as anything out of an Edward Hopper painting — also a reputation for unusually tired Chinese food. Freshly reopened, cobwebs scrubbed away but otherwise looking pretty much as it did in the mid-1980s, the redubbed Chop Suey Café seems to pick up just where the Far East left off: a mixed clientele of hipsters and old-timers eating sweet-and-sour pork flavored with one part vinegar, two parts nostalgia — there are probably dishes here you haven’t tasted since Richard Nixon was in office. As a re-creation of a culinary style that has been discredited for more than 30 years, the menu at Chop Suey Café does present some conundrums. Is the gray, cornstarch-thickened gravy on the cashew chicken a glitch or a feature? Is the steamed rice authentically gummy, or just gummy? But there is some funk in its step — the string beans stir-fried with ginger and garlic were quite good. Happy hour is a specialty. And if you are so inclined, Chop Suey Café is an aromatic, Chandler-esque place to kill an afternoon. 347 E. First St., dwntwn., (213) 617-9990. Tues.–Thurs. 11 a.m.–2 p.m. & 5–10 p.m., Fri. 11 a.m.–2 p.m. & 5–11 p.m., Sat. 11 a.m.–11 p.m., Sun. 11 a.m.–10 p.m. Full bar. Street parking. AE, MC, V. Asian.JG$?
Danube Bulgarian Cuisine Even though the only other Bulgarian restaurant in the country is 2,400 miles away in New York, you may think that you’ve seen a lot of this food before — and you’d probably be right. Bulgaria was under Ottoman rule for nearly 500 years, sits next to Greece, absorbed influences from both Russia and Arab countries. As in Turkey, a Bulgarian meal starts off with a succession of the appetizers called meze — a yogurt dip infused with ground walnuts and cucumber, thin slices of zucchini fried in egg batter, a shopska salad sprinkled with Bulgarian feta cheese, and stuffed grape leaves. Unlike neighboring cuisines, Bulgarian cooking depends on huge amounts of pork — grilled pork, roast pork, sautéed pork, pan-fried pork, ground pork, pork enough that one may understand the use of pig as a primary outlet for Bulgarian cultural expression. Unless you are set on the stuffed peppers, the fried lamb baked in parchment or the drob sarma, the notoriously funky Bulgarian dish of chopped lamb innards baked under a crust of yogurt and eggs, the pork is the way to go. 1303 Westwood Blvd., Wstwd., (310) 473-2414. Open daily 11:30 a.m.–2:30 p.m. & 5–10 p.m. No alcohol. Street parking. AE, MC, V. Dinner for two, food only, $27–$35. Bulgarian.JG$$b
Dino’s Burgers If you are looking for a proper representation of hellfire, the grill at Dino’s Burgers may be as close as you will get, a smoke-belching landscape of fire and ashes, with stacks of chickens ready to be flipped into the blaze like so many unrepentant sinners. A burger stand in the Byzantine-Latino Quarter still owned by founder Demetrios Pantazis, Dino’s is as perpetually crowded as Pink’s after the bars close. The half-chicken plates cost only $4.50 a pop, including fries and tortillas; steak platters with rice, beans and salad run maybe a buck more. There are hamburgers, of course, thin, charred, peppery patties tucked into big, damp buns, cushioned with lettuce and thick tomato slices. The Mexican plate is the kind of Mexican food you would expect to find in a small North Dakota town that doesn’t see many Mexicans, although I am perversely fond of the carne asada. Still, you are going to order the chicken. And the best part of the meal may be the dense stratum of French fries that lies under the chicken like the hot rock beneath the earth’s crust, saturated with the greasy, capsaicin-rich juices of the bird. It may take a week to scrape the residue out from under your fingernails, but it will be worth the crimson shame. 2575 W. Pico Blvd., L.A., (213) 380-3554. Sun. 7 a.m.–11 p.m., Mon.–Thurs. 6 a.m.–11 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 6 a.m.–mid. No alcohol. Takeout. Limited lot parking. Cash only. Dinner for two, food only, $8–$11. JG¢ b?
Dong Ting Chun True Hunanese cooking is rough, peasanty stuff, inflected with feral fragrances and fresh-chile heat, strong pickles and fermented everything, a dozen different intensities of smokiness. Dong Ting Chun may be the most accessible local Hunanese restaurant since Charming Garden closed a few years ago, although it still isn’t quite set up for those of us illiterate in Chinese. Every meal at Dong Ting Chun is an adventure: Will fried mudfish be great or a murky disappointment? (The latter.) Is the sunny-side-up egg with hot pepper really what it sounds like? The egg is pretty much fried over, hard, but the fried hot peppers are for real. (Some of us couldn’t stop eating it.) The famous dish at the Shanghai Dong Ting Chun (which may or may not be related to this one) is a steamed fish head plastered with fresh and fermented chiles, and here you will find fish heads on two tables out of three, enormous things, painted Santa Claus red with a solid quarter-inch layer of chiles. There are a few obvious nuggets of meat at the base of the beast’s skull, but the rest of the meal will probably see you probing the animal with your chopsticks like a surgeon, trying to discover hidden pockets of flesh. At Dong Ting Chun, it always pays to get a head. 140 W. Valley Blvd., No. 206, San Gabriel, (626) 288-5918. Open Open daily 11 a.m.–10 p.m. Beer, wine. Takeout. Lot parking. MC, V. Dinner for two, food only, $16–$25.JG$b[
Ebisu How many new izakaya are there in Los Angeles? How many grains of sand lie upon Zuma Beach? Ebisu, named after the nightlife-intensive Tokyo neighborhood, is the newest restaurant from the people behind the splendid noodle shop Daikokuya, which introduced Little Tokyo to the pork-rich tonkotsu style of ramen. Like Daikokuya, Ebisu, fitted into the space that used to house the local Mandarin Deli, is nostalgically themed — suburban postwar, is my guess, with big fish on the walls, leatherette booths and a scattering of exotica that would look at home on the jacket of a Martin Denny album. For some reason, I kept thinking of late-’60s Marina del Rey, although I’m sure the designer is riffing on some classic Asagaya joint that the regulars could reference in a second. Unlike the rest of the izakaya in town at the moment, Ebisu is both huge and easy to get into on a weekend night, possibly because its menu of traditional Japanese appetizers, noodle soups and teriyaki dinners hews a little too close to the Japanese food you could actually taste in Little Tokyo in the Summer of Love, and possibly because it is too slick to appeal to the fans of Haru Ulala next door. 356 E. Second St., Little Tokyo, (213) 613-1644. Open daily 11:30 a.m.–3 p.m. & 5 p.m.–1 a.m. Beer, wine. Street parking. AE, MC, V. Japanese. JG$$bÂ?
El Caserio At El Caserio, one of the few Ecuadoran kitchens in Los Angeles, you spoon the incendiary chile sauce aji over puffy white-cheese empanadas, the mashed-potato pancakes called llapingachos, or fresh-corn humitas, over fried green plantains or an already spicy goat stew. If you are of a mind to, you can also use the aji to spice up the penne alla vodka, spaghetti with pesto or any of the other Italian pastas that make up a huge chunk of the menu here. To wash it down, there’s Chianti, Ecuadoran beer or the delicious, peculiar juice of the Andean mountain blackberry mora, which tastes like new wine. 309 N. Virgil Ave., L.A., (323) 664-9266. Open daily 11 a.m.–9:30 p.m. (Fri.–Sat. till 10 p.m.). Beer, wine. Lot parking. All major CC. Ecuadoran.JG$
El Parron Chilean Grill A Chilean restaurant in Van Nuys, El Parron is a funny kind of place, a compact dining room that somehow converts into a nightclub a few times a week. The waitresses are such cheerleaders for the cuisine that you half expect them to break into a song praising the empanadas or the puffingly huge parrillada combinations. The house pebre, a Chilean relish made with tomatoes, onions and oregano, is suitable for dressing up almost everything at the restaurant but ice cream. El Parron fancies itself a seafood house, but the Chilean seafood available here is pretty limited — a few dishes involving congrio, a delicate fish that is tastier deep fried than grilled or stewed; a salad of the (canned) Chilean abalone locos, and another salad of curly sea snails piled high on a mayonnaise-drenched avocado. In South America, the best-known Chilean dish is probably bistec a lo pobre, a grilled steak topped with onions and a couple of gooey-yolked fried eggs, but this may not be the best dish to get at El Parron — instead go for the stews or the pastel de choclo. The lovely beef cazuela, the vegetable-rich Chilean equivalent of a Mexican cocido, is a perfect light lunch on a chilly afternoon. 6620 Van Nuys Blvd., Van Nuys, (818) 988-1226. Tues.–Fri. & Sun. 11 a.m.–10 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 11 a.m.–11 p.m. Entertainment on weekends. Beer, wine. Lot parking in rear. MC, V. Dinner for two, food only, $25–$45.JG$$bÂ?
Jollibee Why do we love Jollibee? Is it the happy plastic mascot outside that looks like Big Boy crossed with an apple maggot? Could it be the goopy cheeseburgers, the fried chicken or the violet, boba-laden milkshakes made with the purple yam called ube? Might it be the palabok fiesta, squishy rice noodles glazed with shrimp, ground pork and fluffy fried-fish powder? Or is it just the sheer happiness involved in ordering Chickenjoy, Jolly Spaghetti and Yumburgers with cheese, which sound like formulations from the mind of George Orwell or Terry Southern? The fast-food chain, which has 500-odd outlets in the Philippines, has been resident in Cerritos for years, but the shiny, new outlet on Beverly near Vermont is its first freestanding foray into L.A. proper. You can get your ube shakes from the drive-through window. And Jollibee throws instructional Tagalog DVDs in with its kids’ meals instead of plastic Disney characters. What more could you want? Jollibee, 3821 Beverly Blvd., L.A., (323) 906-8617. Open daily 8 a.m.–10 p.m. No alcohol. Parking lot. AE, MC, V. American. JG¢b
Liberty Grill The Liberty Grill smells like money, or at least as much like money as you can expect from a restaurant that serves deep-fried mac-’n’-cheese balls. The bronze plaques boasting a roster of investors in the renovated building are a surer sign of the downtown elite than anything published by a magazine, and the patriotic gewgaws on the walls would make a senator proud. This is probably the last place you’d expect from wacky avant-gardist Fred Eric, who put the place together (Twain Schreiber is the chef of record), and Eric’s skill at putting together a menu is more in evidence here than his love for bizarre details. The wine list is thick with expensive California Cabernets; the chili is thick and chunky; the almond-smoked rib-eye steak is thick and rare. During basketball season, you can expect that a table at the Staples-adjacent restaurant will be only slightly easier to obtain than courtside seats at a Lakers game. 1037 S. Flower St., L.A., (213) 746-3400. Mon.–Thurs. 11 a.m.–9 p.m., Fri. 11 a.m.–10 p.m., Sat. 4–10 p.m., Sun. 4–9 p.m. Full bar. Street parking. AE, MC, V. American. JG$$bÂ
Mei Jia Deli Some weeks it seems as if a new, way-northern Chinese restaurant is opening every 20 minutes in the San Gabriel Valley — places notable for their lamb, their extensive use of cumin and their cumin lamb. Mei Jia Deli, shoehorned between a Taiwanese porridge-specialty restaurant and one of the less refined Hunan places in town, serves plenty of cumin lamb but specializes in the dumpling-intensive cooking of Tianjin, the huge port city a couple of hours from Beijing. There are steamed buns stuffed with pork and meat, fried turnovers stuffed with leeks and wonderful dumplings stuffed with fennel. But best of all is probably the house special: a wokful of braised whole anchovies surrounded by crisp-edged griddled corn cakes. Cornbread and collards never had it so good. Mei Jia Deli, 534 E. Valley Blvd., No. 8, San Gabriel, (626) 288-9966. Tues.–Sun. 7:30 a.m.–9:30 p.m. No alcohol. Takeout. Lot parking. Cash only. Chinese. JG $$
Miceli’s Did Miceli’s invent Hollywood’s idea of what an Italian restaurant should be, or did Hollywood invent Miceli’s? Owned by the same family since 1949, Miceli’s is an ancient, baroque pizzeria in the heart of Hollywood, all red candle globes, checked tablecloths and ceilings encrusted with Chianti flasks, atmospheric piano music and motherly waitresses. The menu of pizza, chicken cacciatore and spaghetti and meatballs, antipasto salad, clams and spumoni is the same one you’ve been looking at all your life, even if you grew up in Iowa. The wine comes by the jug. Nobody has ever, ever come here for the food. But Miceli’s, as romantic as a bohemian Audrey Hepburn fantasy, could probably stand in for the restaurant in the famous spaghetti-eating scene in Lady and the Tramp. 1646 N. Las Palmas Ave., Hlywd., (323) 466-3438 or micelisrestaurant.com. Mon.–Thurs. 11:30 a.m.–11 p.m., Fri. 11:30 a.m.–mid., Sat.–Sun. 4 p.m.–mid. Full bar. Parking lot. All major CC. Italian.JG$bÂ
Mike & Anne’s Restaurant There is a certain kind of medium-priced grown-up restaurant that is spreading over the landscape like kudzu: urban, comfortable dining rooms, often with outdoor terraces, lubricated with recorded bebop and reasonably priced Spanish reds, understated architecture and conversation. Mike & Anne’s, a few steps from the South Pasadena Gold Line station, has learned the formula by heart. Is there a cheeseburger with blue cheese and a sweet-onion relish? Beet salad with arugula and walnuts? Mussels cooked with some form of Spanish chorizo? Check, check and check. The flat iron steak is garnished with an entire farmers-market’s worth of fingerling potatoes and artisanal royal green apples (where were all the flat iron steaks just three years ago?), and the pan-crisped chicken breast shares a plate with vaguely curried couscous and a scattering of rather oversteamed broccoflower buds. Is this cuisine? No, it is cooking, the kind of stuff you might make yourself for small dinner parties if you had a farmers-market habit and a subscription to Bon Appétit. But it is good enough, and the banana bread with peanut cream is an inspiration. 1040 Mission St., S. Pasadena, (626) 799-7199 or mikeandannes.com. Tues.–Sun. 11 a.m.–2:30 p.m. & 3:30–9:30 p.m. Beer, wine. Street parking. Dinner entrees $15–$24. AE, D, MC, V. American.JG$$b
Minx A glowing, blue apparition thrusting out of the lower slopes of the Verdugos like the prow of a party barge, Minx is a look back to the world of ’80s Los Angeles restaurants, where the women were women, the men sometimes were too, and we all crowded into megalithic bunkers to dine on rare duck breast, pan-fried endangered species and flagons of lesser California Cabernet Sauvignon. I forget what grilled, impaled animal parts were called back then, but chef Joseph Antonishek, late of O-Bar, runs his skewers of tandoori-spiced chicken and coconut shrimp over flames that are way too hot for them and calls them Fusion Robata. Steak tartare is coarsely chopped, nominally truffled, and served on a bed of chopped hard-boiled egg. Filet mignon is crusted with crumbs of hazelnuts and cocoa nibs — the best you can say is that they don’t seem to harm the meat all that much — and the duck breast, inflected with foie gras, candied ginger, corn pancakes and Chinese five-spice, sparkles with flakes of 14-karat gold. If you long for your lobster to be garnished with licorice-sautéed shrimp, coconut sticky rice and French-pressed Thai broth, Minx, recently converted from a place called the Rusty Pelican, may be for you. 300 Harvey Dr., Glendale, (818) 242-9191 or minx-la.com. Mon.–Thurs. 11 a.m.–3 p.m. & 5–10 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 5–11 p.m. Full bar. Valet parking. All major CC. Entrees $17–$36. American.JG$$$bÂ?
The Oinkster If you approach Colorado Boulevard just right, on the blocks west of Eagle Rock Boulevard, you will be hit with the smell of wood smoke, a formidable, fragrant blast. The Oinkster is the newest child of André Guerrero — chef of Max and Señor Fred and a lot of long-gone places that you’d recognize if you’ve been following the Los Angeles restaurant scene for a while — and it appears to be his stab at fame and fortune in the franchisable-fast-food division. Where Leonard “Zeke’s” Schwartz threw his hard-won reputation behind barbecue and Wolfgang Puck behind pizza, Guerrero places his behind pork. He apprenticed himself to the masters at Langer’s, and now he cures and smokes his own pastrami. There are intensely smoky Carolina-style pulled-pork sandwiches on hamburger buns, caesar-esque salads with chicken, garlic mayonnaise and homemade catsup, Angus-beef burgers, and rotisserie chickens when they haven’t run out of them. (Zankou is just a few blocks away — I’d imagine rotisserie chicken is a hard sell in this part of town.) The Belgian fries turn out better if you ask for them well done than if you leave the matter to chance. 2005 Colorado Blvd., Eagle Rock, (323) 255-OINK. Mon.–Thurs. 11 a.m.–10 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 11 a.m.–11 p.m., Sun. 11 a.m.–9 p.m. Beer, wine. Parking lot. All major CC. Entrees $4.75–$8.75. American.JG$$b
Penang New Yorkers longing for Malaysian cooking have always tended to head to one of the Penangrestaurants out in Flushing or in Manhattan’s Chinatown. When I lived in New York, the various Penangs never seemed quite up to the level of my favorite Los Angeles Malaysian restaurants, but Penang always had great roti canai: delicately crisp flour pancakes as large as crumpled handkerchiefs, served with a small bowl of coconut-scented chicken curry tinted a deep rust color with chile oil. And the roti canai at the first West Coast location of Penang are really very good. After you finish the roti, a bowl of the herbal pork-rib soup called bah kut teh, and maybe a plate of crunchy fried purple eggplant or a dish of the Chinese water spinach kangkong fried with a fistful of the smelly, fermented shrimp paste belacan, you can have another order of pancakes, this time stuffed with ground peanuts and hot syrup for dessert. Are there mediocre dishes at Penang? A few of them: sliced chicken sautéed with mangoes and a violent-red sweet-and-sour sauce; soggy, egg-filled roti telur; a flat basil chicken. But anything on the menu marked by the word sambal, referring to a highly spiced chile paste, is bound to be pretty good. The service is authentically Malaysian, which is to say that the waiters appear at the table at erratic intervals and will let you order four versions of the same dish without comment, but will still make you love them by the end of the meal. 971 S. Glendora Ave., West Covina, (626) 338-6138. Sun.–Thurs. 11 a.m.–10 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 11 a.m.–10:30 p.m. No alcohol. Takeout. Lot parking. MC, V. Dinner for two, food only, $15–$35.JG
Porto Alegre The upper-west level of Pasadena’s Paseo Colorado complex is a catalog of mild modern sins, a promenade of cigar stores, wine bars and tea shops, crystal-laden boutiques and holistic-massage parlors, overlaid by a thin film of hot suburban lust. Fitting right in is the new Brazilian churrascaria Porto Alegre, a yawningly huge palace of the basest carnal appetites. Here, dripping rump roasts carved to order from superheated metal swords, fennel-laced sausages and plump chicken legs, crisp-skinned quail and fat prime rib, bacon-wrapped filets and an incongruous side of baked salmon are slipped onto your plate until you grab a waiter’s lapels and shriek “Stop!” There is an enormous salad bar, of course, stocked with smoked salmon, prosciutto and hearts of palm as well as the usual suspects, and warm balls of cheese bread that expand in your belly like some magical diet aid — the establishment wants your stomach to be full for your $35.50 prix fixe. Porto Alegre is neither L.A.’s best churrascaria (that would be Fogo de Chão), its sexiest (By Brazil in Torrance), nor its sleekest (probably Burbank’s Picanha). Its sisters, the massive Green Field restaurants in Covina, Long Beach and Queens, far surpass it in grandeur. Gaucho’s Village in Glendale is homier. But in a mall whose other choices run to Tokyo Wako, Islands and P.F. Chang’s, Porto Alegre might as well be the greatest restaurant in the world. 260 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena, (626) 744-0555. Open daily 11 a.m.–10 p.m. Full bar. Parking lot. All major CC. Entrees $18.50–$35. Brazilian. JG$$[
Royal Claytons A blast of Coltrane, a flagon of Fat Tire ale, a flat iron steak with roasted cauliflower and a Sichuan peppercorn sauce — Royal Claytons, a tavern just a whiskey bottle’s toss from the Los Angeles River, is home to all kinds of amenities not usually associated with the way-downtown fringes of the loft district, along with poured-concrete floors, high ceilings and cheese plates. Royal Claytons is one of those restaurants where it is always easier to flag down the DJ than an actual waitress, but in a way that resembles the artists’ hangouts that popped up in Soho and Williamsburg long before all the lofts were snapped up by developers but not before the artists in the neighborhood learned to appreciate steamed mussels with andouille and the more unassuming kinds of Bordeaux. And of course, spring rolls stuffed with the makings of a Philly cheesesteak, and pizzas, like every place in California circa 1985, topped with wild mushrooms and fontina or goat cheese and multicolored peppers. Sometimes there can be an upside to a little gentrification. 1855 Industrial St., dwntwn., (213) 622-0512 or royalclaytonspub.com. Mon.–Fri. 11 a.m.–2 a.m., Sat.–Sun. 6 p.m.–2 a.m. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, D, MC, V. Entrees $12–$26. American. JG$$bÂ?
Royale First comes the concept, in this case a swank 1920s supper club realized by rearranging the bones of a hotel dining room that by all accounts actually did start life in the 1920s as a luxurious supper club, and then hiring a bona fide chef, here Eric Ernest, late of Citrine, to translate the concept into beefsteak and halibut, and thus Royale is born. There will be farmers-market produce and exotic seasonings involved, say a splash of a reduction flavored to resemble the Punjabi lamb stew rogan josh around a mound of raw big-eye tuna with a handful of slivered beauty-heart radish tossed in to provide a bit of crunch. The hamburger is a take on Daniel Boulud’s famous burger at DB in Manhattan, a juicy flavor bomb garnished with braised short ribs and truffled cheese. The scallops, perched on little mounds of mashed potatoes and sprinkled with frizzles of fried leek, are as totally ’80s as a Duran Duran cover. For dessert, there are chocolate platters and bowls of blue cotton candy that resemble the hairdo of The Simpsons’ Sideshow Mel. And as you might expect, the dining room is lubricated with all the laid-back house music you can stand. 2619 Wilshire Blvd., L.A., (213) 388-8488 or royaleonwilshire.com. Lunch Mon.–Fri. 11:30 a.m.–3 p.m., dinner Open daily 5:30–10:30 p.m. (lounge open till 2 a.m.). Full bar. Valet parking. All major CC. Entrees $25–$35. European. JG$$$b[Â?
Social Hollywood The first local effort from Manhattan/South Beach restaurant czar Jeffery Chodorow is pretty velvet-rope-intensive even for Hollywood. By the time you make it through the gauntlet, you may have the definite sensation of having joined an exclusive club, even if you are sequestered in a soaringly empty seraglio of a room. This may be the point — the upstairs portion of the restaurant actually is an expensive private club, and the Moroccan-themed complex itself began life as the Hollywood Athletic Club. Service seems to revolve around a loving recitation of the special cocktail menu — Rob Roys and Rusty Nails reimagined for a generation that has probably never tasted Drambuie, and may be all the better for it. Cooking, while often accomplished, is usually beside the point at a Chodorow restaurant, even the ones involving superchef Alain Ducasse, and Social Hollywood is no exception. The appetizers tend toward well-executed American creative — sweetbreads with bacon and black-eyed peas, nicely seared scallops — and the main courses toward an overcreative interpretation of Moroccan cuisine: a tagine, Moroccan stew of short ribs and Puebla-style short ribs for example, or a fairly standard roast chicken breast with a tiny b’stilla, the flaky, sugar-dusted pastry of poultry, eggs and almonds that is the glory of the Moroccan table, tossed on the side like a plop of mashed potatoes. If you’ve had enough of the splendid white-peach Bellinis, you may not even notice. 6525 Sunset Blvd., Hlywd., (323) 462-5222 or socialhollywood.com. Sun.–Wed. 6–11 p.m., Thurs.–Sat. 6 p.m.–1 a.m. (bar open till 2 a.m. nightly). Full bar. Valet parking. AE, MC, V. Entrees $31–$50. JG$$$Â?
Square One If it didn’t have so many vegetarian-friendly options on its menu, Square One might almost be a bacon-specialty restaurant. There are bowls of stone-ground grits studded with tiny cubes of bacon; frittatas of bacon, tomato and cheese; a kind of deconstructed Egg McMuffin with bacon on toasted brioche — and when you order pancakes, you have the option of a thick caramel sauce whose buttery qualities have been enriched by bacon fat. Even without the bacon, Square One is a pretty good place — big salads for lunch made with roasted beets or house-cured salmon; pressed ham-and-cheese sandwiches. The grits are the stone-ground kind from Anson Mills in South Carolina; the beef from Harris Ranch; the eggs from Mike and Sons. Still, breakfast is the one meal where ingredients and technique tend to matter less than the ability of the cook to prepare things exactly the way you like them. I don’t want to oversell this restaurant — the aesthetics are not quite my own. I tend to like pancakes that are thin, a bit rubbery and magnificently sour; Square One’s are big, thick, fluffy creatures. But it is hard to imagine anybody able to resist the baked eggs with a fava–wild mushroom ragout over grits. 4854 Fountain Ave., Hlywd., (323) 661-1109 or squareonedining.com. Tues.–Sun. 8 a.m.–4 p.m. No alcohol. Street parking. AE, MC, V. Lunch for two, food only, $15–$25.JG$b[Â?
Tan Yu Tou Judging from its menu, 12 Dishes of Basho — yet another mini-mall storefront in San Gabriel — was probably the most ambitious Sichuan restaurant ever to open in the Los Angeles area. But as wonderful as it may well have been, there are apparently a finite number of locals willing to pay $600 for a bowl of shark’s fin–turtle soup, no matter how exquisite. By the time I made it to the restaurant, the owner had changed it into a hot-pot joint — all-you-can-eat, $12 a head — called Tan Yu Tou. If you’ve ever been to a hot-pot restaurant, you know the drill. You tick off the meats and vegetables you’d like from a long checklist, a waitress sets a bifurcated boiling pot in the middle of the table, and you dunk chrysanthemum leaves and shaved lamb and mushrooms and beef tendon into either a fiery, complexly herbal red broth or a somewhat milder white broth until you are full. Tan Yu Tou’s red broth is a mean little animal, hotter than sin, resisting even the healing powers of cold Taiwan beer. An hour with the broth will have you sweating as if you have just finished a marathon. 529 E. Valley Blvd., No. 168, San Gabriel, (626) 280-8909.JG
Tender Greens A line outside a restaurant in downtown Culver City is nothing new these days. You could probably put a “Sunday Brunch” sign outside a shoe store on Culver Boulevard and see a queue begin to curl down the block. But the line outside Tender Greens, the salad café opened by veterans of Shutters and Casa del Mar, is unusual in its velocity, the utter speed with which you find yourself facing down a counterperson who wants to know whether you want to trick out your big, stainless-steel bowl of organic Scarborough Farms greens as an ahi-tuna niçoise, a grilled-chicken Caesar, a mesquite-grilled flat iron steak salad or a Mediterranean-style grilled Oxnard vegetable salad. Tender Greens is the Cold Stone Creamery of the Alice Waters revolution, but with a pleasant, umbrella-shaded patio, organic lemonade with mint and a decent microbrew selection. Tender Greens may be the very first place in Los Angeles where it is possible to get a delicious meal made with locally grown, sustainable, Earth-friendly ingredients with less hassle (and not much more expense) than it would take to pick up a double scoop with Heath Bar bits. Don’t miss the chocolate cupcake sprinkled with toffee. 9523 Culver Blvd., Culver City, (310) 842-8300 or tendergreensfood.com. Open daily 11:30 a.m.–9 p.m. Beer, wine. City lot parking around corner. AE, MC, V. Main dishes $9–$10. Salad bar. JG$b[
Tiger Lily Is it a restaurant? Is it a lounge? Is it a place to pose by the bar in a pair of artfully ripped Rogans, nursing a glass of Viognier and a skewer of vegetable shashlik while you wait for prime time at Shag? Will you ever find the actual squid for all the fried batter in the Mangalore calamari? Tiger Lily is the latest in a long, long series of Hollywood small-plates restaurants whose dramatic design perhaps outweighs the cuisine. In this case, a dramatic cavern, lit like a seraglio scene at the L.A. Opera, where it is possible to dine on the amusing snack foods of all Asian nations, from Indian samosas to Sri Lankan vegetarian curry plates, fermented-bean-flavored osso buco to tempura soft-shell crab, spring rolls to tandoori skewers, goat-cheese wontons to sweet sausage sandwiches supposedly inspired by Macao. The owner, Sumant Parda, has been at East India Grill for half of forever, and his chef, Edward Brik, has a long résum?é that includes Spago; the sleek, approachable, oversweet dishes are what Californians have grown to expect from pan-Asian cuisine. 1739 N. Vermont Ave., Los Feliz, (323) 661-5900. Open daily 5 p.m.–2 a.m. Full bar. Valet parking. All major CC. Asian. JG$$[Â?
uWink Media Bistro If you have ever dreamed of dining in a media womb, uWink Media Bistro, in one of the endless Warner Center malls, may be your idea of a perfect restaurant. Every flat surface is a video screen, and every resonant space echoes like the inside of Carson Daly’s speaker cabinet; the waiters have the affect of mute R2-D2 robots; and every table is equipped with a bank of touch screens on which you order your drinks, request a cobb salad served without egg, and play video games ranging from traditional shoot-’em-ups to Simpsons quizzes to rounds of Truth or Dare. UWink, the invention of Pong czar Nolan Bushnell, is a perfect destination for the grown-up Atari generation, a Grey Goose–serving, short-rib-flinging, full-service, sit-down restaurant where the customers don’t even have to summon the social skills required to order a crispy-chicken sandwich from a radio-operated clown. A 5-year-old could scarcely imagine a cooler restaurant. Then the food arrives — sushi rolls deep-fried inside egg-roll skins, build-your-own burgers, pulled-pork sliders, skirt-steak pizza drenched in balsamic — and you remember: Nolan Bushnell was also the visionary behind Chuck E. Cheese. 6100 Topanga Canyon Blvd., Woodland Hills, (818) 992-1100, uwink.com. Sun.–Thurs. 11 a.m.–mid., Fri.–Sat. 11 a.m.–2 a.m. Full bar. Parking lot. All major CC. Entrees $9–$20. American. JG$b?
Vertical Wine Bistro Probably the swankest wine bar in Old Town Pasadena, this high-design joint juts from a hidden courtyard on Raymond’s restaurant row, all subdued lighting and gleaming surfaces and hidden corners. You will never, never feel out of place in an LBD or a pinstriped Thom Browne suit here, or lack for well-heeled admirers. But Vertical is more ambitious than that: It aspires to be nothing less than the Pasadena equivalent of A.O.C., with zillions of wines available by the taste, the glass, the bottle and the flight — three side-by-side Williams Selyem pinot noirs, for example, or New Zealand sauvignon blancs, or Argentine malbecs. Sara Levine, who opened the foodie-beloved Opus, is the chef here, and beyond the wine, Vertical is a showcase of artisanal cheeses and cured meats, Serrano-ham-wrapped fig poppers and meaty, grape-friendly small dishes like pulled pork with prunes and polenta, and duck confit with chestnuts. If you would rather look into the depths of a Barolo-braised brisket than into the eyes of an attractive stranger, at Vertical it can always be arranged. 70 N. Raymond Ave., upstairs, Pasadena, (626) 795-3999, verticalwinebistro.com. Sun. 4–11 p.m., Tues.–Thurs. 5–11 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 4 p.m.–1 a.m. Beer, wine. Valet parking. AE, MC, V. Entrees $10–$18.JG$$bÂ?
Yatai Asian Tapas Bar The similarity between the Spanish tapas bar and the Japanese izakaya has been long noted — both are places where the cooking is subsidiary to the drinking, where immoderate consumption is both encouraged and facilitated, and where the portions are just big enough to get you through to the next glass. Yatai, a pleasantly sleek patio restaurant tucked away off the Sunset Strip, is a Japanese izakaya pretending to be an American joint pretending to be an izakaya, if you know what I mean, although the putative concept is Asian street food. (The only “street foods” you’ll find here are the sticks of satay and the deep-fried Japanese potato balls stuffed with bits of octopus tentacle.) The customers, most of whom seem to be Japanese-speaking hipsters, groove on the Indonesian gado-gado, the chicken dumplings with Thai curry, the samosas and the gooey, apple-spiked “Korean-style” sashimi as much as they do on the soy-paper sushi rolls and tempura. Yatai has the usual shortlist of soju cocktails and Pacific Rim wines, but there is also a nicely edited selection of cold sakes. I liked the Tomoju, which had a faint but distinct aftertaste of the wax lips you probably used to chew on as a kid. 8535 Sunset Blvd., W. Hlywd., (310) 289-0030. Tues.–Thurs. noon–3 p.m. & 5:30–11 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 5:30–mid., Sun. 5:30–10:30 p.m. Full bar. Parking lot. AE, MC, V. Asian. Entrees $12–$30. JG$$b[?
Zabumba This may be the center of expatriate Brazilian life in Los Angeles; headquarters of the local samba club; a hive of Brazilian karaoke; and the place you want to be, foaming glass of Brahma beer in your hand, when the Brazilian national soccer team is on TV. The cooking, of course, is Brazilian too — feijoada and grilled picanha and all that — except, oddly enough, when it is Italian, or some tropical version of Italian, with a respectable chicken parm, fettuccine Alfredo and an oddly compelling pizza topped with chicken, bananas and hearts of palm.10717 Venice Blvd., W.L.A., (310) 841-6525. Thurs.–Sun. 6–10 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 7-10 mid. Full bar. Street parking. All major CC. JG$bÂ
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