Ciudad Glistening oysters at happy hour. Fatally strong mojitos. Peruvian-style ceviches and Bolivian-style tamales, Caribbean paella and a classic pescado Veracruzana, Bahia-style moqueqas and a fritanga that would knock them silly in Managua. Ciudad, the Pan-Latin 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. Daytime is for office workers; at night, two-thirds of the customers are dressed in black. 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
Kagaya Shabu shabu joints have proliferated like rabbits in the last couple of years. And to tell the truth, the shabu shabu ritual 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. But 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. Mon.–Sat. 6–10:30 p.m., Sun. 6–10 p.m. Wine, beer, sake. Lot parking. DC, MC, V. $38 fixed price. Japanese. JG
Langer’s It’s true: the hours are terrible, and somebody may well try to sell you a forged green card on your way back to the car. But the best pastrami sandwiches in America are still, as they have been for 60 years, slapped together at Langer’s, a short subway ride away from practically anywhere in Los Angeles, kitty-corner from MacArthur Park. The superb rye bread, double baked, has a hard, crunchy crust. The meat — dense, hand sliced, nowhere near lean — has the firm, chewy consistency of Parma prosciutto, a gentle flavor of garlic, and a clean edge of smokiness that can remind you of the kinship between pastrami and Texas barbecue. 704 S. Alvarado St., L.A., (213) 483-8050. Mon.–Sat. 8 a.m.–4 p.m. Beer and wine. Curbside service (call ahead). Validated lot parking (on corner of Westlake Ave. and Seventh St.). MC, V. Jewish Deli. JG
Paseo Chapin Paseo Chapin’s pepian is a forceful version of this Mayan stew: ground, spiced squash seeds, fortified with burnt bread and toasted chiles and thinned out with broth, overwhelming the boiled chicken that floats in it, but also giving the rather ordinary bird substance. And once in your life, you should try a real Guatemalan mole de platano, tart slices of fried plantain in a thick, dangerous sauce of the bitterest chocolate, flavored with cinnamon and dusted with seeds, intricate as a Guatemalan weaving. 2220 W. Seventh St., L.A., (213) 385-7420. Open daily 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Lunch or dinner for two, food only, $12–$19. Beer and wine. Validated lot parking. Cash only. Guatemalan. JG
Pitfire Pizza Company From the nearby municipal parking lot, Pitfire smells like a barbecue pit, a Girl Scout campsite, a hamburger stand — anything but what it is, which is a franchise-ready pizzeria. But the pies, given a slow, two-day rise and fired on the floor of a ceramic oven, are superb examples of the breed, puffy in the Neapolitan manner and tinged with smoke, fresh mozzarella browned at its top like a toasted marshmallow, fennel sausage and roast pumpkin and other high-quality ingredients blackened and sizzling and crisp. You have had better pizza than this — Casa Bianca comes to mind — and the guy who came up with the recipes probably didn’t apprentice in Naples. I have heard that the crust was racier in the beginning, when it was grilled in the manner of Rhode Island’s Il Forno instead of baked. Still, this is the kind of neighborhood pizzeria we should all have in our neighborhoods, a testament to the goodness of flame. 108 W. Second St., dwntwn., (213) 808-1200. Mon.-Sat. 11 a.m.-10 p.m., Sun. noon-10 p.m. Beer, wine and sangria. Street parking and paid lot. AE, MC, V. Also at 5211 Lankershim Blvd., N. Hlywd., (818) 980-2949, and 2018 Westwood Blvd., Westwood, (310) 481-9860. Pizzeria.IL
Angeli Caffe Before Angeli, Angelenos had no idea how much they loved casual Italian cooking — not four-cheese lasagna or cognac-flamed veal fillets, but spaghetti alla checca, roast chicken and minimally garnished pizza. The clove that dare not speak its name makes a bold and uncensored appearance in the version of spaghetti aglio e olio, a powerful, pungent pasta tossed with caramelized garlic, hot chile flakes and a little parsley, nothing else, and the sticky, powerful garlic essence is so powerful that you probably have to use industrial abrasives to get it off your teeth. In other words, it’s the real thing, compatible with a glass of professional-grade Chianti and rendering the tempering umami of Parmesan cheese almost useless. The restaurant’s heat may be decades behind it, and Kleiman’s repertory of artisanal olive oils, summertime bread salads and goat-cheese pizzas may no longer be novel, but sometimes there is no place you would rather be than behind a table at Angeli, contemplating a glass of Sangiovese and starting in on a plateful of ravioli with melted butter and sage. The Thursday-night dinners, multicourse prix fixe extravaganzas based around a different cuisine each week, are legend. 7274 Melrose Ave., L.A., (323) 936-9086 or www.angelicaffe.com. Lunch Tues.–Fri. 11:30 a.m.–2:30 p.m.; dinner Tues.–Thurs. & Sun. 5–10 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 5–11 p.m. Beer and wine. Valet parking. AE, D, MC, V. Rustic regional Italian. JG
Campanile Mark Peel may be the most prominent chef in the country whose reputation largely rests with his prowess on the grill, and his Campanile may showcase more shades of fire and heat than any restaurant on Earth. Salmon grilled atop cedar planks takes on the cigar-box fragrance of that wood, and leg of lamb is sometimes flavored with the smoke from smoldering herbs. Thin, broad sheets of veal scallopine pick up all the heady fragrance of the cured oak logs burning beneath them. Grilled-fish soup is a sort of deconstructed bouillabaisse, a dish involving four or five sea creatures, each with a different cooking time and a different capacity for heat — a feat of kitchen virtuosity with the same degree of difficulty as a reverse 360 dunk. Peel is the LeBron James of the grill. 624 S. La Brea Ave., L.A., (323) 938-1447. Lunch Mon.–Fri. 11:30 a.m.–2:30 p.m.; dinner Mon.–Wed. 6–10 p.m., Thurs.–Sat. 5:30–11 p.m.; brunch Sunday 9:30 a.m.–1:30 p.m. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, CB, DC, MC, V. California/Mediterranean. JG
Foundry Patina, overseen by Joachim Splichal, perhaps the greatest technical chef in the history of Los Angeles restaurants, was the laboratory where a generation of young chefs learned to pair the mellowness of cooked vegetables with the sharper flavors of their raw counterparts, to compose brown-butter vinaigrettes, to arrange dishes using flavors and techniques from 12 phyla and three continents: a vibrant, intellectual, farm-friendly cuisine. Foundry, a Melrose supper club run by Patina alum Eric Greenspan, is the newest restaurant to emerge from Patina’s orbit, as relaxed as a place with a $90 tasting menu can be, with a spacious patio, a dining room weirdly commingled with the open kitchen, and a bar area dominated by laid-back piano music from founding Fishbone keyboardist Christopher Dowd. Waiters rush by with little cast-iron pots of pork belly with fried eggs and fitted rounds of toast; rare, crisp-skinned salmon with shaved beets and puréed beets; and braised short ribs with an exceptionally airy horseradish-potato purée. The intimate patio is pleasant; the eclectic wine list is long and reasonably priced. 7465 Melrose Ave., L.A., (323) 651-0915 or www.thefoundryonmelrose.com. Tues.–Sat. 6–10 p.m., Sun. 10 a.m.–3:30 p.m. Bar open Thurs. till mid. and Fri.–Sat. till 2 a.m. Full bar. Music. Valet parking. All major CC. California/American. JG
Jitlada Thai Restaurant Jitlada has always been one of the most respected Thai restaurants in Los Angeles, the fanciest place in Thai Town since at least the late 1970s. But with a recent change of ownership, it’s been reborn. The kua kling Phat Tha Lung at Jitlada may be the spiciest food you can eat in Los Angeles at the moment, a sweet, thick, brown curry tossed in a wok with shredded beef, a turmeric-rich endorphin bomb that is traditionally one of the hottest mouthfuls in southern Thailand, which is to say the world. Jitlada’s auxiliary menu is almost a thesaurus of southern Thai specialties that you probably haven’t encountered outside a guidebook — things like delicious, foul-smelling yellow curries of fermented bamboo shoots; a Songkhia-style rice salad, khao yam, tossed with toasted coconut, dried shrimp, shredded fresh lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves and a sweet sauce called naam khoei; and whole sea bass shellacked with fresh turmeric, deep-fried and showered with crunchy bits of crisp, fried garlic. The house version of the classic Thai dessert of ripe mango and coconut-scented sticky rice is superb. 5233½ Sunset Blvd., Hlywd., (323) 663-3104. Mon. 5-10 p.m., Tues.-Thurs. 11 a.m.-10 p.m., Fri.-Sun. 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Beer and wine. Difficult lot parking. AE, MC, V. Thai.ILM
Square One It is hard to go wrong with bacon, but Square One, a cheerful, brightly painted breakfast place in the L. Ron Hubbard district of East Hollywood, may have the city’s best: Nueske’s bacon, the well-regarded artisanal product from northern Wisconsin, sliced thick, laid on a rack and slow-roasted until it becomes crisp but pliable, sweet and deeply smoky, exploding under your teeth into gushers of fragrant juice. Still, even without the bacon, Square One is a pretty good place — epochal breakfasts, big salads for lunch made with roasted beets or house-cured salmon, pressed ham-and-cheese sandwiches, organic grits, fragile chocolate-chip cookies as big around as dinner plates. The chefs shop the same way you do, or at least the way you would like to think that you would do if your life were devoted to cooking breakfast rather than to such unimportant concerns as work, television and sex. 4854 Fountain Ave., Hlywd., (323) 661-1109 or www.squareonedining.com. Tues.–Sun. 8 a.m.–4 p.m. No alcohol. Street parking. AE, MC, V. American. JG
La Terza What chef Gino Angelini is attempting at La Terza may be no less than seeing California food through the prism of his advanced Italian technique, re-imagining California as an Italian province that happens to have a few agricultural virtues of its own. Perfumed by a wood-fired rotisserie at one end of the restaurant, and lubricated by a sharp wine list put together by former Campanile maitre d’ Claudio Trotta, it even looks Italian. Many of Angelini’s signature dishes surface here, including guanciale-wrapped monkfish, roasted sole with thyme, beets with Gorgonzola and walnuts. Pastas may not be a priority here — that would be the tremendous rotisserie meats — but they are among the best in town at the moment. 8384 W. Third St., L.A., (323) 782-8384. Lunch daily, 11:30 a.m.–2:30 p.m.; dinner daily, 5:30–11 p.m.; brunch Sun., 10 a.m.–2:30 p.m. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, MC, V. Dinner for two, food only, $58–$96. Italian. JG
Uzbekistan A giant, blistering-hot bialy served with cream cheese, baked dumplings called samsa stuffed with lamb, Korean-seeming hand-cut lagman noodles with lots and lots of carrots — Uzbekistan is probably the best Central Asian restaurant in Los Angeles, a living, garlic-reeking souvenir of the city Tashkent in a dining room that could double as a set for one of those ethnic disco parties on channel 18, and a vodka-drenched social center for some of the least subtle expats on earth. The great dish here is plov, the grandfather of all rice pilafs, dense and slightly oily, more like fried rice than ordinary pilaf, spiked with long-cooked carrots and crisp-edged chunks of lamb, flavored with a peculiar sort of Uzbeki cumin seed that is halfway between cumin and caraway. 7077 Sunset Blvd., Hlywd.; (323) 464-3663. Open daily 11 a.m.mid. Full bar. Lot parking. AE, DC, Disc., MC, V. JG
Mid-Wilshire/Koreatown/Central Los Angeles
Chungkiwa I happen to like Soot Bull Jeep a lot, but one must admit: There are a lot of other barbecue joints in Koreatown. Chungkiwa serves an ample selection of panchan (side dishes); uses Angus beef for its barbecue; and has a tasty, tangy bowl of naengmyon, chewy, cold buckwheat noodles, for afterward. And tabs tend to be about a third less than they are at Soot Bull Jeep, which probably explains the large number of students among the regulars. 3545 W. Olympic Blvd., L.A., (323) 737-0809. Open daily 11 a.m.-10:30 p.m. Beer, wine. Parking. Major CC. Korean.
El Colmao Start with the avocado salad — cool, ripe chunks garnished with thin slices of raw onion and dressed with splashes of vinegar and torrents of good Spanish olive oil; then a heaping plateful of thin, pounded circles of unripe plantains, fried crisp as potato chips and dusted with salt. Next, boiled yuca; a big plateful of moros y cristianos (Moors and Christians), a tasty miscegenation of black beans and rice fried with garlic and gobbets of fat pork; piles of fried fresh ham, pierna de puerco, crisp and brown on the outside and meltingly tender within, topped with an immoderate portion of caramelized onions. For dessert: good flan and torpor — and strong Cuban espresso. 2328 W. Pico Blvd., (213) 386-6131. Lunch and dinner., 10 a.m.–8:30 p.m. Beer and wine. Lot parking. Food for two, $9–$28. MC, V. Cuban. JG
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 dingy 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. (In practice, nobody orders the burger.) And the best part of the meal may be the dense stratum of French fries underneath the chickens, 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. Limited lot parking. Cash only. Chicken. JG
Meals by Genet Among all the kitsch and incense of Fairfax Avenue’s Little Ethiopia, Meals by Genet stands out as an Ethiopian bistro, which is to say a homey, soft-lit dining room that looks at least as French as it does African. The menu is short: crisp-skinned fried trout, half a dozen stews, and Genet Agonafer’s delicious version of kitfo, a dish of minced raw beef tossed with warm, spiced butter. And her dorowot is jaw-droppingly good, vibrating with what must be ginger and black pepper and bishop’s weed and clove, but tasting of none of them, so formidably solid that the chicken, which is well-cooked, becomes just another ingredient in the sauce. Even an Ethiopian grandmother would approve. 1053 S. Fairfax Ave., L.A., (323) 938-9304 or www.mealsbygenet.com. Wed.–Sun. 5:30 p.m.–10 p.m. Beer and wine. Catering. Street parking. MC, V. Ethiopian. JG
Osteria Mozza Almost anybody who has tasted Nancy Silverton’s miracles in the media of bread, pastry, cheese or pizza can attest to the power of the way she thinks about food. Silverton’s osteria, a sleek, bustling restaurant in the same building as her Pizzeria Mozza, has at its center her mozzarella bar, a loose take on the mozzarella-centric cuisine at the chic wine bar Obika near the Pantheon in central Rome. And it is to her credit that her ideas, along with the skills of Matt Molina, the young San Gabriel native who is her chef, and the contributions of partners Joe Bastianich and Mario Batali as well as wine czar David Rosoff — that Osteria Mozza pulls together: the braised guinea fowl and the spoon-tender pork roast inspired by rural Umbrian trattorias sharing menu space with meat-sauced garganelli and tortellini en brodo from the most sophisticated restaurants in Bologna; the baroque, almost sashimi-like constructions of fresh mozzarella and exotic condiments co-existing with the simplest possible rendition of linguine cacio e pepe. (The standard disclaimer applies: Nancy is a longtime family friend and she co-wrote a book with my wife. You are free to discount any of my opinions, although you would be a fool to do so.) 6602 Melrose Ave., L.A., (323) 297-0100. Mon.-Fri. 5:30-11 p.m., Sat. 5-11 p.m., Sun. 5-10 p.m. Beer, wine. Valet parking. Major CC. Italian. JG
West Hollywood/La Cienega
A.O.C. If Suzanne Goin’s wine bar weren’t quite so popular, it would be the kind of place you dropped into for a glass of vino and maybe a bit of octopus, then a glass of Sancerre and a few grilled sardines, then a glass of Friulian Tocai and a plate of sliced prosciutto, then a glass of Corbières and the tiniest plate of skewered grilled lamb with mint. Unless you were in the mood for the bacon-wrapped dates with Parmesan on the bar menu, which would go so nicely with one of those big southern Italian reds, or a ripe Crozier blue with a late-bottled port, or whatever creature comes with a bit of Goin’s romesco sauce. You could drink and eat like this all night if you remembered to make a reservation — and if A.O.C. didn’t unreasonably stop serving at 11. 8022 W. Third St., L.A., (323) 653-6359. Mon.–Fri. 6–11 p.m., Sat. 5:30–11 p.m., Sun. 5:30–10 p.m. Wine bar. Valet parking. AE, MC, V. French-Mediterranean-influenced small plates. JG
Bastide To the small, food-obsessed population of Angelenos who know the difference between a sliver of Jabugo ham and a chunk of mere jamon serrano, Bastide is the Montrachet-slinging equivalent of Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory, with Space Jam auteur Joe Pytka, its mad proprietor, taking the place of the estimable Mr. Wonka. The newest chef is Paul Shoemaker, late of Providence. Pieter Verheyde, the former sommelier at Alain Ducasse's in New York and Paris is master of the wine list. The menu is prix-fixe, $100 for seven courses; another $100 or $190, depending on how far you want to go, lets you experience Verheyde’s eccentric wine pairing, which is one of the best shows in town. 8475 Melrose Place, West Hollywood, (323) 651-5950. Tues.-Sat. 6 p.m.-10 p.m. Valet parking. All major CC. American/French. JG
Dominick’s For most of its existence, Dominick’s was famous as the Hollywood restaurant that never looked open, a weathered, low building, neon permanently unlit, across from the small amusement park that later became the site of the Beverly Center. It was, or at least had a reputation as, the original Rat Pack hangout. And when it finally changed hands, it was made over into a neo–Rat Pack steakhouse, then a neo-neo–Rat Pack fusion place, then a couple of other things I don’t remember until it finally ended up as a pleasant, much-enlarged, neo-neo-neo–Rat Pack restaurant with late hours, a killer recipe for spaghetti and meatballs, and a menu equally divided between tough-guy American-Italian cooking and girly, salady stuff, not to mention $15 Sunday dinners that come with the option of a $10 bottle of a house wine with the unfortunate name of Dago Red. Oddly, it is a very pleasant place to be, even when you are not watching young television stars grope one another, which you usually are. 8715 Beverly Blvd., W. Hlywd., (310) 652-2335. Sun.-Thurs. 6 p.m.-mid., Fri.-Sat. 6 p.m.-1 a.m. Beer, wine. Valet parking. AE, MC, V. Italian.
Koi At a time when hot restaurants tend to have the lifespan of mayflies, Koi is more popular than ever, a hookup nirvana of intimate patios and forested corners; a dining room whose seating chart seems ripped straight from the pages of Us Weekly. Koi’s matrix of sushi, celebrity and sex bumped up the paradigm, and there are now Koi-like lounges around the globe. It is widely believed, though, that the post-Matsuhisa-style cuisine at Koi is an afterthought, that the avocado-laden tuna tartare on crispy won tons, the tuna sashimi with jalapeño, and the albacore Italiano are secondary to the rush, the scene, even the steak. But somebody has been paying attention behind the sushi bar. And if you’re going to eat something like a baked-crab hand roll, you might as well have a good one. It’ll give you something to do while you eavesdrop on Lindsay Lohan. 730 N. La Cienega Blvd., L.A., (310) 659-9449. Mon.–Wed. 6–11 p.m., Thurs. 6–11:30 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 6–mid., Sun. 6–10 p.m. Full bar. Valet parking. All major CC. California Contemporary. JG
Lucques The California-Mediterranean cooking of Suzanne Goin, which is feminine in all the best ways, is profoundly beautiful in its simplicity, and there is satori to be found in every bite of grilled fish, every herb salad. When she’s on, Goin teases out the flavor from a tomato with the precision of a sushi master, making textural contrasts dance and playing with bursts of acidity and the resinous flavors of fresh herbs. Lucques, named for a vivid green variety of French olive, is located in Harold Lloyd’s old carriage house; it boasts an ultrasleek Barbara Barry design and one of the nicest patios in West Hollywood, but on loud weekend nights the restaurant can sometimes seem as if it is about 90 percent bar. Sunday family dinners are not to be missed. 8474 Melrose Ave., W. Hlywd., (323) 655-6277. Sunday nights feature three-course prix fixe dinners. Lunch Tues.–Sat. noon–2:30 p.m.; dinner Mon.–Tues. 6–10 p.m., Wed.–Sat. 6–11 p.m., Sun. 5–10 p.m. Full bar (limited bar menu available 10 p.m.–mid.). Valet parking. AE, MC, V. California-French. JG
Westwood/West L.A./Century City
Craft When chef Tom Colicchio’s original Craft opened in Manhattan’s Gramercy Park neighborhood, it was a fantasy restaurant, a place where customers were invited to construct their meals from scratch, or rather from gleaming copper pots of prepared meats, sauces, starches and vegetables all ordered à la carte. At Craft in Century City, in a handsome neo-Neutra space a few yards from both ICM and CAA, it is a veritable festival of à la carte à gogo: high-quality slabs of wagyu beef, local sea bass wrapped in prosciutto, roast Heritage pork laminated with sorrel leaves and braised Alaskan sablefish that you are invited to pair with sautéed long beans or baby turnips, creamed Tuscan kale or smoky, beautifully roasted wild mushrooms, braised peewee potatoes or shrimp risotto. 10100 Constellation Blvd., Century City, (310) 279-4180. Lunch Mon.-Fri. 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.; dinner Mon.-Thurs. 6-10 p.m., Fri.-Sat. 5:45-10:30 p.m., Sun. 5-9 p.m. Full bar. Valet or paid lot. AE, DC, MC, V. Contemporary American.
Beverly Hills and vicinity
The Ivy A certain breed of well-groomed Angelenos like to look at East Coast media people looking at Angelenos, which is why they flock to the Ivy, a pretty, sun-bleached patio restaurant that looks the way Los Angeles is supposed to if your experience of the town comes from the movies. The food — crab cakes, corn chowder, New Orleans–style barbecued shrimp — is acceptable though expensive, down-home food at uptown prices. But the Ivy may thrive because it caters to the sort of whims legion in this part of town. If South Beach and Atkins were national cuisines, the Ivy would be an ethnic restaurant. 113 N. Robertson Blvd., L.A., (310) 274-8303. Lunch and dinner Mon.–Fri. 11:30 a.m.–10:30 p.m., Sat. 11 a.m.–10:30 p.m.; brunch Sun. 10:30 a.m.–3:30 p.m. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, CB, DC, MC, V. Entrées $25–$39. American. JG
Bay Cities The Italian deli Bay Cities makes a decent turkey sandwich, a loud, greasy meatball sandwich and a very respectable hero, but the sandwich of choice here is a monster sub, straight outta Brooklyn, called “The Godmother,” which includes a slice of every Italian cold cut on Earth. Fully dressed with lettuce, tomato, mayonnaise, mustard and a few squirts of a garlicky vinaigrette, a Godmother feeds a couple of people at least; the guys behind the counter will look at you quizzically if they suspect you’re planning to eat a whole one yourself. 1517 Lincoln Blvd., Santa Monica, (310) 395-8279. Tues.–Sat. 9 a.m.–7 p.m., Sun. till 6 p.m. Beer, wine and liquor for takeout only. Lot parking. MC, V. Sandwiches $2–$15. Italian Deli. JG
Reddi-Chick In the exalted reaches north of Montana Avenue, the Brentwood Country Mart is synonymous with Reddi-Chick, whose roaring fire and golden-skinned roasting fowl exude an aroma almost powerful enough to smell at the beach. The basic item here is the chicken basket, half a roast chicken buried beneath a high mound of fries. It is probably not the best chicken you’ve ever had, but it’s real good, like the best conceivable version of the chickens that spin in supermarkets. 225 26th St., Santa Monica, (310) 393-5238. Mon.–Sat. 9 a.m.–7:30 p.m. No alcohol. Street parking. Cash only. Sandwiches and dinners $4.10–$15.75. American. JG HL
Culver City/Venice and vicinity
El Abajeno The cornerstone of the menu at El Abajeno is its specialty burrito, a monstrous construction the size and shape of a shoebox: two huge tortillas wrapped around truly heroic portions of lettuce, rice, beans and meat. An El Abajeno burrito, the Westside’s answer to the mammoth beasts served at El Tepeyac in East L.A., could probably feed a family of six with leftovers for lunch the next day, though I have never seen one attacked by more than one hungry guy. 4515 Inglewood Blvd., Culver City, (310) 390-0755. Breakfast, lunch and dinner Mon.–Thurs. 8 a.m.–8:30 p.m., Fri. 8 a.m.–9 p.m., Sun. 7 a.m.–8:30 p.m. Beer. Lot parking. Lunch or dinner for two, food only, $11–$18. AE, MC, V. Mexican. JG
Zabumba Zabumba is less a center of xinxin and jungle-fish stews than a place to gulp a shrimp pizza and a glass of passion-fruit juice between band sets. In fact, it’s the center of expatriate Brazilian life in Los Angeles: headquarters of the local samba club; a hive of Brazilian karaoke; and a steady venue for all forms of Brazilian entertainment this side of Shakira look-alike competitions. In the evenings, Zabumba seems more bar than restaurant, with a long list of exotic cocktails and a blender that seems to go nonstop. 10717 Venice Blvd., Culver City, (310) 841-6525. Dinner Tues.–Sun. 5 p.m.–2 a.m. Full bar. Street parking. AE, MC, V. Dinner for two, food only, $14–$25. Brazilian. JG
San Fernando Valley
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 claim to the title. 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. Lot parking. All major CC. Also at 935 S. Glendora Ave., West Covina, (626) 480-0116. Thai. JG HLMK
Tama Sushi Twenty years ago, Katsu Michite was at the center of the Los Angeles sushi universe, the sushi chef of choice to both famous chefs and famous artists. And Michite’s sushi is still fantastic; his omakase lunch is one of the better sushi deals in town — with all the needlefish and beltfish and various kinds of jacks you’d expect at a high-caliber sushi counter. His signature method is to mold fish to rice in a way that leaves the sushi easy to manage but allows it to practically explode inside your mouth. He may be using lemon to dress his halibut instead of imported yuzu and a decent paste instead of fresh wasabi, but he knows how to buy a fish, and his knife has an unerring sense of the sweet spot on a fillet. 11920 Ventura Blvd., Studio City, (818) 760-4585. Lunch Mon.–Sat. 11:30 a.m.–2:30 p.m., dinner Fri.–Sat.. 5–11 p.m., Sun.–Thurs. 5–10 p.m. Beer, wine and sake. Valet parking Tues.–Sat. AE, MC, V. Japanese. JG
South Los Angeles
J N J Burger & Bar-B-Q There may be no more evocative location for a barbecue pit than the one currently occupied by J N J Burger & Bar-B-Q. A bit east of the Culver City Media District, the ramshackle structure is bordered on two sides by the local firewood outlet, in the shadow of fruitwood mountains and hillocks of oak, drifts of stacked logs that reach two or three stories in height. The brawny, dripping beef ribs are great, and the chicken is fine and moist. It is the spareribs, however, that make the barbecue stand. J N J’s long-cooked babies are compelling — blackened, rendered of most of their fat, tending almost toward a jerkylike chaw, saturated with smoke, and profoundly spicy even without the sauce, which blankets the pork like a winter coat. J N J may be the closest thing you are going to find to a country-road shack within the confines of Los Angeles. 5754 W. Adams Blvd., L.A., (323) 933-7366. Mon.-Thurs. 10:30 a.m.-7 p.m., Fri.-Sat. 10:30 a.m.-9 p.m. No alcohol. Street parking. Cash only. Lunch or dinner for two, food only, $6-$28. American.
Sanuki No Sato Udon noodles come in all the standard flavors: topped with crisp buttons of tempura batter in a plain soy-enriched broth, or with chewy bits of rice cake, or with exquisitely slimy Japanese mountain yams. Yukinabe udon — served in a rustic-looking iron kettle and buried beneath half an inch of grated daikon, a sprinkling of grated wasabi and a ferociously spiced cod-egg sac — is refreshing in spite of its bulk, an exotic bowl you could eat every day. 18206 S. Western Ave., Gardena, (310) 324-9184. Open daily, 11:30 a.m.–2:30 p.m. & 5:30–10 p.m. Beer and wine. Lot parking. Lunch or dinner for two, food only, $13–$36. AE, DC, MC, V. Japanese. JG
East Los Angeles/Highland Park
Cemitas Poblanas Elvirita #1 Restaurante Elvirita is a small double storefront just up the hill from El Mercado and across the street from a big cemetery. A decade or so ago, the original Cemitas Poblanas, a café in the same location, was probably the first Puebla-style restaurant in Los Angeles, the first place specifically devoted to cemitas, perhaps the greatest of Mexico’s sandwiches. These are the best I’ve ever tasted — careful, lush compositions of crisp milanesa and quesillo; juicy carnitas and quesillo; head cheese and quesillo; and, in one memorable instance, quesillo and quesillo, punctuated with avocado and chipotles. There is the Poblano specialty called taco arabe, carbonized nubs of pork (perversely enough for an Arab taco) dressed with chipotle salsa and rolled like shwarma into a flour tortilla standing in for the pita. And there are giant quesadillas stuffed with the black, musky fungus huitlacoche. You can combine the two most famous Puebla dishes in cemitas de mole: sandwiches stuffed with shredded chicken in a spicy, pitch-black mole Poblano — as perfect as it is possible to imagine a sandwich to be. 3010 E. First St., L.A., (323) 881-0428. Open daily 10 a.m.-9 p.m. No alcohol. Street parking. Cash only. Mexican.
La Casita Mexicana When you sit down at La Casita, the spiritual home of Mexican cooking in Los Angeles, you are brought a basket of warm chips drizzled with jet-black mole poblano, a chile-laced red pepian and a green pepian made from crushed pumpkin seeds: the dense, complexly sweet mother sauces that are at the heart of La Casita’s cooking. Chefs Jaime Martin del Campo and Ramiro Arvizu are everywhere if you follow Spanish-language media, demonstrating recipes on the Univision morning show, opening supermarkets, splashed across advertising posters. They dominate the food pages of La Opinión, and no local discussion of mole poblano, nopalitos or chilaquiles is complete until they have had their say. The two haunt communal farms, looking for huazontle, hoja santa and nopales as fresh and beautiful as they might be in an agriculture-obsessed Jalisco village. But mostly there is the cooking: a half-dozen different kinds of chilaquiles at breakfast, a beautiful purple-corn pozole, delicious enfrijoladas, and an impeccable version of chiles en nogada, the most famous dish of haute Mexican cuisine. 4030 E. Gage Ave., Bell, (323) 773-1898 or www.casitamex.com. Open daily 9 a.m.–10 p.m. AE, M, V. No alcohol. Street parking. Mexican. JG H
Pasadena and vicinity
Firefly Bistro The Firefly is a comfortable restaurant, the kind of neighborhood place you drop into a couple of times a month because you like the idea of cornmeal-fried anchovies in your caesar salad, or of a paella that tastes more like an uptown version of jambalaya, or of a strawberry shortcake that just happens to be frosted with a superior lemon curd. Asian touches pop up now and again, and a few Mexican things, and quite a few folky flavors from Spain. (The tapas served to coincide with the Thursday-evening farmers market right outside the bistro’s doors have become a South Pasadena tradition.) But the specialty here 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 p.m. (Fri.-Sat. till 10 p.m.). Beer and wine. Street parking. AE, D, MC, V. $14–$27. Modern American. JG
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. Lot parking. Cash or check. Entrées $5–$10. American. JG
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. Lunch Tues.-Fri. 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m., dinner 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
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Monterey Park/San Gabriel and vicinity
Elite One of the sharpest seafood houses in town, Elite is certainly the most expensive Chinese restaurant in the San Gabriel Valley. The customers tend to drink big red wine instead of beer, and there are enough unsustainable species on the seafood menu to make a Heal the Bay member weep salty, salty tears. Yet the frog stir-fried with fresh chiles and the dried-shellfish concoction known as XO sauce is formidable, with an exquisite low-tide pungency punching through with every bite. The roast squab has skin as delicately crunchy as any Beijing duck. The Shunde-style soup of seafood with minced ham and bits of bitter melon is as tautly balanced as the exhaust note of a Lamborghini. And the morning dim sum breakfasts, ordered from menus instead of carts, are divine. 700 S. Atlantic Blvd., Monterey Park, (626) 282-9998. Dim sum Mon.–Fri. 10:30 a.m.–3 p.m., Sat.–Sun. 10 a.m.–3 p.m.; dinner nightly 5–11 p.m. Beer and wine. Street parking. AE, MC, V. Chinese. JG
Macau Street Regulars may tempt you with stories of fried duck chins, roasted pork neck, fragrant claypot rice with Chinese barbecue and long-simmered tonic soups, tong shui, served in ceramic pumpkins. But when you finally land a table at the crowded Macau-style café, you will find that all around you everybody has ordered the same thing: the house-special crab, which is to say a plump, honestly sized crustacean dipped in thin batter, dusted with spices and fried to a glorious crackle, a pile of salty, dismembered parts sprinkled with a handful of pulverized fried garlic and just enough chile slices to set your mouth aglow. The one time I tried to order the curry crab, a famous Macanese dish listed on the restaurant’s list of specialties, the waitress shot me a look that I last remember receiving from an algebra teacher in eighth grade. A meal here is unthinkable without at least one dessert order of the Macau egg-custard tarts, sun-yellow things encased in flaky pastry so intricately layered that it makes puff pastry seem as crude as Wonder Bread. 429 W. Garvey Ave., Monterey Park, (626) 288-3568. Daily 11 a.m.–1 a.m. No alcohol. Lot parking in rear. MC, V. Macanese. JG
Vietnam Restaurant Michael Le, son of the Golden Deli owners and formerly of Vietnam House, holds court behind the cash register, once again back in the noodle business, back with his delicious barbecued squid fragrant bowls of pho, and, best of all, the magnificent seven-beef dinner, a procession of sweet beef salad, beef wrapped in charred la lot leaves, ground beef baked with vermicelli into a crumbly meat loaf and grilled beef filets twisted into chewy cylinders, beef daubed with sweet satay sauce, and slices of beef that you simmer in a tabletop cauldron seething with boiling vinegar. The seven-beef extravaganza ends with big bowls of beef-laced porridge, which oddly enough is spiced like a Christmas cookie. This $12.95 feast is enough to feed two, for less than the price of a house salad at Mastro’s. 340 W. Las Tunas Dr., San Gabriel, (626) 281-5577. Open Sun. 10 a.m.–9:30 p.m., Mon.–Wed. 10 a.m.–9 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 10 a.m.–10 p.m. (Closed Thursdays.) No alcohol. Lot parking. MC, V. JG