Where to Eat Now: New to the List

Agra. Balti, in theory at least, is a kind of Kashmiri curry with roots in the Islamic cuisine of northern Pakistan, cooked and served in handled metal pots that resemble miniature woks. In practice, the word balti has come to mean almost any fiercely hot curry served to the overwhelmingly English clientele of the baltihouses of Birmingham — food tailored, as a friend says, to the alcohol-deadened palates of drunken football hooligans. Like a Tommyburger, a balti worthy of the name can still be tasted when one is in the clutches of the next morning’s hangover. Agra, an Indian restaurant in Silver Lake, certainly serves cuisine more subtle than that, but there is a considerable list of baltis on the menu, and they are overwhelmingly, punishingly hot, with all the refinement of last week’s 50 Cent remix played at earth-thumping volume from the back of a Scion. “Do you want that American hot or English hot?” sneers the waiter. “I will be warning you: American hot is a little milder than what the English are calling medium.” 4325 Sunset Blvd., Silver Lake, (323) 665-7818. Open daily for lunch and dinner 11 a.m.–11 p.m. No alcohol. Takeout. Parking lot. AE, DC, MC, V. JG $

AJ’s Fish & Chips. If you think Ye Olde King’s Head Pub is ye olde past its prime, have a craving for fish ’n’ chips and some place new, then venture into the arcade across from Vroman’s in Pasadena, the arched one from the 1920s that houses various art galleries, the Yucatecan restaurant El Portal and a dusty bookstore that seems to specialize in unread old sets of Kipling, you will find AJ’s Fish & Chips in the corner of the promenade that shrinks the farthest from the sun. AJ’s cook and waitresses are Thai, and the chips, French fries, are just dreadful, formerly frozen shoestrings that could use a little more time in the oil. The tartar sauce seems made by somebody who’s never tasted tartar sauce. The strongest drink on the menu is black Thai iced tea. There may not be a dartboard within miles. But the fish itself, northern cod breaded and fried to a golden crunch you may associate more with Southeast Asia than with the Sceptered Isle, is nothing short of superb. And at AJ’s you can also get a plate of ground chicken sautéed with green chiles and Thai basil that blows the roof off any steak-and-kidney pie you’d care to name. If that’s what you have in mind. 696 E. Colorado Blvd., No. 11, Pasadena, (626) 795-3793. Mon.–Sat. 11 a.m.–7 p.m. No alcohol. Takeout. Validated parking. AE, MC, V. JG $

Al and Bea’s. They are a stolid bunch, Los Angeles burrito lovers, neatly queued at burrito shrines at noon, pulling homemade burritos out of lunch buckets, occasionally attending to late-night cravings as faithfully as worshipers attending midnight Mass. And Al & Bea’s is one of the greatest of the Eastside’s classic burrito palaces, a low, ancient, heavily fortified kitchen, but the plainness of the food at Al & Bea’s may come as kind of a shock. Your choices are basically limited to red chile or green, meat or no meat, and whether to pay the extra 15 cents for cheese. When you order, the guy behind the register flips your ticket out of his pad like a cardsharp showing you the four of clubs. You pull your napkin from a roll. Then you wait, and eavesdrop on the line. In addition to burritos, there are old-fashioned fried tacos with guacamole, which are delicious, and hot, oily taquitos, which are even better. Hamburgers are available, although in practice they seem mostly to be eaten by patrons under the age of 10, as well as an only-in-East-L.A. classic known as the Four-Finger Dog, which is a couple of hot dogs dressed like a burger and served on a hamburger bun. The fried jalapeños, stuffed with something very like the shiny, processed cheese you find topping nachos in movie theaters and at Dodger Stadium, are more compelling than they have any right to be. 2025 E. First St., East Los Angeles, (323) 267-8810. Open Mon.–Fri. 9 a.m.–8 p.m., Sat. 10 a.m.–8 p.m. No alcohol. Takeout. Street parking. Cash only. Lunch for two, food only, $4–$8. JG ¢

Beard Papa Sweets Café. You have undoubtedly had other cream puffs in your day — damp, irregular spheroids of pastry split and filled with shelf-stabilized whipped cream — but the Beard Papa model is a different object altogether: crunchy where the standard cream puff tends to be elastic, round where the others are squat, injected to order with amplified doughnut custard flecked with tiny seeds, and dusted with powdered sugar. There is a distinct aftertaste of browned pie crust in a Papa puff where you usually encounter a vague, sweet smack. But as with a proper bagel, there is a tempered chaw under its thin, friable skin, and a subtly rich jolt of egginess that seems to rush straight to the pleasure center of the brain. Papa puffs are undoubtedly delivery systems for astronomical quantities of saturated fat, but the only thing it is possible to do after inhaling one is to immediately start in on another, until the box is empty, your stomach is full, and your sugar crash can be felt clear to the other side of the Tehachapis. If Papa puffs were any more addictive, they would be illegal in 38 states, the bearded, pipe-smoking mascot would be as suggestive as the Zig-Zag man, and puff-dumping codicils would be the subject of G7 trade negotiation. 6801 Hollywood Blvd., No. 153, Hollywood, (323) 462-6100. Mon.–Sat. 10 a.m.–10 p.m., Sun. 10 a.m.–8 p.m. No alcohol. Takeout. Mall parking. MC, V. JG ¢

Bistro K. To put it plainly, Bistro K is a restaurant out of a daydream, with a kitchen that may rank among the few dozen best in town, run by gifted and accomplished French chef Laurent Quenioux with a bring-your-own-wine policy and no corkage charge; a place where a fine, intimate dinner costs rather less than a quick meal of cheeseburgers and drinks at Houston’s. The menu is missing bistro clichés like steak frites or roast chicken, but is well stocked with the game and innards elsewhere unavailable in Los Angeles, oddities like the braised snips of veal tendon garnishing the medallions of rare venison, 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. Plus, there will be ant eggs in spring! 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; a bowl of perfect mussels steamed with lime and curried coconut milk less than $8; an impeccable marquise au chocolat less than $6. 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, www.lqmanagementservices.com. Wed.–Sat. 5:30–9 p.m. Free corkage. Lot parking. AE, MC, V. Dinner for two, food only, $60-$80. JG $$

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, 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. Dinner for two, $15–20, food only. JG $

Canadian Cafe. Until a few months ago, poutine was on a longish list of foods, from creole cream cheese to real Tuscan lardo, that were simply unavailable in Los Angeles. Even if there were a place in town that sold the cheese curds that are a necessary component of poutine, the implicit heaviness of a dish composed of French-fried potatoes smothered in gravy and molten curds seems more appropriate to the endless gloom of Quebec winters than to Surf City, USA. But the Canadian Cafe, in Monrovia, is a divey temple to all things Canadian, walls emblazoned with moose and Mounties, pennants and maps. The café specializes in Canadian-style rotisserie chicken, and it is possible to snack on raisin-stuffed Canadian butter tarts, Tim Horton coffee and a tasty sandwich called a “bacon buddy,” which is made with cured, unsmoked pork loin rolled in cornmeal, which I gather is the real Canadian bacon. The poutine at Canadian Cafe seems authentic enough: fries; shiny, clotted brown gravy; and gooey, runny cheese curds that the restaurant supposedly imports from northern Quebec. Poutine may not be as useful a Montreal import as Eric Gagné, but it’s nice to know that it’s around. 125 E. Colorado Blvd., Monrovia, (626) 303-2303. Tue.–Sat. 7 a.m.–7 p.m. No alcohol. Takeout. Street parking. D, MC, V. JG $

Capital Seafood. Capital Seafood (not to be confused with New Capital Seafood) serves traditional dim sum, carts laden with spare ribs steamed with black beans and baked buns stuffed with chicken; floppy rice noodles wrapped around beef and pan-fried dumplings that happen to be filled with snow-pea leaves and shrimp; fried sticky-rice capsules and northern-style soup dumplings that are better than they have any right to be in a dim sum house. You will assuredly find all the steamed shrimp dumplings, the baked barbecued pork buns and the boiled Chinese broccoli of any decent dim sum restaurant, but Capital seems to specialize in the exotica of the dim sum kitchen — the squishy, fragrant, slightly unusual things that might be daunting if they were served in huge quantities, but seem just right in the two-bite portions that come off the dim sum cart: Jell-O-soft beef tendon tinted neon-orange with chile; steamed shrimp cake stuffed into rounds of powerfully astringent bitter melon; slippery ­slivers of cattle tripe, two or three different types per bowlful, cooked in a mild yellow curry. Capital also makes a specialty of dessert. The moss-green jellies, the hot tofu with syrup, the mango pudding and the coconut gelatin studded with black beans are superb. But the real tour de force is probably the crock of hot, sweet almond milk baked underneath golden domes of pastry, like the creation of a demented Sinophilic French chef. Boiled sea cucumber will never have universal appeal, but almond milk en croute may come pretty close. 755 W. Garvey Ave., Monterey Park, (626) 282-3318. Open daily, 9 a.m.–10 p.m.; dim sum 9 a.m.–3 p.m. daily. Beer and wine. Takeout. Lot parking. MC, V. JG $

Chantilly. Our favorite alternative Japanese cream puffs can be found at this gorgeous Lomita Japanese bakery that resembles a high-class Tokyo tearoom. Keiko Nojima, the chef, a local South Bay girl, followed a course of study at the California Culinary Academy with a long apprenticeship in Japan, and her delicate concoctions — majestic cheesecake pyramids flavored with fresh orange peel, sesame blancmange with caramel, tiny chestnut-mousse montblancs, green-tea cakes — are marriages of Japanese flavors and Parisian structures, as beautiful as Ken Price ceramics. The cream puffs are especially good — airy, eggy pastries stuffed to order with blackish, sesame-flavored whipped cream and sprinkled with a sweet powder made of caramelized soy, a cream puff that takes full command. Nojima claims that sesame cream puffs are fairly common in Tokyo, but there is nothing remotely like them in Los Angeles. A Chantilly puff is a work of art. 2383 Lomita Blvd., No. 104, Lomita, (310) 257-9454. Open daily 11:30 a.m.–7 p.m. No alcohol. Takeout. Parking lot. CB, MC, V. JG ¢

Giang Nan. There are those among us indifferent to the pleasures of the Chinese dessert, the candied snow-frog ovary, the sugared haw, the bowl of sugary kidney-bean soup that often follows a Chinese meal. But beyond the mango cream and black-rice porridge and unspeakably exotic tong shui made with pearl dust and tortoise shell are the unlovely confections known as sweet-rice balls, marble-size spheres of pounded rice stuffed with payloads of ground peanuts, black sesame or toasted seeds. As served at Giang Nan, a Shanghai-style restaurant in Monterey Park, these rice balls are orbs of pure, gooey texture, a miraculous, dense substance that seems only a molecular bond or two from collapsing into liquid, that modulates into little bursts of pure, sweet flavor as it oozes down your throat. You may have had decent sweet-rice balls before — Japanese mochi is a somewhat cruder take on the form — but the ones at Giang Nan, floating in a warm, tangy broth flavored with rice-wine lees the restaurant specially imports from Shanghai, are so much better that they might as well be from a different galaxy, where glutinous rice tastes better than apple pie. It has everything you could want in a modest East Chinese restaurant— a dish of pork, firm tofu and bamboo shoots, for instance, cut into precise matchsticks and stir-fried in less oil than it would take to lubricate a gnat’s bicycle, tastes of the pure, fresh flavors of its own mild ingredients, nothing more. But the soup dumplings, with or without crab, are impeccable, the bean curd with ham is delicious, and the Shanghai spring rolls are nothing short of amazing, almost liquid under their shattering golden skins. 306 N. Garfield Ave., No. A-12, Monterey Park, (626) 573-3421. Lunch Tues.–Sun. 11 a.m.–3 p.m., dinner Tues.–Sun. 5–10 p.m. No alcohol. Takeout. Lot parking. MC, V. Dinner for two, food only, $14–$25. JG $

gr/eats. The standard crack about Giant Robot, even before the publication became actually beautiful and spawned an extensive bicoastal network of film festivals, art galleries, Internet sites and its own art galleries and shops, was that it actually functioned better as a toy store than it did as a magazine. Now, gr/eats is the culinary outpost of Giant Robot empire. This small, chic café is furnished with Eames shell chairs and the sort of harsh, glowing light one expects to find in Prada boutiques. The music kind of rocks, mostly the kind of indie stuff you hear from musicians whose passions extend equally to Neil Diamond and Neil Young. The densely packed hamburgers are made with Angus beef, and the mango-garnished fish tacos are pretty good. A platter of French fries includes crunchy banana shavings and squishy sweet-potato fries along with the usual shoestring potatoes; an occasional special of fried tofu comes hip-deep in a dashi-based sauce that will be familiar to anybody who has ever eaten a single dinner in a Japanese-American home. The food at gr/eats is re-contextualized Asian-American home cooking: bland Thai shrimp curry and Japanese ­omelet rice; a mild Salvadoran seafood stew served over a yellow rice “paella” and slightly clumsy Vietnamese spring rolls wrapped in rice paper; a quite decent pan-seared Chilean sea bass drizzled with Asian pesto and squishy, salty, fried tofu “meatballs” painted with an orangey sweet-and-sour sauce. 2050 Sawtelle Blvd., West Los Angeles, (310) 478-3242, www.gr-eats.com. Open daily noon–3 p.m. and 5:30–10 p.m. No alcohol. Lot parking. MC, V. Lunch or dinner for two, food only, $15–$25. JG $

Harold & Belle’s. Many of the best Cajun and creole restaurants in Los Angeles seem to have gone the way of the dinosaur. Orleans and Patout’s and Gagnier’s and Sid’s Jase Café have been gone for years. The Gumbo Pot, in Farmers Market, is past its glory days. And we recently had a Cajun-ish meal, in Monrovia, so bad that we believe the state of Louisiana may be entitled to sue for damages. We highly recommend Harold & Belle’s, an old-line creole restaurant down by USC, where the smoked sausage is delicious, the fried seafood is formidable, the crawfish étouffée is really worth checking out, and the oyster po’ boys are fine. Plus, you can get a decent drink at Harold & Belle’s, which, as anybody who has spent more than a couple of days in New Orleans can tell you, is what dinner is all about. 2920 W. Jefferson Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 735-9023. Mon.–Sat. 11:30 a.m.–10:45 p.m., Sun.–Thurs. 11:30 a.m.–9:45 p.m. Full bar. Takeout. Parking lot. AE, MC, V. JG $

Janty Noodle. The food court may not seem a likely site for a culinary epiphany — you could look through every Smart & Final in the county without coming across plastic spoons as cheap and flimsy as the tableware here — but if you were to get your hands on an order of mie medan at Janty Noodle you might be inclined to disagree. Janty Noodle is the Hong Kong Plaza’s specialist in Indonesian-style Chinese mie, dense, crinkly mats of egg noodles steamed with a little oil, some bean sprouts and a wad of fresh greens, then served with a few grams of chicken, piles of sliced mushrooms, or paper-thin shavings of barbecued pork and a peppery crumble of sautéed chicken in the version called mie medan, which is a pretty basic bowl of food but has the exact gummy texture and the exact sharply ripe funk of a dish you might find in a Southeast Asian hawker center around breakfast time. A foam container of clear broth is served alongside in case you feel like moistening the noodles; plates of utterly forgettable Indonesian fritters and fried won tons are available too. Hong Kong Plaza Food Court, 989 S. Glendora Ave., No. 14, West Covina, (626) 480-1808. Open Tues.–Sun. 10:30 a.m–8 p.m. No alcohol. Takeout. Cash only. Lunch for two, food only, $10. JG ¢

K.P.’s Deli. We have always found the Vietnamese sandwiches, banh mi, at Buu-Dien in Chinatown to be better than good, even at the present historical moment, a time when the best places in Rosemead and Santa Ana feature house-made charcuterie, house-pickled condiments and hot baguettes that are practically baked to order. Buu-Dien’s delicate sandwiches have deep soul, also a funky liver paste that is pretty irresistible. But K.P.’s Deli in Silver Lake, a spare takeout joint tucked into what looks like the back of a travel agency, is a sandwich shop of a different order: Owner Khuong Pham, who spent years running giant commercial kitchens, also serves banh mi, but supersized to Philadelphia-hoagie proportions, massive portions of shredded chicken, sweetened beef or even tofu, crammed with cilantro, Vietnamese pickled vegetables and plenty of sliced chiles into muscular, crusty baguettes. It must be the culmination of a trencherman’s dream, banh mi as robust as a meatball hero; and although the sandwiches are about triple the price of their suave Rosemead brethren, it must be noted that most of them are still $6 or $7 a shot — even the mighty, charcuterie-stuffed banh mi dac biet, which K.P.’s has inelegantly dubbed the Kold Kut. 2616 Hyperion Ave., Silver Lake, (323) 913-1818. Mon.–Fri. 11 a.m.–8 p.m., Sat. 11 a.m.–6 p.m. No alcohol. Takeout. Parking lot. AE, D, MC, V. JG ¢

Lu Din Gee. This is a cheerfully odd place, a sort of sleek Chinese bistro fitted into what used to be a lacquer-happy, celebrity-intensive teahouse (at least if your idea of a ­celebrity runs to Jackie Chan and Sammo Hung) that ­specialized in the desserts and dainties of the old imperial court. Lu Din Gee, a restaurant project of popular local caterer Michelle Fan, is a few degrees off-center in its own way, dominated by an espresso machine and a display of flavored coffees, offering an illustrated menu of exotic soda pop and playing the sort of music you might expect to hear in a hip dentist’s office. There are delicious, crackly scallion pancakes here, and spicy fish balls, and shreds of dried tofu dressed with chile and soy. I rather enjoy a dish of grilled eel arranged on a steamerful of sticky rice seasoned with pork and soy sauce — the eel melts away into nothing at the first touch of your teeth, and the rice breaks up into chewy, flavorful clumps. Cumin beef has the authoritative presence of hot chili fries, slicked with crimson oil: The kitchen is adept at “velveting,” a double-cooking process that tenderizes tough meat enough to stand up to the high heat of stir-frying, so that even unpromising-sounding dishes like XO lamb and beef with garlic are worth ordering here. 1039 E. Valley Blvd., B102, San Gabriel, (626) 288-0588. Open daily 5–10 p.m. Peking-duck dinner for two or three, food only, $26.95–$35.95. Call one hour ahead for the duck entrée. Beer and wine. Takeout and catering. Lot parking. MC, V. JG $

Madeo. Gnocchi (pronounced NYO-kee) are easy to make. Good gnocchi are notoriously difficult. A sous chef we know was once in charge of the gnocchi at a well-known restaurant, and his afternoons were either made or destroyed by the owner’s reaction to the spoonful he offered her every day at precisely 4:30. His gnocchi made it onto the menu only about two days out of five. Madeo, the understated agents’ hangout a few blocks from Cedars-Sinai, resembles a businessmen’s restaurant in one of the lesser quarters of Rome, from its shiny, vaguely disco-era décor to its bunker-like location a few steps below the street. The blistery pizza is fine, and the smoky, fire-roasted veal is renowned. And you can’t miss with the gnocchi — luscious, featherweight clouds of pure potato flavor, dressed with pesto, tomato sauce with basil, or a slightly gooey tincture of Gorgonzola — which may be among the best in Los Angeles. 8897 Beverly Blvd., West Hollywood, (310) 859-4903. Mon.–Thurs. 6–10:30 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 6–11 p.m., Sun. 5:30–10:30 p.m. Full bar. Takeout. Valet parking. AE, MC, V. JG $

Malan Noodle. Malan Noodle is afast-food restaurant from another galaxy, a blank, gleaming space festooned with posters bearing its abstracted red-bowl logo and marked every few feet with signs reading “Warning: Hot Soup.” A few seconds after you order your noodles from a checklist, a guy in the open kitchen picks up a hank of dough, bangs it against the counter a couple of times, then whips it through the air in a frenzied yet precise manner, stretching it to arm’s length and beyond, doubling and redoubling it until it almost magically falls into a skein of noodles. You can get your hand-pulled noodles fine as angel’s hair or thick as telephone cords, flat or round, or even, should you request it, triangular. Most people order these hand-thrown noodles submerged in the allegedly Lanzhou-style beef soup, a tan broth hiding a few slices of brisket. But one of the best dishes here, translated as something like “special spicy chicken,” is an Islamic specialty from the northwestern mountains near Afghanistan, a hacked-up bird rubbed with a salty paste of fermented beans and fresh chiles, sautéed with leeks, onions and a few dozen cloves of simmered garlic, and tossed with odd, extra-wide noodles that have a disconcerting resemblance to universal fan belts. And the serving is enormous, easily enough to feed four hungry people with leftovers for lunch the next day. 2020 S. Hacienda Blvd., #B, Hacienda Heights, (626) 369-5602. Open daily for lunch and dinner 11 a.m.–9 p.m. No alcohol. Lot parking in rear. Cash only. Lunch or dinner for two, food only, $10–$17. JG $

Meson G. A stylish quasi-Spanish restaurant in the old Citrus space on Melrose, whose furnishings seemed to suggest a stack of old Wallpaper* magazines and a quantity discount from Design Within Reach. Perhaps it is hard to escape the brooding presence inherent even in the name Meson G — the G in question is probably meant to refer to the owners Tim and Liza Goodell, a chef couple whose Newport Beach bistro empire contains multitudes: In Los Angeles, a G thang is something else entirely. OGs from the OC? Pimp my appetizer? Something like that. 6703 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles, (323) 525-1415. Open Mon.–Fri. 6–10 p.m., Sat.–Sun. 6–11 p.m. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, MC, V. Small dishes $10–$20, but add up fast; tasting menu $75. JG $$

Noodle Thai Town. Competition among restaurants is ferocious in Thai Town, where the best places compete for Thai-born customers who can be depended on to know exactly what should go into a bowl of boat noodles and what kind of peppercorn flatters chicken more than it does a bowl of shrimp. Its uncompromising range of flavors may be replicated in every street noodle cart in Thailand, but there is nothing quite like it in Los Angeles, and in a half dozen or so visits to the place, I have never seen another non-Thai customer. Exactly two copies of an English-language menu lie at one end of the counter. The women who run the restaurant are rarely much help when it comes to deciphering their own bill of fare, but they are incredibly well-meaning. When you ask about the composition of, say, khanom jiin nam prig, they will most likely just bring you a bowl of the noodles. (Khanom jiin nam ya pa is a plate of similar noodles served with slivered vegetables and a bowl of Malaysian-style pulverized-fish curry; khanom ka ti is the noodles fried with meat.) When you ask about a handwritten special, one of the cooks may shrug and send out a plate of Hainanese-style rice cooked with chicken fat and a little dish of tart chile sauce in which to dip the hacked pieces of steamed chicken that garnish the rice. When you ask about barbecued beef, she may smile, say “not today” and prepare a plate of unbelievably good barbecued pork instead. There are worse surprises in a restaurant. 5136 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood, (323) 661-0260. Open daily 7 a.m.–8 p.m. Lunch for two, food only, $9–$11. No alcohol. Takeout. Difficult lot parking. Cash only. JG ¢

Oriental Pearl. Oriental Pearl, a well-regarded Sichuan restaurant that recently moved to the Hilton-adjacent mall from its former location in Alhambra, may only be the fifth- or sixth-best Sichuan restaurant in the area. The fried chicken cubes with hot pepper don’t sing quite like the same dish at Chung King, where it is prepared with at least triple the amount of dried chiles, and the octopus with pickled pepper is pleasing in a direct, funky way but is somehow one-dimensional. The fried spareribs with prickly ash are far less numbing than one might wish. The spicy fried fish tai-an-style is on the mushy side. The array of cold dishes doesn’t even include fried peanuts, which some of us consider essential. But still — one of the great things about the San Gabriel restaurant scene is that the fifth-best Sichuan restaurant in the area is really pretty good, and after a meal of wonton in chile broth, Chinese bacon with leeks, and water-boiled fish, by which the Sichuanese mean fish boiled in almost pure chile oil, you will probably be very happy. 727 E. Valley Blvd., No. 128C, San Gabriel, (626) 281-1898. Open daily for lunch and dinner. Takeout. AE, MC, V. JG $

Original Pancake House. There may be no meal in America that commands more acreage than breakfast at the Original Pancake House, a massive if two-dimensional feast that covers large tabletops as thoroughly as king-size fitted sheets. Jumbo spinach crepes are served with a side of thin, LP-size potato pancakes; butter-dripping Dutch babies are the size of satellite dishes; and puffy cheese omelets, already as big as Mary Poppins’ handbag, come with broad stacks of buttermilk pancakes — or, for an extra buck, an oozing payload of chocolate-chip pancakes buried underneath a shot put of freshly whipped cream. If you can see even a scrap of table underneath the barrage of sausage patties, fresh orange juice, basted eggs, stewed prunes, hash browns, strawberry waffles, Cointreau-flavored sour cream, and ham, the restaurant hasn’t been doing its job. And the pancakes are pretty good too, whether made with buttermilk, sourdough starter or wheat germ and sour cream, spiked with pecans or bits of crunchy bacon, topped with pineapple or shreds of toasted coconut. The slippery 49’er Flap Jacks are especially good — extra-gooey and extra-flat, with a texture halfway between a yeasted pancake and a crepe, and a porousness that seems just right for soaking up butter and syrup. At prime brunch hours, the wait for a table can verge on the infinite, although you may be the only person in the restaurant if you show up on a Tuesday at noon. 1756 Pacific Coast Highway, Redondo Beach, (310) 543-9875. Mon.–Sat. 7 a.m.–2 p.m., Sun. 7 a.m.–3 p.m. No alcohol. Takeout weekdays only. Lot parking. MC, V. Breakfast for two, food only, $12–$20. JG $

Papa Cristo’s. If Mexican-style octopus is your thing, try the marinated-octopus tostadas with avocado that are standards at most ceviche stands — we like the Colima stands on Alvarado Street near Temple and Third streets just west of downtown — and go extremely well with beer. (We miss the great cevicheria called El Pulpo Loco, the Crazy Octopus, that used to be in the Pico-Union district.) Or you could go for the Greek version, like the fat, garlicky tentacles at Ulysses Voyage in the Grove, but the inexpensive grilled octopi at Papa Cristo’s, attached to the C&K Market in the quaintly named Byzantine-Latino District, may be the most popular cephalopods in town. 2771 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 737-2970. Tues.–Sat. 9 a.m.–8 p.m., Sun. 9 a.m.–4 p.m. Beer and wine. Takeout. Lot parking. AE, MC, V. JG $

Porto’s Bakery. Want to throw a shindig, but don’t have the time (or the skills) to whip together an impressive feast? The classic Cuban party trays from Porto’s Bakery in Glendale may save your life. The ham croquettes, beef pastels, chorizo-filled empanadas and terrific meat-stuffed deep-fried potato balls have been staples at Cuban fiestas for years. Don’t miss the pastries, especially the refugiados — impossibly flaky guava-cream cheese pies. 315 N. Brand Blvd., Glendale, (818) 956-5996. Mon.–Sat. 7 a.m.–6 p.m., Sun. 7 a.m.–2 p.m. No alcohol. Takeout. Lot parking. MC, V. JG ¢

El Rocoto. Jalea is an enormous thing, an acre and a half of fish and shrimp, squid and octopus, scallops and clams, potatoes and chunked yuca, brown and sizzling, piled halfway to the ceiling, still smoking from its bath of hot oil. You’ve had fried shellfish before, but the clams and scallops in the jalea from El Rocoto are dipped in batter and fried still in their shells, which are almost impossible to prize open without burning your fingers. You’ve had fried yuca, too, ­probably at a Caribbean restaurant, but this yuca is especially appealing, frazzled to a deep crunch on the outside and almost molten inside. There is a sprinkling of chancho on top, toasted kernels of oversized Peruvian corn, and an intensely tart salsa criolla, made with shaved red onions, chiles and fresh lime juice. You’ll find most of the other Peruvian stalwarts on the menu here, too: papas a la Huancaina, served cold and bathed in a smooth, dense sauce of cheese and mild chiles; choros a la criolla, cold mussels dressed with a lime-intensive fresh salsa; saffron-scented Peruvian tamales steamed in banana leaves. There are usually a few desserts available at El Rocoto, but you will inevitably finish with alfajores, freshly baked Peruvian shortbread cookies, dense as ingots of pure silver, sandwiching a filling of gooey Peruvian milk caramel. It’s the only cookie I have ever encountered that can feed a family of four. 1356 W. Artesia Blvd., Gardena, (310) 768-8768. Open for lunch and dinner Mon.–Thurs. 11 a.m.–9 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 9:30 a.m.–10 p.m., Sun. 9:30 a.m.–9 p.m. Peruvian breakfast Sat.–Sun. Beer and wine. Takeout. Lot parking. MC, V. Dinner for two, food only, $17–$32. JG $$

Sahag’s Basturma. A sub sandwich. A grinder. A hoagie. You’re looking for anything long and football-shaped stuffed with meat and cheese. Hot or cold is fine, but preferably hot. And melty. And if you’re liberal in your conception of a hoagie, and you’re looking for a Los Angeles original, the garlicky, crisp, basturma sandwiches at Sahag’s Basturma are dynamite, pungent Armenian-style cured beef layered on French bread with pickles and onions, a sandwich that will ooze out of your pores long after you are finished with lunch. 5183 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood, (323) 661-5311. Mon.–Sat. 7 a.m.–8 p.m., Sun. 7 a.m.–3 p.m. No alcohol. Takeout. Lot parking. AE, D, MC, V. JG $

Shula’s 347. They flock to Shula’s 347, the business-flier crowd, the sallow men who inhabit every airline lounge in the country and know their way around an airline bottle of Tanqueray, a no-iron Brooks Brothers polo shirt, and the back nine of half the golf courses in Ohio. They are the men you shuffle by on your way to tourist-class purgatory. Don Shula, of course, was the coach of the Miami Dolphins in their greatest days, and the number 347 refers to the number of victories he oversaw in his career; the blank-eyed men at the bar are surer of that number than they were of the date of their first wives’ birthdays, and all side dishes are priced at $3.47 in honor of the immortal stat. The Hickory Burger at Shula’s 347 is basically an honorable thing, a thick, flat burger made from certified if rather over-handled Angus beef, layered with applewood-smoked bacon, and served with a blizzard of oddly textured chopped cheddar that looks more like the output of a cross-cut paper shredder than like anything resembling cheese. The bun is slightly too big, too bready, like most commercial buns, and the sandwich is oddly heavy for its size, as if it conceals a payload of lead. When you finally bite into the Hickory Burger, the sensation is of pure smokiness, not the smack of the grill precisely, but more like the feeling that somebody has painted your tongue with liquid smoke. This smokiness is of a different caliber, intense enough to render the smoky bacon almost flavorless in your mouth. Sheraton Gateway Hotel, 6101 Century Blvd., Los Angeles, (310) 642-4820. Sun.–Thurs. 5–10 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 5–11 p.m. Full bar. Three hours free valet parking. AE, MC, V. Main courses $12–$42. JG $$

Smitty’s Grill. Crab Louie, ideally made with freshly picked Dungeness crabmeat and a dressing mounted from old-fashioned chili sauce, mayonnaise and grated onion, is one of the great West Coast specialties, its origins variously ascribed to Seattle, Portland and San Francisco. In the ’60s, it was probably served at half the serious restaurants in Los Angeles — a random look at a sheaf of elderly menus implies as much. It does appear to have been a specialty of the Princess Louise. The dish is rather harder to find these days, but it does exist. A really fine Crab Louie can be found at Smitty’s Grill in Pasadena, a fistful of lump crabmeat barely glazed with pinkish dressing and arranged over a heap of finely slivered lettuce that had been tossed in its own powerfully tart vinaigrette. If I had stayed away from a plate of the flash-fried potato chips that I manage to order with just about everything at Smitty’s, it would have been a perfect light lunch. 110 S. Lake Ave., Pasadena, (626) 792-9999. Lunch Mon.–Fri. 11:30 a.m.–2:30 p.m. Dinner Mon.–Thurs. 5:30–10 p.m., Fri. 5:30–11 p.m., Sat. 5–11 p.m., Sun. 5–10 p.m. Full bar. Takeout. Complimentary valet parking. AE, MC, V. JG $$

Sin Ba La. Sweet sausages seem to be a mainstay at almost every Taiwanese snack shop, sharing menu space with stinky tofu, pork chop rice and those peculiarly Taiwanese logs of rice steamed in bamboo. But we particularly like the version served at the snack shop Sin Ba La in Arcadia, caloric sausages with a delicious crunch and the high smack of good charcuterie. If you are so inclined, you can enjoy your sausages with everything from minced garlic to great gobs of strawberry jam. Don’t miss the boba, which is among the best in town. 651 W. Duarte Road, Arcadia, (626) 446-0886. Mon., Wed.–Sun. 11 a.m.–10 p.m. No alcohol. Takeout. Cash only. JG $

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. Spring rolls are dead ringers for Malaysian-Chinese popiah, tiny crepes rolled around strata of tofu, Chinese sausage and bean sprouts, then slicked with a sugary sauce that you may recognize from Singaporean hawker stalls. Sunshine’s golden fish is an extraordinary dish, slabs of whitefish fried in the manner of Thai fish cakes and served with a salad of shredded mango. The concept may not look particularly good on paper, but it works like a dream on the plate: tawny and crisp, juicy and melting, tart, sweet and chile-hot all at once. 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, North Hollywood, (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. D, MC, V. JG $$

Tombo. Okonomiyaki, especially the kind that you cook yourself at a hot griddle set into a dining table, is one of those odd dishes whose whole really does transcend the sum of its rather grisly parts: Japanese mayonnaise. Tonkatsu sauce. Bubbling oceans of gooey batter scorched black around the edges. Crunchy, superheated bean sprouts that emit little puffs of steam when you bite into them. Unnaturally pink nubs of pork that collapse into gristle. Carrots charred into carrot pudding. It’s a stinking, queasy-making mess that you could probably eat every day of the week. If you’re really in a festive mood, you could throw some Spam in, too. At Tombo, a sticky-table okonomiyaki parlor in Torrance, not far from Gardena, you can try the monjayaki, beef broth you reduce yourself until it reaches the rubbery consistency of a cat’s chew toy, which is every bit as good — and bad — as it sounds. 2106 Artesia Blvd., Torrance, (310) 324-5190. Lunch Tues.–Sat. 11:30 a.m.–2 p.m., Sun. noon–2:30 p.m. Dinner Tues.–Sat. 5:30–10 p.m., Sun. 5–10:30 p.m. Beer and wine. Takeout. Lot parking. MC, V. JG $

Tonny’s. Consider yourself warned: Pasadena may not be the best destination for the seriously nocturnally inclined — even the Thai restaurants and the coffee shops seem to close early, and after the bars close, the scarily named pan-Asian restaurant Wokcano may be the only thing going downtown. There is, however, decent late-night food just a short drive away, in a tiny Mexican restaurant called Tonny’s. The tortillas are thick and handmade; the bright-orange Mexican rice is full of flavor. The drink menu, although alcohol-free, includes frosty liquados made with mango or mamey, and huge, foaming glasses of fresh carrot juice. Tonny’s serves what may be my favorite chile verde in town at the moment, a vast plate of fried pork simmered in a tart green purée, and the peppery fried catfish is quite good. The restaurant makes a mean plate of huevos rancheros for those times when an assault to the system is what a body requires, and you can make it meaner with a jolt of the smoky house salsa. And the restaurant is open 24 hours a day. Food like this may be commonplace in Koreatown or Wilmington at 3 a.m., but in Pasadena it is practically a miracle. 843 E. Orange Grove Ave., Pasadena, (626) 797-0866. Open 24 hours. No alcohol. Takeout. Lot parking. MC, V. JG $

Triumphal Palace. The dim sum breakfasts in the mornings here may be among the San Gabriel Valley’s dozen or so best, and in the evenings the usual sorts of Cantonese seafood can be pretty good too, like a sizzling, basil-scented casserole of cod that tasted like a seafood version of the classic Taiwanese three-glass chicken, and crab fried with salt and pepper, although clams in black-bean sauce and “Hong Kong–style” fried crab were kind of dull. But Triumphal Palace is becoming well-known for its roast suckling pig, the star of the Chinese barbecue kitchen, beloved at least since it shared pride of place with baked owl, fatted dog, bear’s paw and panther breast, on the A.D. 200 Han Dynasty banquet table. And although the whole pig must be ordered a day in advance, and costs $180, this is not necessarily an insurmountable obstacle if you think a little ahead and arrange to split the cost with your nine closest friends. Because, if ever a suckling pig were worth $180, it might be this one. Suckling pig is not diet food. It is served as thin, crackling wisps of skin, ready to be smeared with hoisin sauce, garnished with a sliver of shredded scallion and tucked into thin Chinese pancakes, to be consumed as the most decadent tacos imaginable, like porcine Beijing duck. Then the rest of the pig shows up on a big platter, neatly separated from the bones and a rather heartier affair, like the Cantonese equivalent of a Carolina pig-pickin’ feast. While a whole pig may seem like a lot of food for a small dinner party, the pork disappears so quickly, it is as if a miraculous chemical reaction has taken place, a kind of Evaporation of the Pig. If the Kansas Board of Education can believe that evolution is a myth, we can believe that pigs can vanish into the air. 500 W. Main St., Alhambra, (626) 308-3222. Open daily 10:30 a.m.–10:30 p.m. Beer and wine. Lot parking. MC, V. Pig: $188 per pig, which feeds 8–10, by advance order only. JG $$

Tung Lai Shun. The grand Chinese-Muslim restaurant in San Gabriel Square is not aging well. It’s starting to look a little faded around the edges. Tattered menus of lunch specials are posted rather aggressively around the perimeter, the famous flatbread can be a bit flabby if you order it during off-hours, and a few of the preparations seem crude compared to the unassailable suavity of the kitchen in its earliest days. But the Beijing-style lamb is truly magnificent, braised until it approaches the softness of a sigh, saturated with the flavors of soy, garlic and star anise, an expression of pure, lamby soul. 140 W. Valley Blvd., San Gabriel, (626) 288-6588. Open seven days 11 a.m.–10:30 p.m. Beer and wine. Takeout. Lot parking. MC, V. JG $

Valenzuela’s. We’ve been craving the carne asada en su jugo at Valenzuela’s in El Monte, a big pile of browned beef flavored with bacon, plumped out with beans, seasoned with finely chopped onion and cilantro, and moistened with a spicy puddle of juice — maybe as much for the charred chiles served alongside as for the meat itself. Carne asada en su jugo is an unusually compelling dish, smoky and spicy and tart with lime, and almost nothing goes quite so well with an icy bottle of beer. 11721 E. Valley Blvd., El Monte, (626) 579-5384.Seven days 9 a.m.–10:30 p.m. Beer and wine ­margaritas. Takeout. Lot parking. AE, D, MC, V. JG $

Wolfe Burger. Good onion rings are hard to find. The most delicious onion rings are not the ones grudgingly meted out at expensive restaurants but fragrant, golden tori freely served, like crunchy, flaky onion rings at coffee shops. But we do solemnly swear by the puffy beer-battered beauties at Wolfe Burger in nearby Pasadena, delicate as a good Indian pakora but with a distinct, fresh-onion sweetness that seems to come only from the best hamburger stands. And the dense, musky chili is superb. 46 N. Lake Ave., Pasadena, (626) 792-7292. Open Mon.–Sat. 7 a.m.–10 p.m., Sun. 8 a.m.–10 p.m. Beer and wine. Lot parking. AE, D, MC, V. JG ¢

Woodlands. Broad as knotted carpets or the infield at Dodger Stadium, dosas are the only snack that might as reasonably be sold by yardage as by weight. And these days, the biggest dosas in town may be found at the south Indian vegetarian restaurant Woodlands way up in Chatsworth. They are tremendous, champion-size beasts, large as umbrellas, folded into great, crisp envelopes over fillings of homemade cheese and chutney; rolled around spicy sautéed cabbage into “spring rolls” the size of the Sunday Times; or stuffed with a sticky mass that tastes like enough hominy grits to feed a Kentucky family for a week. The butter dosa, a half-acre of crunchy brownness jutting off both ends of a rather long platter, is rolled around a slug of gently curried potatoes that you may not run across until you’ve been eating the thing for 15 minutes. This is dosa heaven. They also serve the usual south Indian starches too — the steamed rice cakes called iddly; the oniony porridge pancakes called uttupam; the mung-bean crepes called pesarat — served with the usual complements of sambar and chutney, and done extremely well. In the afternoons, Woodlands is strictly a buffet restaurant, and on the steam table you’ll find the crunchy fried lentil doughnuts called vada; puffs of poori bread; buttery rounds of paratha; knobby lumps of limp vegetable pakora; and a vat of Woodlands’ special lemon rasam, a thin, peppery Tamil vegetable sauce for rice that doubles as a soup and as a healing tonic. Depending on the chef’s mood, you may find something mysteriously identified as moore khulambzu, a tart, runny, complex curry of yogurt and tiny fried-lentil dumplings that is among the best Indian dishes we have ever tasted. 9840 Topanga Canyon Blvd., Chatsworth, (818) 998-3031. Open Tues.–Sun. 11:30 a.m.–3 p.m. and 5–10 p.m. $7.95 lunch buffet Tues.–Fri., $9.95 brunch buffet Sat.–Sun. Beer and wine. Takeout. Lot parking. AE, MC, V. Also at 11833 Artesia Blvd., Artesia, (562) 860-6500. JG $$

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