You Take Manhattan
Aladdin's falafel is a small miracle, tastier than its Greenwich Village counterparts, an oblate pingpong ball of ground chickpeas whose thick, tawny crust gives way -- crunch! -- to a dense interior, mildly spiced, barely greasy, tinted green with puréed herbs. Without the benefit of tahini, most falafel collapses into dry powder under the teeth; this one is moister, a little more resilient, almost chewy, and you may go through an entire plate of the stuff (it is also available dressed as a sandwich) before realizing you have forgotten to dampen the patties with sauce. On a plate with hummus, peppers, salad and tart pickled turnips, Aladdin's falafel is a satisfying lunch whether you roll it into a pita or not. 2180 S. Westwood Blvd., Westwood; (310) 446-1174. Open daily for lunch and dinner. Lunch or dinner for two, food only, $13 - $15. No alcohol. Lot parking. MC, V.
The Italian deli Bay Cities makes a decent turkey sandwich, a loud, greasy meatball sandwich, and a very respectable hero with Parma prosciutto, ripe tomatoes and cheese, but the sandwich of choice here is a monster sub, straight offa Mott Street, called "The Godmother," which includes a slice of every Italian cold cut you've ever heard of: salami, mortadella, prosciutto, cappicola, ham, provolone cheese, on a 10-inch-long, properly chewy French loaf. 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. Open Mon. - Sat. 7 a.m. - 7 p.m., Sun. till 6 p.m. Lunch for two, food only, $9 - $10. Beer, wine and liquor for takeout only. Lot parking. MC, V.
Brooklyn Bagel Bakery
The bagels are fresh here in the a.m., sometimes still hot from the oven, fragrantly sweet, soft without being bready, ready to ripen into the moist, day-old chewiness most people associate with their morning bagel -- more or less the sort of thing New York's fluffy-sweet H&H bagel paradigm has driven into the East River. But right here, on Beverly Boulevard, you can stop by, watch the women from the secretarial school down the street do stretching exercises, and drink a cup of freshly brewed Yuban from pots the bakery keeps going. Downtown attorney types march up to the glass counter and grab a dozen for the boys in the office; locals get a couple to go, neatly buzz-cut in two, ready to schmeer with cream cheese. Sometimes you can tell just by looking who's going to ask for an oat-bran bagel (which is better than it sounds), or a blueberry bagel, or a highly antisocial bagel sticky with odoriferous bits of caramelized garlic. 2217 W. Beverly Blvd.; (213) 413-4114. Open Sun. - Thurs. 7 a.m. - 11 p.m., Fri. - Sat. 7 a.m. - 2 a.m. Bagels $5.25 a dozen. Cash only.
Of all the neighborhood pizza parlors out there, each of them touted as the best in the Southland, one of them actually has to be the best. And I'm pretty sure that the Casa Bianca pizza pie is the one. Especially the sausage pizza: speckled with sweetly spiced homemade sausage, shot through with mellow cloves of roasted garlic (if you order them) and topped with plenty of stringy mozzarella cheese. Tomato sauce is sparingly applied, a bit of tartness to cut through the richness of the cheese and the sausage. The cheese and sauce reach nearly to the edge of the crust, which lets you avoid the touchy problem of what to do with all those leftover pizza edges. The crust is chewy, yet crisp enough to maintain rigidity as you maneuver it toward your mouth; thin, yet thick enough to give the sensation of real, developed wheat flavor, and with enough carbony, bubbly burnt bits to make each bite slightly different from the last. Definitely better than anything obtainable on Eighth Avenue nowadays. 1650 Colorado Blvd., Eagle Rock; (323) 256-9617. Open for dinner Tues. - Sat. Dinner for two, food only, $8 - $20. Beer and wine. Takeout. Cash only.
The best pizza in America may be in New Haven, the best hot dogs in Chicago, the best espresso off Pioneer Square in Seattle. But the only real pastrami sandwich -- pace, Sixth Avenue Deli -- is right here in Los Angeles, slapped together by the truckload at Langer's Delicatessen, just west of downtown. The rye bread, double-baked, has a hard, crunchy crust that gives way to a steamy soft interior sharply scented with caraway and smeared with pungent deli mustard. The meat, hand-sliced, flabby, not lean -- no good pastrami could be said to be 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 great pastrami and first-rate Texas barbecue. 704 S. Alvarado St.; (213) 483-8050. Open Mon. - Sat. 8 a.m. - 4 p.m. Lunch or dinner for two, food only, $12 - $22. Validated lot parking (one block east, on the corner of Westlake Avenue and Seventh Street). Beer and wine. Takeout. Catering. Curbside service (call ahead). MC, V.
Mei Long Village
Even if Mei Long Village served nothing but dumplings -- terrific steamed bao stuffed with sweet red-bean paste, flaky sesame-flecked pastries filled with root vegetables and bits of pork, flying saucers of what seems like Chinese filo dough surrounding a meager but intense forcemeat of sautéed leeks, all of it twice as good as the dumplings New Yorkers wait an hour in line for at places like Joe's Shanghai -- it would be worth a visit. Mei Long Village is also the perfect place to try any of the famous Shanghai standards: sweet fried Shanghai spareribs dusted with sesame seeds; garlicky whole cod braised in pungent hot bean sauce; big pork lion's-head meatballs, tender as a Perry Como ballad, that practically croon in the key of star anise. The new-wave Shanghai classic jade shrimp, stir-fried with a spinach purée, is especially good, firm, subtly garlicked, garnished with deep-fried spinach leaves improbably glazed with sugar, a combination that by all rights should be bizarre but tastes as familiar as something you've been eating since you were a child. 301 W. Valley Blvd., No. 112, San Gabriel; (626) 284-4769. Open daily 11:30 a.m. - 9:30 p.m. Dinner for two, food only, $18 - $30. Beer and wine. Lot parking. MC, V.