{mosimage} If you frequent a certain kind of restaurant, it may seem that every Los Angeles meal includes dandelion greens and pork belly, a broth of Spanish chorizo, and three kinds of Oltrepo Pavese by the glass. If your tastes swing in other directions, Los Angeles cuisine may involve $16 cheeseburgers and $14 cocktails, or perhaps charcoal-grilled sweetbreads and tripe, or the soupy, spurting dumplings called xiao long bao that may or may not be flavored with a bit of freshly picked crab. Los Angeles is widely acknowledged as the birthplace of New American cuisine, the polished, grill-happy, globally inclusive style of cooking that is still the lingua franca of most of the decent restaurants in the country. But the metropolitan area also bequeathed to the world McDonald’s, gourmet meatloaf and Tacones. In Los Angeles, we are many and we are vast, and our food no more speaks in one voice than the passengers on the Pico bus.

But an essential restaurant here does speak with a Los Angeles accent, whether it is reflecting the vibrant strength of our immigrant communities, our funky soul, or the city’s place at the center of one of the great agricultural regions of the world. It is when you feel the most as if you are dining outside Mexico City, or in Seoul or at the court of Louis Quinze, when the facts on the ground have been replaced by our own vivid green-screen reality, that you know you are really in L.A.  Also check out our Google Maps navigator of the restaurants.


A theme park of ostentatious sustainability, Abode is a loungey place where the neo-Balinese decorations are wrought from recycled wood, the menu pays at least lip service to farmers-market produce, house-made charcuterie and ecologically correct seafood, and the $300 specialty martini is garnished with a gargantuan, sustainably harvested Tahitian black pearl. You have tasted pea soup, but you have never tasted pea soup like Abode’s, dotted with clots of extra-creamy Italian mascarpone and spiked with unsweetened cocoa nibs, which makes the soup taste like, I don’t know, chocolate-covered peas. This is a brave new wind in local cuisine, but it may not lift every sail. Chef Dominique Crenn, a virtuoso in her way, has worked everywhere from the Jakarta InterContinental to the Manhattan Beach Country Club, and the bill at the end of the evening is as terrifying and exotic as that chocolatey pea soup. 1541 Ocean Ave., Santa Monica, (310) 394-3463. Mon.–Fri. 11:30 a.m.–2:30 p.m. & 5:30–10 p.m., Sat. 11 a.m.–2 p.m. & 6–10:30 p.m., Sun. 11 am.–3 p.m. & 6–10:30 p.m. Full bar. Valet parking. All major CC. Contemporary American. $$$


Scented with woodsmoke and lubricated with music, Alcazar is a shaded patch of coastal Lebanon, all grilled mullet and exotic salads, and bright coals of apple-flavored tobacco that burn in brass hookahs — a taste of the Beirut that once was and will be again. Enormous kebab plates are rushed to tables — and the shish towook, grilled kebabs of extravagantly marinated chicken breast, is as good as a kebab ever gets. On weekends, ultrathin sajj bread, like lavash, is baked on the patio over a vast heated surface, wrapped around grilled meat or made into the thin, crisp, thyme-scented Arab quesadillas called kl’leg. Lebanon is famous for its red wine, but Alcazar, in the gentle levant of Encino, also serves oceans of arak, an anise-scented Lebanese liquor that turns milky when you stir it with ice and cool water. 17239 Ventura Blvd., Encino, (818) 789-0991. Tues.–Fri. 11:30 a.m.–2:30 p.m. & 5:30–10:30 p.m., Sat. 11:30 a.m.–mid., Sun. noon–9 p.m. Full bar. Hookah and cigar lounge. Takeout. Lot parking in rear. All major CC. Lebanese. $

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. Takeout. Valet parking. AE, D, MC, V. Rustic regional Italian. $$

Angelini Osteria

The owners of the best osterie in Italy find purpose in repetition of classic dishes, preparing the same few dishes for decades, maintaining the living fabric of civilization. Gino Angelini is basically a creative chef, a guy who likes to put his stamp on dishes rather than preserving traditions. But as his nearby restaurant La Terza came into its own, it has become obvious that the osteria is a release for the chef, a place where he can serve less elaborately garnished versions of his dishes to people who love them, fuel a happy lunch crowd with pasta al limone and tripe, serve oxtails on Thursday nights, dish out respectable versions of Roman trattoria classics like saltimbocca, spaghetti carbonara and pollo alla diavola. Angelini Osteria is not an especially serious restaurant, and a respectable home cook can probably replicate most of its dishes, but sometimes you are in the mood for artistry, and sometimes you just want to have supper. 7313 Beverly Blvd., L.A., (323) 297-0070 or www.angeliniosteria.com Lunch Tues.–Fri. noon–2:30 p.m., dinner Tues.–Sun. 5:30–10:30 p.m. Beer and wine. Takeout. Valet parking. All major CC. Italian. $$


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. $$

Apple Pan

The top and bottom buns of an Apple Pan burger are crisped and slightly oily, crunchy at the edges, working toward a near-complete softness at the middle; the pickles are resilient dill chips; the sheaf of fresh iceberg lettuce provides a dozen-layered crispness at the core. The beef, generally cooked to a perfect, pink-centered medium, is juicy and full flavored; the cheese, half melted to a kind of sharp graininess, is good Tillamook Cheddar. And come dessert time, no matter how many waiting people may be crowded in behind you, no matter how hungrily they stare at your enormous slice of pie, the veteran countermen will always draw you another cup of coffee from the gas-fired urn and hand it over with a dram of fresh, heavy cream. My family has been regulars at least since Lew Alcindor played freshman ball. 10801 W. Pico Blvd., W.L.A., (310) 475-3585. Sun.–Thurs. 11 a.m.–mid., Fri.–Sat. till 1 a.m. No alcohol. Takeout. Street parking. Cash only. American. $


An Attari sandwich is close to a perfect thing, a length of toasted French bread, a layer of main ingredient, and a dressing that includes fresh tomatoes, a handful of shredded lettuce and a smattering of spiced, supertart Iranian pickles that somehow manage to give the impression of a good Vienna-style hot dog “dragged through the garden,” as they say on Chicago’s West Side. One of the sandwiches at Attari, the sosess,is in fact filled with something closely resembling (if not verifiably) hot dogs, packed together as a bundle, a hot dog sandwich with the taste of Tehran. Attari’s leafy patio is a pleasant place where the clientele is as well-dressed as the lunch crowd at Spago. On Fridays, ab-goosht is the closest thing there is in the restaurant world to an automatic order, an intricate lamb stew mashed into a thick, homogeneous paste with the texture of refried beans, and an expressed liquid, the soul of the dish, served separately as soup. 1388 Westwood Blvd. (entrance on Wilkins), Wstwd., (310) 441-5488. Tues.–Sun. 11 a.m.–10 p.m. No alcohol. Takeout. Street parking, plus validated lot parking at Borders. MC, V. Iranian. $


Just south of L.A.’s oldest Thai-restaurant neighborhood, tucked away in a mini-mall where the Lexuses pack together as tightly as grains of rice in a bowl, A-Won is one of Koreatown’s oldest sushi restaurants, a temple of raw halibut and sliced chiles, a serene but well-worn place where the high-backed booths are as private as little cabanas and the soju flows like water. Marinated sea cucumber, massive portions and the habit of eating sashimi with raw garlic have their fans, but the great Korean contribution to the world’s sushi kitchen is probably hwe dup bap, an elaborate raw-fish salad leavened with dried seaweed and hot rice and flavored with chile paste. And at A-Won, a Koreatown institution devoted to the cult of hwe dup bap, the display is formidable: order after order racing out of the kitchen in bowls as big as Valkyrie helmets. Good hwe dup bap — and A-Won’s is very good — is as alive and vivid and evanescent as a wildflower, the taste of the spring’s first asparagus, or the throwaway phrase in a Lily Allen song that breaks your heart. 9131?2 S. Vermont Ave., L.A., (213) 389-6764. Mon.–Sat. 11 a.m.–11 p.m.; Sun. 4–11 p.m. AE, MC, V. Beer and soju. Takeout. Guarded lot parking. Korean sushi. $$


Something close to the platonic ideal of a Southern California Mexican restaurant, Babita is a comfortable place that just happens to have great food, a rough-edged Eastside joint whose service is burnished to a white-tablecloth sheen. Chef-owner Roberto Berrelleza, who spent years as a waiter and maitre d’ at places like the Brown Derby before he ever picked up a pan, is a modern master of Mexican cuisine, including antojitos from his hometown of Los Mochis in Sinaloa — and a few classic dishes that seem to have been invented by Berrelleza himself: his fish-stuffed yellow chiles in strawberry salsa, his seared fish with huitlacoche vinaigrette and his oozy, porky chiles en nogada. (The latter is seasonal, September to January.) His shrimp Topolobampo, named after a seaport just outside of Los Mochis, may still be the single fieriest invention in the history of Los Angeles cuisine, a citrusy sauté of white wine, tomatoes and diced habanero peppers that takes over its victims’ bodies like an Ebola infection. The sensation isn’t anguish, exactly — the endorphin rush tends to kick in before the pain receptors realize something has gone terribly, terribly wrong — as much as it is a total, irrevocable loss of control. 1823 S. San Gabriel Blvd., San Gabriel, (626) 288-7265. Lunch Tues.–Fri. 11:30 a.m.–3:30 p.m.; dinner Sun. & Tues.–Thurs. 5:30–9 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 5:30–10 p.m. Beer and wine. Takeout. Street parking. AE, D, DC, MC, V. Mexican. $$

{mosimage}Bar Marmont

If you don’t mind the occasional Jay-Z sighting — and Britney sighting, and Leo sighting, and Paris sighting, and Axl sighting — Bar Marmont is everything you could want in a gastropub: lethal cocktails, intimate nooks, and the killer cooking of Carolynn Spence, who was chef de cuisine at NYC’s notorious Spotted Pig for its first months. Her menu, while far less offal-intensive than Spotted Pig’s, is very close to it in spirit — Italian-influenced small plates, great burgers, diver scallops in brown butter, oxtail bruschettas, a good small wine list and drinks. Lots of drinks. As well as a juicy roast-lamb sandwich and halibut with an inspired deconstruction of Spanish romesco sauce, and delicious goat’s-milk ricotta gnocchi. And the kitchen stays open until midnight. 8171 Sunset Blvd., W. Hlywd., (323) 650-0575. Daily 6 p.m.–2 a.m. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, MC, V. American. $$

Beacon: An Asian Cafe

Fitted into an old commercial laundry in the Helms Bakery complex, Beacon was the first major restaurant of the new Culver City renaissance, a high-style café that jimmied elegance into a part of town that had been missing it since Gone With the Wind was shot at a soundstage down the street. Beacon marks the triumphant return to form of Kazuto Matsusaka, who was chef for almost a decade at Wolfgang Puck’s Chinois in the ’80s. His current versions of miso-marinated cod, vegetable nabemono and grilled shisito peppers are all great. Grilled-chicken skewers are powerfully flavored with the herb shiso and the tiny Japanese plum called ume. You’d probably never find anything like Matsusaka’s salad of perfectly ripe avocado dressed with toasted sesame seeds and minced scallions in Tokyo, but the salad follows classical principles, and it is luscious. The hanger steak with wasabi is so successful, the searing tang of the horseradish doing something wonderful to the tart, carbonized flavor of grilled meat, that you might wonder why nobody thought of the combination until now. 3280 Helms Ave., Culver City, (310) 838-7500. Lunch Mon.–Sat. 11:30 a.m.–2 p.m.; dinner Tues.–Wed. & Sun. 5:30–8:15 p.m., Thurs.–Sat. 5:30–9:15 p.m. Beer and wine. Lot parking. AE, MC, V. Asian fusion. $$

Bin 8945

This is the other kind of wine bar, a showcase for wine more than a center of conviviality, for culinary fireworks more than expertly curated meats and cheeses, where 10-course tasting menus are not unheard of and a wine list is dotted with values for those willing to pop for a bottle of Merseault-Charmes to go with their foie gras and plantains. Chef Michael Bryant is a protégé of the Caribbean-eclectic chef Norman Van Aken (Bryant was Van Aken’s chef at the late West Hollywood branch of Norman’s), and there are twists in the cooking you might not expect from a restaurant where the food is supposed to be incidental to the wine: thinly sliced hamachi crusted with poppy seeds, curried sweetbreads, a cocoa-glazed pork cheek with chorizo — all of which sommelier David Haskell is happy to pair with an oddly perfect unoaked chardonnay or a Slovenian sauvignon blanc. 8945 Santa Monica Blvd., W. Hlywd., (310) 550-8945. Sun. & Tues.–Thurs. 6–10 p.m., Sat. 6–11 p.m. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, MC, V. Asian-Caribbean fusion. $$

Blue Velvet

First among equals and not a crab cake in sight, Blue Velvet is a hyperdesigned lounge fitted into the ground floor of a former Holiday Inn, all glass and iron wrapped around a glowing swimming pool that turns every vantage into a David Hockney painting, with the cool blues of Staples Center and the financial-district skyscrapers just beyond. Some of the herbs and vegetables are harvested from an organic rooftop garden. From a spot by the window, downtown is as glamorous as the view from a penthouse in a Fred Astaire picture. It is doubtful, though, that Astaire ever dined on deep-fried yogurt balls with puréed greens and raisins, or on a vaguely Malaysian squid salad with kumquats, or on a Thai-flavored roast duck accompanied by its tempura-fried liver, or on smoked tofu with black lentils and cherry tomatoes. Kris Morningstar, who did stints at Patina, A.O.C. and the late Meson G, is the chef at Blue Velvet, and his engaged if inconsistent version of the eclectic world cuisine thing ranges over more of the globe than Angelina Jolie. I especially like the squab crepinette, which involves rare slices of the breast arranged over a sort of pillowlike sausage stuffed with puréed corn bread, puréed mushrooms and bits of the bird’s own liver cooked into what tastes a little like Thanksgiving dinner on a small plate. 750 S. Garland Ave., L.A., (213) 239-0061. Mon.–Fri. 11:30 a.m.–2:30 p.m., Sun.–Thurs. 5:30–10:30 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 5:30–11 p.m. Bar open daily 4 p.m.–2 a.m. Full bar. Valet parking. Takeout. AE, MC, V. California contemporary. $$$

Border Grill

Yes, they were famous TV chefs; yes, they do endorsements; and yes, they have about as much Mexican blood between them as the Swedish bikini team. But Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger don’t claim to redefine Mexican food; they just prepare it well, transforming the taco, the tostada and the homely chile relleno into creatures almost unrecognizable if you’re used to their Cal-Mex equivalents, as well as constructing scholarly takes on elaborate traditional foods like jet-black huitlacoche sauces or sweet chiles en nogada. The long, black dining room, delineated by a crazily skewed ceiling painted with rocket ships and wrestling, masked batmen, is roaringly loud, but looks even better now than it did when the place first opened. Border Grill is the rare mainstream Mexican restaurant whose tacos don’t make you yearn for a truck parked by an auto-parts junkyard somewhere in East L.A., truly one of the best Mexican restaurants in town. 1445 Fourth St., Santa Monica, (310) 451-1655. Sun.–Thurs. 11:30 a.m.–10 p.m., Fri.–Sat. till 11 p.m. Full bar. Takeout. Street and valet parking. AE, D, MC, V. Modern Mexican. $$

Bulgarini Gelato

Los Angeles is thick with skilled gelato makers at the moment — Tai Kim at Scoops, Allessandro Fontana at Gelato Bar, and the artisans at Pazzo Gelato. But Bulgarini, the love child of Roman expat Leo Bulgarini and his Altadena-raised wife, Elizabeth Foldi, is a singular, perfect blossom in a world of international sweets conglomerates and by-the-book mixes: fragrant Sicilian pistachio gelato, vivid blood orange sorbetto, subtle cinnamon cream, and dark, smoky chocolate gelati flavored with orange peel, with fresh hazelnuts, or with rum. After a Gypsy-like year of existence flitting from museum courtyard to moviehouse lobby, Bulgarini finally has a permanent location, although unless you’re lucky enough to live in Altadena or the upper reaches of Pasadena, the new shop could hardly be less convenient. The faithful could scarcely care less. 749 E. Altadena Dr. Altadena, (626) 441-2319. Wed.–Thurs., Sun. noon–8 p.m., Fri.–Sat. noon–9 p.m. Takeout. Gelateria. ¢

Caioti Pizza Café

When the history of California pizza is finally written, a greasy volume inscribed in arugula, goat cheese and truffle oil, chef Ed LaDou, through whose fingers Spago’s first 100,000 pizzas flowed, will be known across the land as the father of the California pie. If a pizza in Denmark or Ohio has duck sausage and pine nuts on it, it is in no small part due to LaDou. And Caioti Pizza Café is a shrine to LaDou’s creations. The barbecue-chicken pizza, with slivered red onion, smoked Gouda and barbecue sauce instead of tomato, is definitive nostalgia, a taste of multiculti post-Olympics Los Angeles . . . with a hunk of gooey chocolate cake for dessert. 4346 Tujunga Ave., Studio City, (818) 761-3588. Mon.–Thurs. 11 a.m.–10 p.m., Fri. 11 a.m.-11 p.m., Sat. 9 a.m.–11 p.m., Sun. 9 a.m.–10 p.m. No alcohol. Takeout. Street parking. MC, V. Contemporary California. $


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. $$$


In Bordelaise dialect, a canele is a dense, fluted cylinder of pudding edged with crisp beeswax. In Atwater Village, Canele can feel a lot like an ongoing dinner party that just happens to tolerate strangers at its tables, with oddly minimalist décor, menus illegibly scrawled onto chalkboards, and friendly but puzzled waitresses who aren’t quite sure why you’ve stumbled into their domain. The chef/owner is Corina Weibel, a Nancy Silverton protégée who also cooked for a while at Lucques, and she works the farmers-market-driven urban rustic side of new Los Angeles cooking: the Provençal onion tart pissaladière and an austere green salad with crème fraîche; rare roast lamb with Israeli couscous and beef bourguignon with noodles; steak with potatoes Anna; and an honest flan. This is cooking worthy of the good china. 3219 Glendale Blvd., Atwater Village, (323) 666-7133. Tues.–Sat. 5:30–10:30 p.m. Sun. 5–10 p.m. Beer and wine. Takeout. Street parking. AE, MC, V. French. $

Casa Bianca

Can there be a substance on the planet more delicious than a pizza pie from Casa Bianca straight out of the oven, a crisp, pliable crust speckled with burnt bits of cornmeal, slightly acid tomato sauce and a gooey mantle of cheese? Casa Bianca, run since the early 1950s by Sam and Jennie Martorana, is the premier checked-tablecloth restaurant in Los Angeles, a monument founded on dough. The sausage is homemade, but the mushrooms on the pizza are canned, old-school style, if that sort of thing bothers you. And there’s freshly filled cannoli for dessert. 1650 Colorado Blvd., Eagle Rock, (323) 256-9617. Tues.–Thurs. 4 p.m.–mid., Fri.–Sat. 4 p.m.–1 a.m. Beer and wine. Takeout. Street parking. Cash only. Italian. $


If your idea of a Moroccan meal involves belly-dancing, silk pillows and the sensuous wail of the oud, the chic Fairfax-district restaurant Chameau may not be for you. But while Chef Adel Chagar’s flavors may be modern, his techniques tend to come from the traditional Moroccan kitchen: b’stilla made with the time-consuming pastry leaves called warka, house-made couscous light as perfumed air, a lamb shoulder tagine cooked until the meat almost dissolves into a kind of lamb-scented cloud. Chameau may describe itself as French-Moroccan, but the food is quite different from both the plain cooking you’ll find at Paris’ fashionable couscous cafés and the new-style Mediterranean menus that happen to feature a tagine or two. 339 N. Fairfax Ave., L.A., (323) 951-0039. Tues.–Sat. 6–10 p.m. Beer and wine. Takeout. Street parking. AE, D, DC, MC, V. French-Moroccan. $$

{mosimage}Chichén Itzá

Chichén Itzá’s habanero salsa is a mind-altering substance, a thin golden liquid with a presence that travels the way a sizzling fuse might along a narrow sector of your tongue until — ka-BOOM! — it detonates somewhere in your upper middle palate. And this isn’t even the hottest salsa Chichén Itzá has to offer. That honor belongs to the chunky purée of pure, grilled habanero chiles loosened with a little citrus, a condiment that has the punch of uncut heroin. Across the street from the Park Plaza Hotel and down the block from the Mexican Consulate, the new Chichén Itzá is a sleekly rustic dining room devoted to the cooking of the Yucatán: panuchos, vaporcitos, long-cooked cochinito pibil and all. Tikin-xic, seared sole fillets coated with a reddish achiote paste, are especially good, as is the Lebanese-Yucatecan staple kibi. I liked the restaurant’s original location, the still-packed stand in the Mercado La Paloma complex, so much that I actually booked an air ticket to Mérida after my first couple of meals there. The newer, more elegant restaurant is even better. 2501 W. Sixth St., L.A., (213) 380-0051. Sun.–Thurs. 11:30 a.m.–9 p.m., Fri.–Sat., 11:30 a.m.–11 p.m. Beer and wine. Takeout. Validated parking. AE, MC, V. Also in Mercado La Paloma, 3655 S. Grand Ave., dwntwn., (213) 741-1075. Open daily 8 a.m.–6:30 p.m. MC, V. Yucatecan. $

Chung King

With the demise of the Beijing duck restaurant Quanjude and the Taiwanese makeover of the Islamic-Chinese restaurant Tung Lai Shun, the Sichuan restaurant Chung King may be the premier San Gabriel Valley destination for traveling food people at the moment, a restaurant of a sort you just can’t find in Chicago, San Francisco or New York. The Western Chinese cooking, sizzling with four or five different kinds of chiles, vibrating with the flavors of extreme fermentation and smacked with the cooling, numbing sensation of Sichuan peppercorns, lies halfway between dentist’s-chair Novocain and the last time you could afford a lot of blow. It never fails to leave visitors exhausted, narcotized and happy, drenched in foul, garlic-laced sweat. The deli case filled with chile-marinated pigs’ ears and blisteringly hot tripe is worth a drive alone. If Chuck Jones had ever decided to draw something spicy for the coyote to injure himself with, it probably would have looked a lot like Chung King’s fried chicken with hot peppers, a knoll of crunchy dark-meat cubes subsumed under a blizzard of dried chiles that are the red of silk pajamas, the red of firecrackers, the red of the Chinese flag. Make sure you end up at the San Gabriel restaurant, which is vastly superior to the Monterey Park imposter of the same name. 1000 S. San Gabriel Blvd., San Gabriel, (626) 286-0298. Open daily 11 a.m.–9:30 p.m. Beer. Takeout. Lot parking. Cash only. Chinese/Szechuan. $


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 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. Takeout. Valet parking. AE, D, MC, V. Pan-Latino. $$

Cora’s Coffee Shoppe

A crusty beach café transformed into something out of a GQ shoot; a patio shaded with crimson bougainvillea, a burbling Tuscan fountain, the distant crashing of the surf — sometimes you want a chef’s salad, and sometimes you want an insalata caprese made with farmers-market tomatoes and oozingly creamy burrata cheese; sometimes you need ham ’n’ eggs the morning after, and sometimes delicate petals of San Daniele prosciutto. Cora’s hamburgers are magnificent, drippy creatures made of coarsely chopped, beyond-prime Wagyu cow, and for dessert, there is an intense homemade burnt-caramel ice cream bitter enough to make a 10-year-old child weep. 1802 Ocean Ave., Santa Monica, (310) 451-9562. Tues.–Sat. 7 a.m.–9 p.m. No alcohol. Takeout. Lot parking. AE, MC, V. Continental, Italian based. $


A fillet of first-quality Japanese beef, as wrapped in ninja-black cloth and carried around by the beef sommelier at Wolfgang Puck’s steak house Cut, is as ghostly white as an alabaster slab, like steak as seen in a photographic negative, like something Francis Bacon might have carved out of soft stone. Cooked, a single mouthful of Japanese rib eye from Kyushu pumps out flavor after flavor after flavor, every possible sensation of smoke and char and tang and animal you can imagine until your teeth have extracted all the juices. If you happen to be at Cut, which at the moment is probably the best steak house in the world that doesn’t happen to be in either Tokyo or Buenos Aires, and happen to have in front of you a perfectly splendid corn-fed Nebraska strip steak, aged 35 days, seared at 1,200 degrees, then finished over oak to a ruddy, juicy medium rare, you would take one bite of your neighbor’s Japanese Kobe steak, cooked the same way, and look around for rocks to throw at your own hunk of meat.  If Spago is at heart Wolfgang Puck’s restaurant, its menu plumped out with his easygoing air, his enriched stocks and his Austrian favorites, Cut, designed to the teeth by Getty Center architect Richard Meier, despite obvious signs of the master’s touch, is actually the love child of Puck’s capo, Spago chef Lee Hefter, whose obsessions lie as much in technique as they do in produce, and whose menus of warm veal-tongue salads, succulent maple-glazed pork bellies, potato “tarte tatin” and flan-stuffed marrow bones tend to be more modern but less user friendly than the dishes Puck turns out on his own. If you have $120 to spend on a steak, you might want to consider visiting Cut — and splitting the Kobe strip four or five ways, because unless you happen to play in the NFL, there is no way you can digest even a small example of the plutonium-dense meat by yourself. Cut is to the other steak houses in town what Spago was to the pizza parlors back in 1981. 9500 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills, (310) 276-8500. Mon.–Thurs. 5:30–10 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 5:30–11 p.m. Full bar. Valet parking a half-block south of Wilshire Blvd. on Rodeo Drive. AE, D, MC, V. California Contemporary. $$$$


A credible case can be made for the monkish austerity of the ramen at the various Santouka restaurants and for the bounciness of the noodles at Shin Sen Gumi. Still, all ramen lovers end up at Daikokuya sooner or later; a loud, steamy noodle shop, decorated to resemble an artifact of 1960s Tokyo, just a few blocks east of the Music Center. At Daikokuya, the choice is taken out of the equation — you will have the thin, curly noodles in pork broth, or you will have them stamina style, in even stronger pork broth: a formidable liquid, opaque and calcium intensive, almost as rich as milk. Floating with the noodles are plump slabs of simmered pork, slices of seasoned bamboo shoots and a dusky, soy-simmered egg. When you’re in the mood — we always seem to be — you can improve on the kitchen’s excesses by spooning in pure minced garlic from a tabletop jar. 327 E. First St., dwntwn., (213) 626-1680. Mon.–Thurs. 11 a.m.–mid., Fri.–Sat. 11 a.m.–1 a.m., Sun. noon–8 p.m. Beer and wine. Takeout. Street parking. AE, MC, V. Japanese. $

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. Takeout. Limited lot parking. Cash only. Chicken. ¢


Celestino Drago has been the king of pasta in Los Angeles since the day we all stopped eating SpaghettiOs. His casual yet rigorous pan-Italian cooking at his various dining rooms helped define the way Angelenos think about Italian food, and he seems to collect restaurants — Il Pastaio, Celestino, Enoteca Drago, Panzanella, Dolce Forno, among others — the way your 12-year-old brother collects baseball cards. But you will most often spot his mournful, bearded countenance at Drago, working the door, barking at a sous-chef, following a bit of roast venison or stewed boar out into the dining room as if he had shot it himself. The careful braising and sweet-and-sour flavors that are characteristic of Drago’s style really come into focus when he is stuffing boned-out quail with dense sausage, cooking pheasant with mushrooms for a pasta sauce or simmering boar until it all but collapses under its own molecular weight. 2628 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica, (310) 828-1585. Mon.–Fri. 11 a.m.–3 p.m. & 5–10 p.m., Sat.–Sun. 5–11 p.m. Full bar. Takeout. Valet parking. AE, MC, V. Italian. $$$

El Huarache Azteca

Half of Highland Park bellies up to the counter on weekend afternoons, guzzling housemade horchata, tepache and watermelon drink out of foam cups the size of oil cans, hovering over the few oilcloth-covered tables inside, gathering tacos and sopes by the dozen to bring home to their families, and coaxing burning-hot huitlacoche quesadillas — fried turnovers stuffed with musky, jet-black “Mexican truffles” — out of the stone-faced woman who mans the fry cart outside the entrance. The famous dish at El Huarache is, of course, the huarache, a flat, concave trough of fried masa the approximate length and shape of a size-12 sandal, mounded with beans, cultured cream and meat — but the great specialty is probably the weekend-only barbacoa, chile-rubbed lamb roasted to the point of collapse. 5225 York Blvd., Highland Park, (323) 478-9572. Open daily, 9 a.m.–10:30 p.m. No alcohol. Street parking. Takeout. Cash only. Catering. ¢

El Parian

The birria here, Guadalajara-style goat stew, may be the single best regional Mexican dish in Los Angeles, and nothing in the thousands of Mexican meals I have eaten in the last 30 years has done anything to sway me from that belief. But a sizable contingent also believes El Parian has the best carne asada tacos in town, that the kitchen excels at drawing a sweet, meaty, garlicky taste out of thin, charbroiled steak. And they may be right — the meat is well blackened and peppered with delicious pockets of liquified fat, and the thick tortillas are strictly homemade. Will I order the carne asada taco the next time around? Of course not. But I’m glad to know it’s there. 1528 W. Pico Blvd., L.A., (213) 386-7361. Open daily 8 a.m.–9 p.m. Takeout. Beer. Cash only. Mexican. ¢


Some restaurants are rocks of stability, operating on more or less the same level until they go out of business. But the quality of fancy Hong Kong–style seafood palaces in Los Angeles is as volatile as the NASDAQ average, bursting forth into brilliance, only to have chefs and headwaiters poached by competitors, recruited by wealthy Las Vegas kitchens, or lured back to China. (There are other problems: One of my favorite dim sum parlors, Capital, is rumored to have a spectacular seafood menu, but the restaurant has been booked for weddings each of the 20 or so evenings I have attempted to dine there.) A year-old review of a Chinese seafood palace can be as poor a predictor of the current state of its kitchen as the box score of a Dodgers-Phillies game from last September is of next Tuesday’s game.

So forget what the Weekly told you last month: The sharpest Chinese seafood house in town at the moment is Elite, which used to be the local branch of a Chinese-owned chain called New Concept, and which still serves a few of the more dubious dishes from that restaurant, including suckling pig with foie gras, fried prawns served in a bed of oatmeal flakes, and papaya salad with goose webs. It is certainly the most expensive Chinese restaurant in the San Gabriel Valley — its banquet menu includes options costing up to $2,288 for a table of 10. 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. The balls of chopped shrimp steamed in nets of shredded turnip and garnished with their own roe — the essence of the sea captured. 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. $$$

Euro Pane Bakery

Sumi Chang’s bakery may be the center of civilized life in Pasadena: a place to buy excellent-to-superb scones and baguettes and pains au chocolat, of course, but also the heart of a certain sort of society, the chemistry professors, theology students and writers who worship at the twin altars of caffeine and conversation. On a good day, Euro Pane’s magnificent croissants could be mistaken for France’s best in a police lineup. Toss in the homemade granola, the epochal bread pudding, the rustic fruit tarts and the gooiest egg-salad sandwich in town, and it’s no wonder that Europane’s regulars treat the bakery more as a permanent residence than as a café. 950 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena, (626) 577-1828. Mon.–Sat. 7 a.m.–5:30 p.m., Sun. till 3 p.m. No alcohol. Street parking. MC, V for orders over $20 only. California Bakery. ¢

Father’s Office

Creator of the most-imitated Los Angeles dish since Nancy Silverton reinvented an obscure Piedmontese dessert called panna cotta, Sang Yoon is the baron of the new-style cheeseburger: dry-aged beef cooked exceptionally rare, dressed with onions cooked down to the sweetness of maple syrup, Gruyère and Maytag blue cheeses, smoky bacon, arugula and a tomato compote, all on a French roll. I’m not sure that a restaurant has opened on the Westside in the last couple of years without some kind of variation of Yoon’s burger — I half expect to see a ciabatta-based version at Jack in the Box any day now. Still, at least until Yoon’s adults-only microbrew fiefdom expands to include a larger Culver City location later this year, dining here is a full-contact sport. If you want one of the few tables in the bar, you will have to circle the room until somebody gets ready to leave, then plunge into a vicious scrum. The more Unibroue you drink, the easier the battle becomes. 1018 Montana Ave., Santa Monica, (310) 393-BEER or www.fathersoffice.com. Food served Mon.–Wed. 5–10 p.m., Thurs. 5–11 p.m., Fri. 4–11 p.m., Sat. noon–11 p.m., Sun. 3–10 p.m. 21 and over only. Beer and wine. Takeout. Difficult street parking. AE, M, V. California Contemporary. $

Fogo de Chao

Churrascarias, southern Brazilian-style steak houses, are well established in Los Angeles. But Fogo de Chao, part of a Sao Paulo–based chain, is less a restaurant than a sizzling theme park of meat, a quarter acre of sword-wielding gauchos, smoldering logs, and soaring walls perforated with bottles of the heartier, more expensive red wines. It is a land of razor-sharp knives and double-weight forks, A-1 sauce and chimichurri, a salad bar longer than the Pasadena Freeway, and all the dripping, smoking flesh you can eat carved off swords at your table: $52.50, cash on the barrelhead. Refuse to leave until you get double portions of the grilled picanha. No Brazilian would settle for less. 133 N. La Cienega Blvd., Beverly Hills, (310) 289-7755. Lunch Mon.–Fri. 11:30 a.m.–2 p.m.; dinner Mon.–Thurs. 5–10 p.m., Fri. 5–10:30 p.m., Sat. 4:30–10:30 p.m., Sun. 4–9:30 p.m. Full bar. Valet parking. All major CC. Brazilian. $$$


For devotees of clean, precise, market-oriented global cooking, it can be argued that the heyday of Patina may have been as important a crucible of Los Angeles dining as Spago was a decade earlier. 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 eclectic wine list, put together by Mission Wine wizard (and former Patina sommelier) Chris Meeske, is long and reasonably priced. And the cheese plate, curated by ex–Patina cheese guy Andrew Steiner, is perhaps the single best you will ever taste in Los Angeles. 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. $$


Again we are in Culver City, where new, vaguely Mediterranean-influenced restaurants multiply like roly-poly bugs after a rain. And again we are in the presence of stripped brick, an open kitchen, an ambitious wine list rich in Rhones, and women who wear interesting eyeglasses and eat blood sausage instead of tofu. But the new project from Thierry Perez and chef Jason Travi, who between them have worked at a fair selection of the best restaurants in Los Angeles and New York, and who opened (but are no longer involved with) Bottle Rock right next door, is clearly a restaurant of love and obsession, from the meticulous plateaux de mer that rival the majestic displays of shellfish at Parisian brasseries to Travi’s house-cured guanciale, from the careful juiciness of the Kurobuta pork chop with violet mustard to the subtle sweetness of the rabbit tortelli with brown butter, to the sweet delicacy of the smoked eel in a salad with arugula and mint. Fraîche is already a tough reservation, but there is a separate bar area where you can drink “sangria” concocted from Grey Goose and farmers-market strawberries soaked in Grand Marnier, inhale giant portions of mussels and fries, and gingerly sip a Fernet-Branca when the bacchanalia becomes too much. 9411 Culver Blvd., Culver City, (310) 839-6800 or www.fraicherestaurantla.com. Open daily 5–10:30 p.m., bar open till mid. Full bar. Nearby parking in city lot. AE, MC, V. Mediterranean/wine bar. $$

Golden Deli

There is a line outside Golden Deli most of the time, a clutch of stragglers willing to brave the hot midday sun rather than walk across the street to uncrowded Vietnam House, where the same family serves the same food at the same price. Because most of us stubbornly cling to a belief in the sticky-table Golden Deli mojo, which may or may not flavor the exemplary pho, the Saigon-style hu tieu noodles, or especially the crusty golden spring rolls, four inches long and as thick as a fat man’s thumb, crudely rolled in a manner suggesting rustic abundance rather than clumsiness, and perfectly, profoundly crisp. Golden Deli has a long and complicated menu of delicious and ultra specialized noodle combinations, but it is difficult to contemplate a meal without an order of these spring rolls. 815 W. Las Tunas Dr., San Gabriel, (626) 308-0803. Mon.–Tues. & Thurs. 9:30 a.m.–9 p.m., Fri. 9:30 a.m.–10 p.m., Sat. 9 a.m.–10 p.m., Sun. 9 a.m.–9:30 p.m. Closed August. No alcohol. Lot parking. Cash only. Vietnamese/Thai. $

Golden Triangle

Possibly the most compelling culinary reason to visit Whittier, the suburb that gave us Richard Nixon, M.F.K. Fisher and conceptual artist Mark Kostabi, Golden Triangle may be the best place in California to taste Burmese food, a phantasmagoria of a cuisine that draws from the cooking of nearby India, China, Thailand and Laos — the country is in a pretty good neighborhood. The restaurant specializes in the garbanzo-flour-thickened catfish chowder called moh hin gha, the biryani-style rice dish called dun buk htaminh, and lap pad thoke, a salad made with pickled tea leaves that have the consistency of stewed collard greens and the caffeine kick of a double espresso, and also in a sour vegetable dish made with a special Burmese green that the owner grows in his backyard. Then there’s the incredible ginger salad, biting shreds of the spice tossed with an almost-too-crunchy mélange of coconut, fried garlic, fried yellow peas, peanuts and sesame seeds. If the world ever gave it a chance, ginger salad might have the universal appeal of spaghetti Bolognese. 7011 S. Greenleaf Ave., Whittier, (562) 945-6778. Mon.–Sat. 11 a.m.–10 p.m., Sun. 11 a.m.–9 p.m. Beer and wine. Takeout. AE, D, MC, V. Thai-Burmese. $


If Los Angeles restaurants are like rock bands, Neal Fraser is the glamorous indie-rock hero, a chef with a wobbly, idiosyncratic style that couldn’t be further from the finish-fetish crowd pleasers, a detailed, market-oriented sort of New American cuisine, heavy on French technique and inspired by the strong flavors and intricate presentations of New York chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten. The cooking can still be a little rough around the edges at Grace, but Fraser is clearly aspiring to greatness here — this is tremendously ambitious food. And there are freshly fried jelly doughnuts for dessert. What more could you want? 7360 Beverly Blvd., L.A., (323) 934-4400. Tues.–Thurs. & Sun. 6–10 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 6–11 p.m. Full bar. Valet parking; difficult street parking. AE, MC, V. New American. $$$

Green Village

Here is the sleekest Shanghainese restaurant in town, a gently lit warren of white tablecloths and private dining rooms in a shiny San Gabriel mall. Table after table groan with plates of eel with leeks, huge tureens of mild duck soup, butter-soft braised fishtails in brown sauce, steamed soup dumplings with crab and the sweet, crunchy house-special spareribs, which are as hard to stop eating as buttered popcorn. Hollow bamboo tubes, as burnished as shipboard teak, conceal long-steamed pork belly and thickets of preserved mustard greens; battered pottery holds a glistening mosaic of Hangzhou pork cooked over a bed of sticky rice. At Green Village, the cold roast duck, saturated with the essence of star anise and soy, tastes even better than the hot roast duck, which is saying a lot. When Green Village took up in a humbler San Gabriel location several years ago, its directness of flavor and use of vegetables set it apart from most of the Shanghai-style restaurants in town. This is still true — try the bean sheets with the amazing bitter green called gee-tsai — but don’t miss the braised pork knuckle, a jellied mass in a sea of brown gravy, garnished with a femur that resembles the one that the ape sent flying at the beginning of 2001: A Space Odyssey. 250 W. Valley Blvd., #M, San Gabriel, (626) 576-2228. Lunch daily 11:30 a.m.–3 p.m., dinner 3–10 p.m. Full bar. Underground lot parking. MC, V. $

The Grill on the Alley

Yes, the steaks are good; yes, the gin martinis are perfect; yes, the corned-beef hash (well done, thank you very much) is sublime. If you are inclined to order caesar salad or steak tartare, you’ve come to the right place. But within the decidedly non-soothing confines of the Grill, where show-business moguls still pack into the booths in the front dining room as thickly as commuters on a rush-hour MTA bus, you will also find this town’s essential rice pudding: touched with cinnamon, drizzled with heavy cream, coaxing the nutty, rounded essence out of every grain of rice. If Musso’s rice pudding is a lullaby, the Grill’s is a lullaby as sung by Renée Fleming. 9560 Dayton Way, Beverly Hills, (310) 276-0615. Mon.–Thurs. 11:30 a.m.–10:30 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 11:30 a.m.–11 p.m., Sun. 5–9 p.m. Full bar. Takeout. Valet parking; free street parking before 6 p.m. AE, DC, D, MC, V. Traditional American steak house. $$$


Even now that the Byzantine-Latino District has become a virtual Oaxacatown, that decent moles are available in most parts of the city and chile-fried grasshoppers are as common a sight in Pico grocery stores as Cool Ranch Doritos, Guelaguetza is still the best Oaxacan restaurant in town, a breathing, fragrant encyclopedia of the cuisine. At the original Koreatown location, you’ll find home-brewed horchata with cactus-fruit syrup, tlayudas the size of manhole covers, and delicious, mole-drenched tamales. The black mole, based on ingredients the restaurant brings up from Oaxaca, is rich with chopped chocolate and burnt grain, toasted chile and wave upon wave of textured spice. 33371?2 W. Eighth St., L.A., (213) 427-0779. Open daily 8 a.m.–10 p.m. No alcohol. Street parking. AE, MC, V. Oaxacan. $


In restaurants as in actresses, quirkiness can be an unforgivable flaw. But Hatfield’s, a comfortable, modern bistro near Hollywood, can’t help itself any more than Parker Posey can. Instead of merlot and Chianti, there is a weirdly wonderful list of old Loire whites, stern reds from Austria and the Italian Alps, and German “champagne.” The croque madame sandwich is made with yellowtail and prosciutto instead of Gruyère cheese and pale ham, and tentacles of Japanese octopus just happen to curl around pillars of vanilla-braised hearts of palm. Even the steak and potatoes are quirky — the rare onglet is predictable enough, and the garnish of horseradish-crusted short ribs is nothing we haven’t seen before, but the smokiness of the dish comes not from the meat but from the mashed potatoes. From most chefs, this style might come across as affected, but from Quinn and Karen Hatfield, whose cooking at small-plates restaurant Cortez in San Francisco sometimes seemed like Mediterranean cuisine reflected in a fun-house mirror, one would expect nothing less. 7458 Beverly Blvd., L.A., (323) 935-2977. Mon.–Sat. 6–10 p.m. Full bar. AE, MC, V. California French. $$

The Hungry Cat

To aficionados, Hungry Cat’s Crab Day is an annual event up there with Christmas and the Fourth of July, a chance to take a mallet to as many spicy boiled crustaceans as they can hold. Somebody call the mayor: It is an occasion worthy of a city holiday. But even on the other 364 days, The Hungry Cat is a civic treasure, a place to drop into for a dozen oysters or a bowl of shrimp, a crab cake or a bowl of chowder. The primary object of desire here is the lobster roll, an abstracted rendition of the New England beach-shack standard transformed into a split, crisp, rectangular object about the size of a Twinkie. In Maine, the $20-plus it costs would buy you a lobster the size of a small pony. But we are in Hollywood, where the next acceptable lobster roll may be 2,800 miles away. 1535 N. Vine St., Hlywd., (323) 462-2155 or www.thehungrycat.com. Mon.–Sat. 11:30 a.m.–3 p.m. & 5:30–11 p.m., Sun. 11:30 a.m.–3 p.m. & 5–9:30 p.m. Full bar. Validated parking. AE, MC, V. Seafood. $$

Il Moro

In Bologna, one tends to eat very well — on prosciutto, Parmesan cheese and mortadella, on creamy emulsions and butter-basted chickens, on long-cooked ragus that incorporate the entire barnyard into a few tablespoonsful of sauce. It is not for nothing the city is often called Bologna the Fat. Il Moro, which recently transformed itself from a better-than-average office-building restaurant to a center of Bolognese cuisine, may be the only place in Los Angeles where you can taste the cooking of the region: the tiny, meat-stuffed cappelletti floating in a deep-yellow capon broth; the baked lasagna enriched with a wheelbarrowful of bechamel; the house-made pasta, alive under the teeth, buried under an ultradense sauce fashioned from tomatoes and minced pigeon. Prosciutto and salami are served in the traditional Modenese way, with gnocco — oblong, unsweetened beignets that would be equally appreciated by New Orleanians and Homer Simpson. Tucked into the corner of the Westside where you might least expect a restaurant, busier at lunch than at dinner, it backs up onto a rather romantic patio, has an attached wine bar with occasional live music — and is usually pretty easy to slip into without a reservation even on a Saturday night. A useful restaurant. 11400 W. Olympic Blvd., W.L.A., (310) 575-3530. Mon.–Fri. 11:30 a.m.–3 p.m. & 5–10:30 p.m., Sat. 5 p.m.–1 a.m., Sun. 4:30–9:30 p.m. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, DC, MC, V. Italian. $$


Any place in town can serve you a grilled T-bone, but Suzanne Tracht’s snazzy steak house is strictly postmodernsville, man, chefly riffs on the strip steak and the porterhouse, the hash brown and the French fry that may or may not incorporate every last pea tendril and star-anise infusion in the Asian-fusion playbook, if that happens to be your desire. Some people we know have never even tried the steak here — the braised pork belly, the glorious pot roast and the duck fried rice are just too compelling. And there’s a wonderful, mostly Italian wine list to contemplate. But the steak, seared at 1,100 degrees, is about as good as it gets. The newly revamped décor is straight off the set of a Cary Grant movie. And there’s banana cream pie for dessert. 8225 Beverly Blvd., L.A., (323) 655-6566. Mon.–Thurs. 5:30–10 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 5:30–11 p.m., Sun. 5:30–9:30 p.m. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, D, MC, V. California American. $$


JiRaffe is a pleasant space in a bright corner of Santa Monica, all neo-Palladian windows, white tablecloths and the kind of minimal Gallic décor you see in the restored farmhouses they feature in Elle Decor. Raphael Lunetta’s food tends to be elegant, almost ladylike, with the sort of seasonality you might expect from a serious restaurant located a few hundred yards from the best farmers market in Southern California, and careful, restrained presentations. JiRaffe is a real California bistro, the kind of casual yet slightly formal place the Ivy only pretends to be, and with much better food. In restaurants as in architecture, sometimes less is more. 502 Santa Monica Blvd., Santa Monica, (310) 917-6671. Mon.–Sat. 5:30–10 p.m., Sun. 5:30–9 p.m. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, MC, V. French. $$


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. $$$


Kiriko may still be the great undiscovered sushi bar in Los Angeles, and Ken Namba’s traditional yet creative sashimi surpasses most of what is sold at three times the price. Namba smokes fresh Copper River salmon over smoldering cherry wood, slices it thick and wraps it around spears of ripe mango: The sashimi is soft and luscious, salty and sweet, penetratingly smoky yet delicate — one of the most magnificent mouthfuls of food imaginable. There is Spanish mackerel dressed with grated ginger and ponzu, and mackerel as rich as ripe Brie. The sea bream pulled out of Japan’s Inland Sea is almost gooey in its extreme freshness, dusted with the zest of a tiny yuzu, served with a tiny dish of salt grated to order from a pink, quartzlike stone. One of the gifts of a great sushi chef is nonchalance, and Namba has it to spare, the ability to appear casual, unhurried, processing the food for an entire restaurant while looking as serene and unbothered as Fred Astaire. 11301 Olympic Blvd., No. 102, W.L.A., (310) 478-7769. Lunch Tues.–Fri. noon–2:15 p.m.; dinner Tues.–Sun. 6–10 p.m. Beer and wine. Parking lot. AE, MC, V. Japanese. $$


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 — the sourcing of the fish is extraordinary. 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. $$$

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. Takeout. Lot parking. All major CC. Also at 935 S. Glendora Ave., West Covina, (626) 480-0116. Thai. $


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. ¢

{mosimage}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. $

La Terza

You will never find cooking exactly like Gino Angelini’s in Italy, where the greens tend to be tougher, the rabbits plumper, the basil more pungent and the best beef leaner than it is in California. Pigeon in Italy tends to have the stink of the forest about it. A good chef in Italy probably wouldn’t use balsamic vinegar unless he happened to be Modenese, and reputable menus rarely feature both Genovese pesto and osso buco alla Milanese. What Angelini is attempting at La Terza may be no less than re-imagining 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, produce that translates into supple pastas, complex salads and the subtle vegetable purées with which Angelini enriches his sauces. And look at those meats: glistening, wood-smoke-infused slabs of pork belly; drippingly rich duck with figs; mahogany-skinned squab enveloping a rich stuffing of shiitake mushrooms and its own liver. Sometimes there is even trifolati, a traditional Italian stew of kidneys, melted down in warm olive oil and simmered in red wine. In Viareggio, trifolati may just be lunch. In Los Angeles, it is a revelation. 8384 W. Third St., L.A., (323) 782-8384. Open daily for breakfast 7–11 a.m., for lunch 11:30 a.m.–2 p.m., for dinner 5:30–10:30 p.m. Full bar. Takeout. Valet parking. AE, D, MC, V. Italian. $$$

Literati II

Literati is just as happy to serve you a really good pork chop as an exquisite organic salad, a stiff drink as a bottle of Viognier, and it seems as if some of the customers have practically set up their offices here beneath the framed pencils and the old photographs of Santa Monica, borrowing novels from the dining-room bookcase to read over lunch — like Literati Café next door, from which it spawned, Literati II is popular with screenwriters and others eager for a second home. Chef Chris Kidder and pastry chef Kimberly Sklar are both veterans of Campanile in the very best way, in love with woodsmoke and seasonal farmers market produce, generous portions and plenty of herbs; tapping old Mediterranean traditions and making them their own — don’t miss the pasta with arugula pesto or the hot churros with bitter chocolate. 12081 Wilshire Blvd., W.L.A., (310) 479-3400. Lunch Mon.–Fri. 11:30 a.m.–2:30 p.m.; dinner Mon.–Thurs. 6–10 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 5:30–10 p.m.; brunch Sat.–Sun. 11:30 a.m.–2:30 p.m. Full bar. $2 valet parking in rear. AE, MC, V. California Contemporary. $$

The Lodge

Restaurant magnate Adolfo Suaya is the dark prince of the anti-chef wing of the local restaurant scene, the evil one behind half the velvet-rope joints in town. Yet I love the Lodge for its double-fisted Tanqueray martinis, for the thick-cut pepper bacon put out like peanuts at the bar, for the big chunks of blue cheese in the house chopped salad and the onion rings as golden as the bangles on a Brahmin woman’s arm. A waitress will try to sell you a third or fourth martini. The $75 porterhouse-for-two starts to seem not only possible but desirable in the heat of the Lodge moment, and if you do the math, it is one of the least costly items on the menu. But the potatoes are not just baked, but salt baked, crunchy skinned, accompanied by enough condiments to crank the vibe from Ornish all the way up to Atkins with just a few dips of the fork. 14 N. La Cienega Blvd., Beverly Hills, (310) 854-0024. Open nightly 5 p.m.–1 a.m. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, MC, V. California Steak House. $$$

Los Balcones del Peru

A scant block below the glowing Sunset + Vine complex, so close to the ArcLight Theater that it shares its parking lot, Los Balcones del Peru lies at the precise border of redeveloped Hollywood and its shadow, a breath of authenticity a few steps south from the overamped velvet-rope district, and home to camarones a la piedra, a warm shrimp preparation from the tropical northern coast of Peru that is one of the most formidable ceviches in town. Los Balcones also may be the only Peruvian restaurant in town without tapes of Andean panpipe music, which is almost a miracle, at least if you ignore the occasional charanga version of “Feelings.” It is easy to spend hours here after a movie at the ArcLight, eating fried fish, fried-chicken “chicharrones” and scallops broiled with Parmesan cheese, drinking Peruvian beer from the Inca city of Cuzco. 1360 N. Vine St., Hlywd., (323) 871-9600. Sun.–Thurs. 11 a.m.–9 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 11 a.m.–10 p.m. Beer and wine. Validated parking at ArcLight Cinema. AE, MC, V. Peruvian. $


If pigs had their way, pig candy would be made out of chocolate — better yet, out of chocolate that made its way into their troughs. But for better or worse, pig candy is the vernacular name for a snack made out of smoky, thick-cut bacon baked with lots and lots of brown sugar until it transforms itself into demonically fragrant slabs that bear more than a passing resemblance to pork-belly terrine. You want some of this stuff. Really, you do. Lou, a tiny, wonderful wine bar on the south end of Vine, serves a pretty decent range of artisanal cheeses, the garlic-laced salamis of Seattle’s Armandino Batali, and house-made rillettes. The wine list is pleasantly oddball, thick with rustic bottles of obscure country wines. Lou has a minor specialty in both long-braised meats and tasty vegetarian soups, and the elaborate Monday-night wine dinners revolving around, say, choucroute or the season’s first Alaskan halibut have become legendary. Still, on cool nights there may be nothing better than a plateful of the pig candy made with Lou’s house-smoked bacon, a bowlful of olives and a glass of organic Côtes du Luberon. 724 N. Vine St., Hlywd., (323) 962-6369 or www.louonvine.com. Mon.–Sat. 6 p.m.–mid. Wine. Lot parking. MC, V. California Contemporary. $


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. $$

M Café de Chaya

I suspect that at least half of the people who read the Weekly know more about macrobiotic cooking than I do. So I hope you will humor me when I admit that I really like the food at M Café, partly because almost anything tastes great when it is made with vegetables bought at a decent growers market, but also because the kitchen lets flavor come first. Owned by the people who run Chaya Venice and Chaya Brasserie, M Café serves food based on macrobiotic principles — the vegetable sushi here is made not just with brown rice, but with organic, artisanally produced heirloom brown rice — but when the tomatoes are ripe, the pesto is pungent and the house-baked bread is crisp on a pressed sandwich, even a sybarite can overlook the fact that the “mozzarella” started its life as a plant. And if the macrobiotic thing doesn’t agree with you, the finest chili-kraut dogs in the world are available right around the corner at Pink’s. 7119 Melrose Ave., L.A., (323) 525-0588. www.mcafedechaya.com. Daily 9 a.m.–9 p.m. AE, MC, V. Beer and wine. Limited lot parking. Takeout and delivery. Macrobiotic. $

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. Takeout. Lot parking in rear. MC, V. Macanese. $


Marouch is so reliable, and has been in Hollywood so long, that it is sometimes easy to forget just how good the restaurant can be; how you could build a life around the homestyle daily specials alone. If you wanted to imagine you were in Beirut, you could stop by this place a few times a day — midmornings for a piece of baklava and a thimbleful of Armenian coffee, lunch for a kebab and a bottle of Lebanese beer, late afternoons for the falafel, house-made from scratch, and a bowl of dense lentil soup. At dinner, it’s a splendid, wild-thyme-dusted version of the toasted-bread salad fattoush, unsurpassed makanek sausages dressed with lemon and oil, the fine hummus with pine nuts, the grilled quail, and the complicated Lebanese desserts. Year after year, Marouch becomes nothing but better. 4905 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A., (323) 662-9325. Tues.–Sun. 11 a.m.–11 p.m. Beer and wine. Lot parking. All major CC. Middle Eastern/Lebanese/Armenian. $


Fusion chefs, even the best of them, tend to fall on one side of the spectrum or the other, either dressing up essentially Western techniques with Asian flavors and exotic ingredients or supercharging existing Asian dishes with professional French technique. Max chef Andre Guerrero, who is Filipino-American, seems to split the difference about as adroitly as anyone in town. So where his “ahi towers” are nothing like traditional sushi, for example, the perfectly engineered cylinders of fried sticky-rice cake, seaweed, pickled ginger, wasabi-flavored flying-fish roe and raw fish have all the sensations of a great, trashy tuna roll. This is a midlevel restaurant, not a temple of cuisine. But Guerrero’s formidable chicken adobo is a remarkable, remarkable dish. 13355 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks, (818) 784-2915. Sun.–Thurs. 5:30–10 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 5:30–11 p.m. Full bar. Street parking. All major CC. California Asian. $$

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. $$


When Mélisse opened a few years ago, it seemed as if Josiah Citrin was trying to create a Michelin-worthy restaurant by force of will alone, imposing luxury ingredients and luxury prices on a local public that seemed happy enough to eat its seared venison without the benefit of Christofle silver, velvet purse stools or airy sauces inflected with fresh black truffle. The cooking was always good enough, but the effect was faintly ridiculous, like a teenager trying on his father’s best sports jacket when he thinks nobody is looking. (What I remember best from my first several visits is not a particular dish, but the sight of Don Rickles and Bob Newhart at the next table insulting the waiters with material that would have killed at a Friars Club roast.) And the prices, $95 for an all-but-mandatory four-course menu, would be high even in Paris. But Citrin has grown into Mélisse; he wears it like a custom-fitted suit. And his cuisine, which uses farmers market produce and the most modern kitchen techniques without calling attention to itself, has shed most of its baby fat – the cassoulet of white asparagus with morels, the melting Copper River salmon and the butter-soft duck breast at a recent dinner all brought out the soulful essence of the ingredients in the least showy way imaginable. 1104 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica, (310) 395-0881. Dinner Tues.–Thurs. 6–9:30 p.m., Fri. 6–10 p.m., Sat. 5:45–10 p.m. Closed Sun.–Mon. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, D, DC, MC, V. $$$$

Metro Café

Metro Café is everybody’s favorite secret restaurant, a faux-’50s diner attached to a stucco chain motel that just happens to serve grilled trout on garlicky greens alongside its patty melts and chef salads, white-bean soup flavored with ham imported from a Santa Monica deli, or a grilled trout, nothing fancy, plopped on a bed of garlicky greens. If the owners are feeling charitable, there may be crepes for dessert, special, secret crepes stuffed with Nutella and raspberry jam. Shhhh. 11188 Washington Place, Culver City, (310) 559-6821. Breakfast and lunch 7 a.m.–3 p.m.; dinner 6–10 p.m. Beer and wine. Parking in Travelodge lot. MC, V. Serbian. $


Back in its Nouvelle Cuisine days, Michael’s may have been the first market-oriented restaurant in Southern California, a showcase not just of glorious art — Rauschenberg, Stella, Graham, Hockney — but of tiny vegetables, local meats, California wines and luxury foodstuffs identified by port of origin. There still may be no better afternoons in Los Angeles than those spent on Michael’s garden patio, hefting Christofle silver, inhaling Dungeness crab salad, house-made gravlax, tweaked yellowtail sashimi and an oaky, buttery Napa Chardonnay with just enough bottle age. Michael’s still feels a little like an exclusive party that somebody forgot to invite us to. 1147 Third St., Santa Monica, (310) 451-0843. Mon.–Fri. noon–2:30 p.m. & 6–10:30 p.m., Sat. 6–10:30 p.m. Full bar. Nonsmoking, including patio. Takeout. Valet and street parking. All major CC. California. $$$


The French bistro is no longer as underrepresented in Los Angeles as it was even a few years ago, when the permanent dominance of neo-Tuscan cooking in the city seemed like a given. It seems as if half the new restaurants in town these days feature housemade charcuterie, duck salad and French country wines. But in few of these new bistros is there anything like the pleasure one finds in Jean-Pierre Bosc’s well-worn restaurant — the exemplary steak frites, the pâté, the roast chicken, the super-funky andouilettes. Bosc’s signature “tarte tatin” of pungently herbed tomatoes on a buttery puff-pastry tart shell smeared with pesto is the sort of dish you’d like to eat every night; so is the Alsatian-style tarte flambée and the thick, proper Provençal fish soup. Dinner at Mimosa resembles one at an ordinary bistro in almost every way except one: The food is really good. 8009 Beverly Blvd., L.A., (323) 655-8895. Dinner Mon.–Sat. 6–10:30 p.m. Beer and wine. Valet and street parking. AE, D, MC, V. Reservations recommended on weekends. French Bistro. $$

Musso & Frank Grill

Before Musso & Frank Grill became a martini-fueled Hollywood clubhouse, the place where Faulkner blew out his liver and generations of character actors learned to show up on Wednesday for the chicken pot pie, the restaurant was practically a showcase for what was then considered California cuisine, a genteel marriage of the local produce, abundant local fisheries and masculinized lunchroom cooking: avocado cocktails smeared with sweet, pink dressing and frigid bowls of chilled consommé; great, naked planks of boiled finnan haddie and dainty plates of crab Louie; creamy Welsh rabbit served over crustless triangles of toast and kidneys Turbigo. This is what the cosmopolitan life was like, before cosmopolitans. 6667 Hollywood Blvd., Hlywd., (323) 467-7788. Tues.–Sat. 11 a.m.–11 p.m. Full bar. Validated parking in rear. AE, DC, MC, V. American. $$

Noodle House

It is always fried bao time at this Taiwanese breakfast specialist, fluffy, steamed pork buns sizzled until their bottoms crisp up like eggs fried in oil and the jellied juices of the pork heat and melt until they are pressurized enough to rocket across the table the moment that your teeth breach the substance of the dough. The buns, a lucky eight of them, are served browned-side up, arranged into a bao fairy ring connected by a gauzy scrim of batter. You detach a bun and dunk it into a bowl of spicy garlic-infused soy sauce. The sauce-saturated pastry assumes a soft, mousseline texture; the soy mingles with hot porky essence; the buns seem to hop into your mouth one after another as if propelled by an alien force. When you are done, there are is delicious soy milk and Tianjin pancakes to contemplate, which is to say northern-Chinese-style burritos stuffed with freshly fried crullers. 46 W. Las Tunas Dr., Arcadia, (626) 821-2088. Daily Tues.–Sun. 7 a.m.–9 p.m. No alcohol. Cash only. ¢


Sometimes you get the feeling that the owners of Nook are running less an American bistro than a joke about an American bistro. As faithfully as they reproduce the fundamentals of the kinds of fancily unfancy restaurants that pepper every urban neighborhood from San Diego to Augusta, Maine, they are also poking fun at them with every dried-cranberry garnish and each day-boat scallop, each obscure Belgian beer and each boutique Oregon Pinot Noir, each crusty roast chicken and dish of iconic macaroni and cheese. Almost every aspect of the restaurant, from its double-height communal table to the admonition on the menu that cell-phone use interferes with the controls on the deep fryer, is as ironically pitch-perfect as the Neil Diamond songs on a Silver Lake DJ’s iPod. 11628 Santa Monica Blvd., No. 9, W.L.A, (310) 207-5160 or www.nookbistro.com. Lunch Mon.–Fri. 11:30 a.m.–3 p.m.; dinner Mon.–Sat. 5–10 p.m. Beer and wine. Lot parking. AE, MC, V. American Bistro. $$

101 Noodle Express

This bleak mini-mall storefront next to a bowling alley may not scream with promise. But the café is home to the Shandong-style beef roll, a massive, bronzed construction that commands its platter like two El Tepeyac burritos laid side by side — brawny Chinese pancakes rolled around slivers of stewed beef and seasoned with a sprinkling of chopped scallion tops and fresh cilantro. The inside of the beef roll is smeared with a sweet, house-made bean paste with an ethereal, almost transparent top-note, a bean paste that bears the same relationship to ordinary hoisin sauce that Joachim Splichal’s demi-glace might to a slug of canned brown gravy. It is a simple composition, and yet not; ordinary street food raised to a transcendent level. 1408 E. Valley Blvd., Alhambra, (626) 300-8654. Mon.–Fri. 10 a.m.–3 p.m. & 5–10 p.m. Sat.–Sun. 10 a.m.–11 p.m. No alcohol. Takeout. Lot parking. Cash only. Chinese. ¢


A converted Eagle Rock joint saturated with the smell of wood smoke, red roof gleaming in the late-afternoon sun, Oinkster is the newest child of André Guerrero, who is chef of Max and Señor Fred. Oinkster is a perfected fast-food restaurant, the old-school paradigm of pastrami, burgers and chicken reinvented for a new age. “Slow fast food,’’ proclaims the sign outside: smoky Carolina-style pulled-pork sandwiches, chopped salad, and fast-food-style Angus-beef hamburgers with sweet housemade catsup. He roasts chickens on a creaky rotisserie and smokes his own pastrami. Would you be willing to pay a couple dollars extra to experience artisanal soda pop, Fosselman’s-based milkshakes and other fast food with a chefly edge? Guerrero is betting that you are. With all of the above, of course, it is necessary to have an order of Belgian fries, fried twice to leave them light and hot, their fluffy potato essence encased in a stiff, perfectly golden capsule of crunch. 2005 Colorado Blvd., Eagle Rock, (323) 255-OINK or www.oinkster.com. Open Mon.–Thurs. 11 a.m.–10 p.m., Fri.-Sat, 11 a.m.–11 p.m., Sun., 11 a.m.–9 p.m. AE, D, MC, V. No alcohol. Takeout. Slow-cooked fast food. $


Occupying huge, masculine quarters fitted into the art-deco Wiltern building, Opus is the stage for the intimate, complex cooking of Joseph Centeno, a young but accomplished veteran of some of the best kitchens in California. This is the deal at Opus, although you won’t find it on the menu: chef’s-choice tasting menus at $10 a course, boom-boom-boom until you cry “uncle,” well-chosen wines to match each course if you’d like, and ingredients as rare and exotic as any on earth: sesame-crusted mackerel filet with crosnes; fried abalone with charred romaine; a cream of masa soup spiked with crackly rabbit “carnitas” that has all the sensations of a great taco in liquid form. At some point, you are bound to come across The Egg, an eggshell emptied of everything but its coddled yolk, then stuffed with honey, cream o’ wheat and smoky bacon — all the sensations of breakfast in a couple of gooey spoonfuls. Cooking of Centeno’s high caliber at this price is not just reasonable, it may be the greatest bargain in Los Angeles fine dining at the moment. 3760 Wilshire Blvd., L.A., (213) 738-1600 or www.opusrestaurant.net. Open Mon.–Thurs., 5:30–10 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 5:30–11 p.m. AE, MC, V accepted. Full bar. Valet parking. Tasting dinner, $10 per course, four courses minimum. California contemporary. $$


Orris is the great marriage between California casual and the Japanese izakaya, a great place to drop in for a beaker of daiginjo sake and a plate or two of smoked scallops garnished with salmon roe, seared tuna with sweet onion marmalade, or even what amounts to lamb sashimi. Its location, convenient to the Nuart and the manga-intensive shopping strip anchored by the Giant Robot complex, couldn’t be better, and the small wine list is swell. 2006 Sawtelle Blvd., W.L.A, (310) 268-2212. Dinner Mon.–Fri. 6–10 p.m., Sat. 5:30–10:30 p.m., Sun. 5:30–9:30 p.m. Beer, wine and sake. Lot parking (valet Wed.–Sat.). AE, D, MC, V. Small-plate cuisine. $$


At a time when l’Orangerie is dead, Bastide on hiatus, and half the émigré chefs in California are putting their knowledge of Escoffier to work cooking pasta, Ortolan, which reflects Christophe Emé’s Loire-trained palate, may be the most serious French restaurant in Los Angeles. If you are a fan of intimate, dungeonlike restaurant spaces, dining rooms so dark that diners are issued little flashlights along with their menus, and presentations that extend to mushroom soup served in test tubes and fish seared on hot river rocks, then Ortolan may be the restaurant for you. Actually, Ortolan’s basic premise — high-level French cooking served in a supper-club setting — is an attractive one. And Emé, who co-owns the restaurant with his paramour, Jeri Ryan, who is often to be seen working the room, is remarkably skilled: The squab, served as a roasted breast paired with a leg confit, is exceptional, as are the crisp langoustines done in the style of Robuchon, and the complex tasting menus are among the most accomplished in town. 8338 W. Third St., L.A., (323) 653-3300. Tues.–Sat. 6–10 p.m. (Closed Sun.–Mon. in summer.) Full bar. Valet parking. AE, MC, V. French. $$$


Sustainable? No. Organic? Probably not. Multicultural? Only when strictly necessary. Patina’s exquisitely wrought dining room in Disney Hall is arguably the most important restaurant space in California, and Joachim Splichal, through his chef Theo Schoenegger, is a master of modern global cuisine, finely crafted, vegetable-intensive compositions of Berkshire pork, yellowfin tuna or Santa Barbara spot prawns geared to the sophisticated palate of the international traveler, beautiful to look at, and as carefully branded as a Lexus. The restaurant is known for the offhand complexity of its presentations, exotic spices and seasonal emulsions often sparked by fragrant herbs or bursts of acidity, food that is often as compelling to think about as it is to eat. 141 S. Grand Ave., dwntwn. (213) 972-3331. Lunch Tues.–Fri. 11:30 a.m.–1:30 p.m., dinner Tues.–Sun. 5–11 p.m. (9:30 p.m. during summer). Full bar. Valet parking. AE, D, DC, MC, V. French and California contemporary. $$$

Philippe the Original

Sawdust on the floors, clown pictures on the wall, long communal tables crowded with cops, politicians and recent parolees from the nearby county jail, Philippe is so much a relic of prewar Los Angeles that sometimes it feels as if it isn’t really a part of Los Angeles at all, as if it belongs to an older city without neon, chrome or arugula. The French-dipped sandwiches of lamb or beef are wet and rich, with something of the gamy animal pungency of old-fashioned roast meat. There is an oddly wonderful selection of wines by the glass — try the Silver Oaks cabernet sauvignon. And if you enjoy the sight of eyes bulging and nostrils flaring as people encounter depth charges of ultrahot mustard in their sandwiches, there’s even something of a floor show. 1001 N. Alameda St., dwntwn., (213) 628-3781. Open daily 6 a.m.–10 p.m. Beer and wine. For takeout, must call ahead, and order must be over $40. Lot parking. Cash only. American. ¢

Phillips’ Barbecue

Crusted with black and deeply smoky, the spareribs at Phillips’ Barbecue are rich and crisp and juicy, not too lean. Beef ribs, almost as big around as beer cans, are beefy as rib roasts beneath their coat of char, tasty even without the sauce. They are the best ribs in Los Angeles, perhaps the only ribs that can compete on equal terms with the best from Kansas City or Tuscaloosa. And the extra-hot sauce, so crowded with whole dried chiles that the ribs occasionally look as if they have been embellished with Byzantine mosaics, can be pretty exhilarating. Tucked into a mini-mall between a liquor store and the local chapter of Alcoholics Anonymous, the original Phillips’ might be a little hard to find, although if you keep your window open, you should be able to sniff it out from half a mile away. But the newest location, in the well-scrubbed chalet-style Crenshaw building that until recently housed the well-regarded Leo’s Bar-B-Q, is only a couple of blocks south of the 10 freeway. 4307 Leimert Blvd., L.A., (323) 292-7613. Mon. 11 a.m.–8 p.m., Tues.–Thurs. 11 a.m.–10 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 11 a.m.–mid., Sun. 11 a.m.–6 p.m. 2619 S. Crenshaw Blvd., L.A., (323) 731-4772. Tues.–Thurs. 11 a.m.–10 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 11 a.m.–11 p.m., Sun. 11 a.m.–6 p.m. 1517 Centinela Ave., L.A., (310) 412-7135. No alcohol. Takeout. Lot parking. Cash only. Barbecue. $

{mosimage}Pizzeria Mozza

At Pizzeria Mozza, currently the toughest ticket in Los Angeles, Nancy Silverton has people arguing over the entire paradigm of what a pizza might be. Her pizza is airy and burnt and risen around the rim, thin and crisp in the center, neither bready in the traditional Neapolitan manner nor wispy the way you find pizza in the best places in Tuscany. The crust is sweet and bitter, salty and chewy, circled by crunchy charred bubbles that may or may not be snipped off by Silverton or her chef, Matt Molina, as they inspect the pizzas at the pass. Every pizza at Mozza is a unique marriage of flour, salt and hot-burning almond wood, stretched into irregular disks, as individually lovable as children, topped with sausage and wild fennel, or squash blossoms and burrata , or fried eggs and puréed anchovies. Mario Batali is a part owner, and the buzziness and heat may remind you of the menus at Otto, Batali’s pizza parlor in Greenwich Village, although Mozza’s pizza is better than Otto’s. The antipasti, which are mostly vegetables, include crackling, deep-fried squash blossoms stuffed with oozing ricotta cheese. David Rosoff’s all-Italian wine list is short and obscure but loaded with delicious things to drink, and nothing is over $50. Still, Mozza is a simple pizzeria — Osteria Mozza, the more serious half of the operation, won’t open until midsummer. 641 N. Highland Ave., L.A., (323) 297-0101 or www.mozza-la.com. Open daily noon–mid. Valet parking. AE, M, V. Italian pizzeria. $$

Pollo a la Brasa

If you are anywhere near Koreatown when the need for takeout chicken strikes, follow your nose to Pollo a la Brasa, a Peruvian chicken joint all but concealed behind a fortress of hardwood logs. The smoky, crisp-skinned chicken here, sizzled over a hot wood fire and served with the incendiary Peruvian herb sauce aji, is what happens when you cross a chicken with a smoldering log. 764 S. Western Ave., L.A., (213) 382-4090. Wed.–Mon. 11 a.m.–10 p.m. No alcohol. Takeout. Lot parking. MC, V. Peruvian. ¢


When Michael Cimarusti left the stoves at Water Grill to start Providence, his fans were expecting nothing less than the Los Angeles equivalent of fish palaces like Le Bernardin and Oceana in New York. At this glowing restaurant, he managed to fulfill even those super-high expectations — this is among the best kitchens ever to hit Los Angeles. It just doesn’t get better than Cimarusti’s tartare of live spot prawns served with buttery leaves of brik pastry, sautéed squid with piquillo peppers and meltingly soft slivers of stewed pig’s ear, or a terrine of foie gras with muscat gelée that may be the best foie gras preparation in this foie gras–happy town. The dessert tasting menu of pastry chef Adrian Vasquez is a five-course degustation demanding and ambitious enough to command the attention of an entire evening, a universe of puréed avocado and hot cider foam. 5955 Melrose Ave., Hancock Park, (323) 460-4170. Mon.–Fri. 6–10 p.m., Sat. 5:30–10 p.m., Sun. 5:30–9 p.m. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, D, MC, V. Modern American seafood. $$$


What the owners like to call Gujarati dim sum might more properly be called a bottomless thali, the cooking of the Indian province overwhelming you with labyrinths of flavor and a profusion of perfumes, a 10-course combination platter constantly refilled in all of its components. After 45 minutes, your plate will probably look exactly the way it did before you started eating, save the odd drip of lentil dal. But when the waitress bearing khandvi,tart, fermented-batter crepes smeared thickly with puréed lentils and coiled into slender jelly rolls,comes around again, you will probably beg for another portion no matter how full you may be. The concept of too much khandvi simply does not exist. 18525 Pioneer Blvd., Artesia, (562) 402-9102. Lunch and dinner daily. No alcohol. Lot parking. AE, D, MC, V. $


A swank parlor of the oughts fitted into a swank art deco supper club of 80 years ago, Royale is an oddly formal restaurant for its MacArthur Park neighborhood, a citadel of Ginger Rogers–era civilization translated into beefsteak and halibut. Eric Ernest, late of Citrine, is a playful chef, flavoring a bit of big-eye tuna with an oil flavored to resemble the Punjabi lamb stew rogan josh, hitting the sautéed foie gras with preserved blood orange wedges and a blast of licorice, gilding the burger with braised shortribs and truffled cheese. For dessert, there are chocolate platters and bowls of blue cotton candy that resemble the hairdo of The Simpsons’ Sideshow Mel. And as you might expect, the dining room is lubricated with all the laid-back house music you can stand. 2619 Wilshire Blvd., L.A., (213) 388-8488 or www.royaleonwilshire.com. Lunch Mon.–Fri. 11:30 a.m.–3 p.m., dinner Open daily 5:30–10:30 p.m. (lounge open till 2 a.m.). Full bar. Valet parking. All major CC. European. $$$

Sapp Coffee Shop

Sapp may be the best lunchroom in Hollywood, a bright Thai restaurant, unrelentingly yellow inside, sharing a small mini-mall with a video shop and a place to get griddled Thai desserts; crowded at noon, not with revelers but with people who have come to Thai Town to shop and eat spicy, stinky boat noodles, remarkable grilled chicken and bright-green “jade” noodles tossed with Chinese barbecue. Sapp is the Thai equivalent of Pie n’ Burger, a lunchroom where the virtues of homeliness become extraordinary when put in context with the shiny, glittery surfaces against which it might compete. 5183 Hollywood Blvd., Hlywd., (323) 665-1035. Open 7 a.m.–8:30 p.m.; closed Wednesdays. No alcohol. Takeout. Lot parking. Cash only. Thai. ¢


Buenos Aires? 14th arrondissement Paris? It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what the view from this bistro’s picture window calls to mind, but the panorama of trees, century-old buildings and whooshing Gold Line trains is unlike any other in the Los Angeles area at the moment, a gleaming utopian vision that would bring a smile to any urban planner’s face. 750ml, presumably named for the capacity of a wine bottle, is the newest venture from the owner of Malo and Cobras & Matadors, a tiny, expensive small-plates café with an equally tiny menu that works better as a full-on restaurant than it does as a wine bar. It’s probably best not to come too hungry: hazelnut-dusted chanterelle ravioli are delicious, but there are only two of them in an order, and a portion of the mustardy hand-chopped steak tartare is small enough to qualify as an hors d’oeuvre. But the wine list, strong on choices from Spain and Southern France, is swell. And the clientele seems to average at least 20 years younger than the usual South Pasadena crowd, whose money tends to flow more toward bungalow restoration than to plates of beef shoulder with taleggio fondue. 966 Mission St., S. Pasadena, (626) 799-0711. Beer and wine. AE, MC, V. French bistro. $$

{mosimage}Simon L.A.

Rolling Stone once called Kerry Simon, the soulful, long-haired chef of this perpetually overcrowded restaurant in the Sofitel, the Rock ’n’ Roll Chef, a title he bears with the pride that other chefs tend to reserve for their James Beard Awards. And he has conquered the competition on Iron Chef. But the emblematic dish at Simon L.A. so far, the one on the lips of the people whose names are inscribed in indelible ink on all the best clipboards in town, is the mammoth concoction Simon calls the Junk Food Sampler: a $25 mass of cotton candy, Sno Balls and Rice Krispies marshmallow treats so insiduous, so awe-inspiring, that it may as well have been designed by a consortium of work-deprived Beverly Hills dentists. It isn’t a dessert; it’s a diabetic coma on a plate. Simon L.A. is also a shrine to the reimagining of America’s vernacular cuisine: meatloaf and shrimp cocktail, caesar salad and onion rings, truffle-oil-enhanced macaroni and cheese, and hand-chopped steak tartare paired with horseradish-painted beefsteak tataki. Because man does not live by cotton candy alone. 8555 Beverly Blvd., (in the Sofitel), L.A., (310) 358-3979. Open daily 11 a.m.–11 p.m. Full bar. Validated valet parking. AE, MC, V. American. $$


What we know as California cuisine may be dedicated to revealing produce at its best, but David and Michelle Myers go after nature with blowtorches and microtomes and dynamite, determined to bend the old woman to their will. A sliver of watermelon may be less a sliver of watermelon than a wisp in a chilled soup, a salted crunch tracing the shape of a curl of marinated yellowtail, a glistening cellophane window into the soul of a pistachio, a texture in a sorbet, a jelly exposing its cucumberlike soul. The morning after nine courses at Sona (this is one restaurant where only the tasting menu will do), it will already seem like a half-forgotten dream. 401 N. La Cienega Blvd., W. Hlywd., (310) 659-7708. Tues.–Fri. 6–10 p.m., Sat. 5:30–11 p.m. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, D, DC, MC, V. Modern French. $$$


The original Spago on Sunset was to New American Cooking what the Armory Show was to modern painting or Meet the Beatles was to rock & roll: the one that changed the rules. Designer pizza got its start in that Sunset Strip dining room, as did fusion cooking, the notion of the celebrity chef, and the idea that fine dining could be fun. In his glamorous Beverly Hills space, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this year, bolstered by imaginative executive chef Lee Hefter and pastry chef Sherry Yard, he’s redefining our idea of what Spagomight be — and the roasted-beet cake with goat cheese, the turbot with Chino Ranch vegetables and the 10-spice roast squab are good enough to make you forget the duck-sausage pizza and the chopped vegetable salad that originally made Spago famous. Is a tasting menu within your budget? Don’t think twice. 176 N. Cañon Drive, Beverly Hills, (310) 385-0880. Lunch Mon.–Fri. 11:30 a.m.–2:15 p.m., Sat. noon–2:30 p.m. Dinner Mon.–Thurs. 5:30–10:30 p.m, Fri.–Sat. 5:30–11 p.m., Sun. 5:30–10:30 p.m. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, D, MC, V. California with Asia and Europe. $$$

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. $

Tacos Baja Ensenada

In most of Mexico, the words estilo Ensenada signify just one thing: fish tacos, specifically the fried-fish tacos served at stalls in the fish market down by the docks. In East L.A., you will come no closer to the ideal than these crunchy, sizzlingly hot strips of batter-fried halibut, folded into warm corn tortillas with salsa, shredded cabbage and a squeeze of lime, sprinkled with freshly chopped herbs and finished with a squirt of thick, cultured cream. Entire religions have been founded on miracles less profound than the Ensenada fish taco. 5385 Whittier Blvd., E.L.A., (323) 887-1980. Tues.–Sun. 10 a.m.–9 p.m. No alcohol. Lot parking. Cash only. Mexican. ¢


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. Takeout. AE, MC, V. Japanese. $$


This tiny, luxurious sushi bar is famously the most expensive restaurant in California, and most nights it is also the best, with fish unseen anywhere else in the country. Other sushi restaurants display fish triple-wrapped behind glass in a refrigerated case; at Urasawa, the fish is out in the open, lighted as carefully as the tomatoes in a Carl’s Jr. ad, all glistening pinks and glowing translucence. If a particular leaf or species of clam is in its Japanese two-week season, it will certainly be on your plate. Waitresses refill your glass with sake, replace hot towels and remove plates so efficiently that you are barely aware of them at all. And Urasawa’s artistry with a fillet is surpassed in the United States only by that of his mentor, Masa Takayama — there is, one senses, an enormous effort to keep the customers in a bubble of serenity, an uninterrupted flow of bliss. 218 N. Rodeo Drive, Beverly Hills, (310) 247-8939. Mon.–Sun. 6–8:30 p.m. Full bar. Valet. AE, MC, V. Japanese. $$$$


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. $


Everybody’s favorite Italian restaurants tend to serve perfected country dishes, rustic vegetables and grilled meats that replicate what a gifted grandmother might prepare for dinner in her Umbrian fireplace. But Angelo Auriano’s food at is as far from home cooking as any French chef’s: No grandmother is ever going to arrange dense slivers of smoked eel from Lake Garda into a still life, or scent marinated yellowtail with a few drops of basil oil and seabottom-pungent shavings of dried mullet roe, or stuff agnolotti with wild boar and garnish it with cured pig cheek and fiasco-simmered beans. Valentino has always been one of the most controversial restaurants in Los Angeles, loved by foodies who claim to have eaten the best meals of their lives in the dimly lit dining room and loathed by people who claim that the restaurant is a con job. It can be difficult to coax the best from Valentino. But with the return of Auriano, who presided over the kitchen in its best days, the cooking is once again up to the level of owner Piero Selvaggio’s massive wine list. Suddenly, although Valentino is quite expensive, the $85 tasting menu (and you’re missing the point if you order anything else) seems almost reasonable. 3115 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica, (310) 829-4313.Dinner Mon.–Thurs. 5–10 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 5–10:30 p.m.; lunch Fri. 11 a.m.–noon. Full bar. Valet and street parking. AE, CB, DC, MC, V. Italian. $$$$

Village Idiot

The Village Idiot, housed within the scraped, hollow bones of the former Chianti, is the biggest gastropub in town at the moment, a vast place dominated by the surging throngs around the bar, a pub where you can get fish ’n’ chips, pints of Boddingtons and hand-drawn cider, but also crunchy cornmeal-crusted catfish, grilled chicken with bread salad, and a delicate goat-cheese tart served underneath a refreshing fennel salad. Are there salads with candied nuts and blue cheese, braised pork, and a version of the Father’s Office burger? Of course. The shouted, ale-lubricated conversation is probably half the reason for coming here — the ratio of great-looking women to shaggy indie boys may be the most impressive in all of Los Angeles. 7383 Melrose Ave., L.A., (323) 655-3331. Open daily 11:30 a.m.–2 a.m. Full bar. AE, MC, V. English. $


Valentino may be grander than Vincenti, La Terza flashier and Giorgio Baldi may draw a more famous clientele, but Vincenti feels like the spiritual center of fine Italian cooking in Los Angeles, its hearth. And befitting a hearth, much of Nicola Mastronardi’s food comes from the big, hardwood-burning ovens, flavored with the presence of smoke, of forests, stone chimneys and chilly afternoons — a scallop, say, sprinkled with bread crumbs and baked in its shell until it sizzles; a magnificent veal chop; soft curls of cuttlefish tucked into an herb salad; a whole, truffle-laced squab. The adjacent rotisserie turns out the best restaurant version of porchetta I have ever tasted in California — loin and belly are wrapped into a spiral, seasoned with fennel and spit-roasted to a crackling, licorice-y succulence. It is certainly possible to eat several mediocre Italian meals elsewhere in this neighborhood for the price of a single superb one here. At these times, it is good to remember that on Monday nights, pizza also comes out of these ovens. 11930 San Vicente Blvd., Brentwood, (310) 207-0127. Mon.–Sat. 6–10 p.m., Friday for lunch noon–2 p.m. Full bar. Takeout. Valet parking. AE, MC, V. Italian. $$$

Water Grill

A big-city fish restaurant, Water Grill is a redoubt of oysters and fresh scallops, sparkling fish and sea creatures we can’t even pronounce, in one of the busiest commercial corridors of downtown. It was widely assumed that the restaurant would wither into irrelevancy when former chef Michael Cimarusti left to open Providence, but it is possible that the kitchen is even sharper under David LeFevre, who has added a certain global-Gallic sensibility to the seafood cuisine — which includes a beautiful peekytoe crab salad and perhaps the only local tuna tartare we would dream of ordering a second time. Extremely expensive and quite formal by Los Angeles standards, but you knew that. 544 S. Grand Ave., dwntwn., (213) 891-0900. Mon.–Fri. 11:30 a.m.–8:30 p.m., Sat. 5–9 p.m., Sun. 4:30–9 p.m. Full bar. Takeout. Valet parking. AE, D, DC, MC, V. Progressive American. $$$


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 this south Indian vegetarian restaurant. 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 serve the usual south Indian starches too — iddly, uttupam, pesarat — served with the usual complements of sambar and chutney. In the afternoons the buffet tends to have the most exotic array of vegetarian Indian food in town. 9840 Topanga Canyon Blvd., Chatsworth, (818) 998-3031. 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. $

LA Weekly