Ambala Dhaba. On a stretch of Westwood Boulevard thick with student
coffeehouses and Iranian hair salons, Ambala Dhaba is an outpost of the Punjab,
a branch of a restaurant on Artesia’s Little India strip noted for its fiery goat
curries and the boiled-milk ice cream called kulfi. It’s probably the
only thing resembling traditional Indian food on the Westside. Ambala Dhaba exemplifies
the time-honored side of meaty northern Indian cooking: basic, direct food almost
Islamic in attitude, Pakistani in intensity of flavor, but wholly Indian in its
attention to fresh vegetables, crunchy snacks, and breads. But my favorite part
of a meal at Ambala Dhaba may be dessert, several flavors of house-made kulfi-on-a-stick
available by the piece and by the bag. 1781 Westwood Blvd., Westwood, (310)
966-1772. Open daily noon–10:30 p.m. No alcohol. Lot parking. Takeout. Food for
two, $12–$20. MC, V. Indian. JG $
Birriera Chalio. Goat: The other, other, other white meat. If
you’re in the mood for a lot of goat, practically goat by the yard, it might be
difficult to do better than a long, goaty lunch among the mounted animal heads
at the original Birriera Chalio on Calle Primero, where the waitresses will bring
plate after plate of the restaurant’s signature Zacatecas-style birria
— chewy riblets and soft chunks of shoulder and muscly knots of leg meat — until
you practically have to beg them to stop. Hair of the dog? No, hair of the goat.
Birriera Chalio on Calle Primero, 3580 E. First St., Los Angeles, (323) 268–5349.
Mon.–Fri. 7 a.m.–8 p.m., Sat.–Sun. 7 a.m.–9 p.m. Beer and wine. Lot parking. Takeout.
Latin. JG $
Caioti Pizza Café. When the secret history of California pizza is finally
written, a greasy volume inscribed in arugula, goat cheese and white truffle oil,
former Spago pizza chef Ed LaDou’s name will be known across the land. 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.–Sun. till 11 p.m.;
brunch Sat. 9 a.m.–11 a.m., Sun. 9 a.m.–2:30 p.m. No alcohol. Takeout. Street
parking. MC, V. $10–$15. Contemporary California. JG $$
Chang’s Garden. Chang’s Garden doesn’t always limit itself to
Shanghai-style foods. There is a very nice rendition of the Szechuan dish of simmered
beef and tripe in chile oil, and splendid fresh Chinese bacon with garlic and
chile. The special goat-stew soup, which turns out to be made with lamb, is a
strong, very northern concoction of meat, medicinal herbs and plenty of rice wine.
Try the puddinglike slabs of Japanese eggplant cooked down with garlic and chile,
or the cubes of tofu dusted with flour and fried until the inside becomes molten.
627 W. Duarte Road, Arcadia, (626) 445-0606. Open daily, 11:30 a.m.–10 p.m.
MC, V. Beer and wine. Lot parking. Dinner for two, food only, $24–$38. Chinese.
El Caserio. The cornerstone of the Ecuadorian kitchen is the
fresh-chile sauce aji (pronounced ah-hee), whose tart, fiery taste accents Ecuadorian
dishes the way the taste of smoked chiles sparks Mexican food and the saltiness
of fish sauce does Thai. El Caserio’s aji is spicier than most, juiced up with
onion and fresh tomato, one of the best salsas imaginable. There is a spicy, wonderful
goat stew, sweet and concentrated; a similar stew of chicken; a nice version of
the Peruvian dish lomo saltado, which involves strips of beef sautéed with onions
and French fries. The shrimp dish sango de camarones revolves around a strange,
thick sauce made with green plantains and peanut butter — probably unlike anything
you have eaten before. 309 N. Virgil Ave., (323) 664-9266. Lunch and dinner
Thurs.–Tues. 11 a.m.–9:30 p.m. No alcohol. Takeout. Lot parking. MC, V. Dinner
for two, food only, $12–$18. Ecuadorian. JG ¢
El Parian. El Parian’s sweet, mild goat meat has crispy parts
and stewy parts, just like carnitas. It clings to the tiny goat ribs, which you
suck, then spit back into the bowl. The broth, basically amplified pan drippings,
is rich essence of goat and the single best Mexican dish I’ve eaten in Los Angeles
— it is the soul of Guadalajara. There’s a thicket of cilantro to flavor the broth,
a heap of chopped onion, limes to squeeze and a fat radish to sweeten your breath.
The thick tortillas are warm and smell of fresh corn. The beer is very cold. Birria
is supposed to be somewhat aphrodisiac — and a palliative for hangovers too, which
is a special bonus on a Sunday morning. 1528 W. Pico Blvd., downtown, (213)
386-7361. Open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Lunch for two, food only,
$7–$12. Beer. Cash only. Mexican. JG ¢
Luna Park. “Serious” restaurants highlight jidori chicken on
their menus, have somebody in the kitchen who knows how to work the mulberry lady
at the Santa Monica Farmers Market, and feature at least two different preparations
of foie gras. But Luna Park, the La Brea Avenue spinoff of a popular San Francisco
café, occupies a spot on the food chain halfway between L’Orangerie and the local
branch of the Cheesecake Factory. The 20-somethings who throng the restaurant
for goat-cheese fondue, garlicky moules frites and grilled artichokes with aioli
presumably couldn’t care less. 672 S. La Brea Ave., Los Angeles, (323) 934-2110.
Lunch Mon.–Fri. 11:30 a.m.–2:30 p.m.; dinner Mon.–Thurs. 5:30–10:30 p.m., Fri.–Sat.
5:30–11:30 p.m., Sun. 5:30–10 p.m.; brunch Sat.–Sun. 11:30 a.m.–3 p.m. Full bar.
Takeout. AE, MC, V. $9.50–$16.50. American Comfort Food. JG $$
Natraliart. This is real Jamaican food, you understand, not the
stuff you find on cruise ships or at Ocho Rios resorts; strong, direct, sometimes
nastily spicy cooking without a mango or a spicy lobster in sight; no prime rib,
no sweet sauces, no fresh flowers posed on the plate. This is a place of tough,
spicy curried goat, practically vibrating with the taste of ground cloves. And
half the dreads in the city drift in and out over the course of a lazy afternoon
— for to-go cartons of vegetarian food, or to buy tickets to any of the half-dozen
concerts that the guys behind the counter happen to be selling at any one time.
Try Natraliart’s jerk chicken — it is among the best versions in town. 3426
W. Washington Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 732-8865. Open for lunch and dinner Tues.–Sat.
11 a.m.–9 p.m. No alcohol. Takeout. Street parking. MC, V. Lunch or dinner for
two, food only, $16–$26. Jamaican. JG $
Phong Dinh. If you have heard of Phong Dinh at all, it is probably
because of its sizable game menu, which features characteristic preparations of
every animal that has ever skittered through a Vietnamese swamp, and a few beasties
— kangaroo, alligator, ostrich — that probably never made it farther than the
royal zoo at Hue. If you would like to try sweet crispy-grilled wild-goat ribs,
or cod-head hot pot (by request only), or the classic Vietnamese sauté called
luc lac, made with cubes of alligator instead of beef, Phong Dinh is
definitely for you. 2643 N. San Gabriel Blvd., Rosemead, (626) 307-8868. Daily
11 a.m.–11 p.m. Beer and wine. Lot parking. Dinner for two, food only, $15.95–$35.
AE, D, MC, V. Vietnamese. JG $