Chef Simon Elmaleh learned to cook at his mother's knee in Morocco, honed his skills alongside a French chef at Club Med in Israel and then, for almost two decades, ran Japan's only Moroccan restaurant. He settled in L.A. a dozen years ago, bringing his mixed cooking heritage into a cozy, bright restaurant called Simon's Café. Step inside and you'll forget the place sits in the shadow of the 405/101 intersection. Tapestries with camels adorn the tangerine-hued walls alongside framed images of Marrakesh and a Jewish hamsa design. Elmaleh dons a maroon fez to greet customers and whispers with his wife as they prepare hummus, grilled eggplant, house-made merguez sausage, couscous and the specialty — a lamb tagine cooked with dry fruits, fresh apples and cinnamon. Order Bosch pears soaked in white wine and vanilla to end your meal, or figs stewed in Cointreau, and you'll be feasting as Elmaleh's family once did in Morocco. —Daina Beth Solomon
4515 Sepulveda Blvd., Sherman Oaks, 91403. (818) 783-6698, simonscafe.com.