Best of L.A.

Best Of 2017

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Best Of :: South L.A./USC/Compton/Watts

Best Place to Witness Pre-Revolutionary China Without Leaving L.A.: Velaslavasay Panorama

Best Place to Witness Pre-Revolutionary China Without Leaving L.A.
Velaslavasay Panorama
Danny Liao

Before movies became our culture's dominant form of mass entertainment, there was the panorama, which captivated audiences throughout the 19th century. Often depicting immersive landscapes or important events, the panorama is a floor-to-ceiling cylindrical painting placed in a round room, at the center of which stands the viewer. Three-dimensional props, lighting and sound elements heighten the illusion of surveying a far-off land or historical scene. Founded by artist Sara Velas in 2000, the Velaslavasay Panorama is a contemporary twist on these fanciful Victorian houses of wonder. Its first iteration was located in the Tswuun-Tswuun Rotunda in Hollywood, where The Panorama of the Valley of the Smokes depicted a 360-degree view of the Los Angeles area as it might have appeared two centuries ago. A few years later, the Panorama relocated to its current home in the Union Theatre Building and debuted a new tableau, Effulgence of the North, which portrayed an icy, arctic vista, complete with the sound of cracking glaciers and a light show emulating the aurora borealis. After more than a decade, Effulgence closed Sept. 10, with a new panorama set to open next spring. Titled Shengjing Panorama, it will feature a 90-foot-long painting made in collaboration with artists in China, capturing an early–20th century view of the northeastern Chinese city of Shenyang — and thereby offering a window into another place and time.

1122 W. 24th St., Los Angeles, 90007
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213-746-2166
Best Store to Buy Supplies for Your Voodoo Curse
Saydel Inc.
Nikki Kreuzer

Need a little extra assistance winning that court case, landing that job or finding that soul mate? A little supernatural help might be just what the witch doctor ordered. A trip to Saydel Inc. will satisfy shopping for all of your mystical needs, from Santería artifacts to voodoo protection powders, religious candles to herbs and magical oils. A large supply of Catholic, Caribbean and Central American deities lines the shelves next to horseshoes, incense and voodoo dolls. Located on the border of industrial Vernon, this one-stop magical shop may be the largest botanica in the L.A. area, and a large painting of an Egyptian pharaoh beckons from the store's front window alongside large Spanish words that translate to "Where the Secrets of the World Are Preserved." If that isn't enough to intrigue you, than maybe buying some "Shut Up" bath soap to silence your inner critic will.

2475 Slauson Ave, Huntington Park, 90255
MAP
323-585-2800
Best Hidden Gems
Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County
Courtesy Natural History Museum of Los Angeles

The Tyrannosaurus rex is still hunting down the Triceratops in the entrance hall of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, where one of the most dazzling exhibits can be found in the Gem and Mineral Hall. Head into the darkness and seek out the 2,000 or so glittering specimens in an amazing array of psychedelic colors and otherworldly shapes: crystals and minerals from deep underground, meteorites from outer space, and enough gold, silver and precious gems to stun the eyes. Just a fraction of the museum's collection, these beauties range from California gold to the first Martian meteorite known to have landed in the United States. Many of the specimens have strange names (benitoite, rhodochrosite, spessartine) that even a sci-fi B-movie couldn't dream up. And when you see the minerals that glow fluorescent orange, yellow, red and green, you might feel as if you've been transported to such a movie. (Think Chronicle, without the nosebleeds).

900 Exposition Blvd., Los Angeles, 90007
MAP
213-763-3466
Best Old-School Burger
Hawkins House of Burgers
Janel G./Yelp

The owner of Hawkins House of Burgers, Cynthia Hawkins, knows a newbie when she sees one. "Your first time here?" she asks a couple of women, huddled facing the menu on the wall of this tiny burger shack. The women nod, and Hawkins says, "How did you hear about us? Food Network?" Turns out it was the Travel Channel, but it could have been accolades from any number of sources that have brought new faces into the heart of Watts, right up the street from Watts Towers, for a behemoth burger. Masochists will go for the Whipper, a creation that falls squarely into the Frankenstein school of burger-making, with two patties, layers of pastrami and a hot link sliced in half. It's a ridiculous thing, delicious in its hulking deformity, but the Fat Bacon Cheeseburger might be the more perfect beast. There's something so old-school and perfect about the hand-formed patties, the melty American cheese, the lettuce and pickles and tomato and onion. Burgers take about 15 minutes to cook ("You shoulda called in your order," Hawkins advises), and those familiar with the routine wait in their cars on the street outside till Hawkins steps out the door and hollers the order number to the surrounding neighborhood.

11603 Slater St., Los Angeles, 90059
MAP
323-563-1129
Best Fusion Tacos
Revolutionario Critics' Pick

Revolutionario is further proof that you can put anything in a taco — in this case smoked lamb, chickpea tagine or the Middle Eastern egg dish shakshouka — and it will taste even better. The tiny, low-on-frills-but-high-on-charm North African taco joint (from classically trained French-Algerian chef Farid Zadi) also deserves bonus points for its location: Situated just west of USC, Revolutionario is a harissa-slicked oasis in something of a restaurant desert. You can't go wrong with any of the 10 taco options (though I'd suggest you start with the beef brisket barbacoa, or the chickpea-spinach–sweet potato tagine if you're vegetarian). In case North African tacos don't provide enough culture collision, Revolutionario serves three varieties of Japanese-Peruvian ceviche as well. And whatever you do, don't walk out of there without ordering the fried cauliflower, which can stand up to any of the fried cauli that has proliferated on menus across the city. Here it's dressed with spiced salt, smoked pepper, Aleppo pepper, sumac, toasted wheat, sesame seeds and dried lime. At $3.75 apiece, go ahead and order three.

1436 W. Jefferson Blvd., Los Angeles, 90007
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424-223-3526
Best Street Taco Duel

One of L.A.'s most visceral food pleasures involves driving a few miles southeast of USC, where two of the city's best taco vendors — Tacos los Poblanos Estilo Tijuana at Avalon and Slauson, and the colloquially named Tire Shop Taqueria on Avalon just south of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard — set up shop nightly a mere mile and a half apart. Both offer Tijuana-style tacos made with superlative carne asada — proper carne asada, taco aficionados will insist — which is unfurled on a charcoal grill in long meaty sheets, then hacked into manageable nubs on a large wooden chopping block. Both vendors pat out tortillas by hand and cook them to order on a large griddle, and both load their tacos with a scoop of thick, buttery guacamole, a sprinkle of chopped onions and a dab of smoky salsa. Wrapped tightly in squares of wax paper, they resemble meaty ice cream cones more than they do tacos. Tire Shop Taqueria and Tacos los Poblanos Estilo Tijuana are so similar you might think they are branches of the same operation. Do we have to pick just one? Let's call it a draw.

Best Street Taco Duel
Tacos los Poblanos Estilo Tijuana vs. Tire Shop Taqueria
Anne Fishbein

One of L.A.'s most visceral food pleasures involves driving a few miles southeast of USC, where two of the city's best taco vendors — Tacos los Poblanos Estilo Tijuana at Avalon and Slauson, and the colloquially named Tire Shop Taqueria on Avalon just south of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard — set up shop nightly a mere mile and a half apart. Both offer Tijuana-style tacos made with superlative carne asada — proper carne asada, taco aficionados will insist — which is unfurled on a charcoal grill in long meaty sheets, then hacked into manageable nubs on a large wooden chopping block. Both vendors pat out tortillas by hand and cook them to order on a large griddle, and both load their tacos with a scoop of thick, buttery guacamole, a sprinkle of chopped onions and a dab of smoky salsa. Wrapped tightly in squares of wax paper, they resemble meaty ice cream cones more than they do tacos. Tire Shop Taqueria and Tacos los Poblanos Estilo Tijuana are so similar you might think they are branches of the same operation. Do we have to pick just one? Let's call it a draw.

4069 S. Avalon Blvd., Los Angeles, 90011
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5821 S. Avalon Blvd, South L.A., 90011
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Best Horse Ranch for At-Risk Kids
Compton Jr. Posse
Suze Randall

When you think of horses in Los Angeles, you're likely to conjure images of towns at the far reaches of the San Fernando Valley or stables attached to multimillion-dollar homes overlooking the ocean at Rancho Palos Verdes. But you'll also find these majestic animals just off the Metro Blue Line in Compton. Mayisha Akbar moved to Richland Farms, a little-known rural enclave in Compton, in 1988 and bought a few horses for her three kids. Soon she had a full-fledged ranch that's home to Compton Jr. Posse, a nonprofit organization (motto: "Keep kids on horses and off the streets") where inner-city children learn equestrian lessons of all sorts — and some life lessons, too. The posse now has been around for three decades, and its camp and field-trip programs cover everything from animal anatomy to college prep. Thousands of kids have benefited from Compton Jr. Posse — and thousands of stereotypes about equestrians have been broken.

453 W Caldwell St, Compton, 90220
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