Like any serious Pakistani restaurant, Al-Watan ostensibly specializes in the complicated offal dishes that make up the heart of Muslim Pakistani soul food: masala, here a ragout of chopped goat's brains cooked in a bright-red spice paste; and paya, a mildly spicy dish of braised beef and tendon. But the essential reason to drive down to Al-Watan is what may be among the best tandoor-cooked meats in the United States – juicy, deeply spiced, and smacked with the resinous flavor of wood smoke from the mesquite Al-Watan uses to fire the clay oven. Try smoky boneless chicken squirted with citrus and tossed with slivered onion, or cubed lamb with the smoky chewiness you might associate with the best Texas pits. 13619 Inglewood Ave., Hawthorne; (310) 644-6395. Open daily for lunch and dinner. Lunch or dinner for two, food only, $12-$16. No alcohol. Takeout. Street parking. Cash only.
Good steak houses are basically of two kinds: the ones that pass along the $15-plus per pound they pay for prime meat wholesale, and the ones that use less expensive grades but make up for it with low prices, friendly service, strong old-fashioneds and plenty of atmosphere. Among the latter, none is more atmospheric than the Arsenal. Here is your basic restaurant from the Twilight Zone, with medieval weaponry mounted on the walls, mortar shells hanging from the ceiling and a queer, Hieronymus Bosch-like mural behind the bar. The prices are low – steaks cost less than $12 – and the waitresses, who seem to have been working there since Century City was a bean field, are most friendly. 12012 W. Pico Blvd., West L.A.; (310) 479-9782. Open Mon.-Thurs. 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m., Fri.-Sat. till 11 p.m. Dinner for two, food only, $18-$25. Full bar. AE, CB, D, DC, MC, V.
The first thing you do at the Brazilian steak house Green Field is grab a plate and wander through the long buffet station, picking up pickled hearts of palm, marinated chickpeas, fresh asparagus, nubs of garlic-fried chicken. Then comes the meat, rodizio (“all you can eat”) style. Well-done skirt steak, chicken, bacon-wrapped turkey, spareribs, sweet Italian sausages and tiny, well-charred chicken hearts appear, slid by a procession of waiters from their swords onto your plates. Bacon-wrapped rabbit parts are mild and full of juice. A crunchy strip deftly carved off what looks like a tri-tip fulfills the common culinary fantasy of cutting off and eating the salty, fatty crust from a roast beef, and leaving the meat behind. 381 N. Azusa Ave., West Covina; (626) 966-2300. Open daily 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Rodizio for two, food only, $31.90; $19.90 at lunch. Full bar. Lot parking. AE, MC, V.
Lake Spring's “noisette of pork pump” may or may not have been a whole, anise-scented pork hock. (When I asked a waitress what it was, she smiled mysteriously and gestured toward her shapely outstretched calf.) The pork had been simmered in soy sauce and rock sugar for hours, until it was so soft a probing chopstick easily penetrated the whole sweet mass of delicious, melting fat; at the core was a fist of the tenderest imaginable meat, the sort of thing all pork might taste like if the President's Council on Fitness had never been convened. I kept fantasizing about Wolfgang Puck discovering the thing and importing the recipe to Chinois, where roomfuls of cholesterol-conscious Westsiders would chow down on what is essentially pounds and pounds of braised hog lard: Pump up the volume! 219 E. Garvey Ave., Monterey Park; (818) 280-3571. Open daily for lunch 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m. and dinner 5-9:30 p.m. Dinner for two, food only, $15-$30. No alcohol. MC, V.
Years ago, when I brought an enormous tray of food into the office, Phillips' chicken and ribs and hot links disappeared while slabs from more famous places, brought in as controls, were barely touched. Here spareribs, crusted with black and deeply smoky, 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. The big Styrofoam containers of extra-hot sauce, a scary, solid inch of whole chile peppers floating on top, can be pretty exhilarating. Beef hot links, denser than some, are gently spiced, closer to bouncy bratwurst than they are to intense, coarse-ground monsters. Chicken, smoked through to the bone, retains all its juice. Heck, even the beans taste good! 4307 Leimert Blvd.; (213) 292-7613. Open Mon.-Sat. for lunch and dinner. Dinner for two, food only, $11-$15. Takeout only. Lot parking. Cash only.
Safety Zone Cafe
The first three times I visited the Safety Zone Cafe everybody around me seemed to be getting the same thing, the identity of which I couldn't figure out. We ordered good fried rice with kimchi, and bi bim bap, a tasty vegetable melange into which you fold the rice yourself. There was a wonderful version of Korean steak tartare, shredded bits of raw flank steak mixed about with a raw egg yolk and strips of fresh pear. Then, finally, we managed to eavesdrop on our fellow diners and learn the restaurant's terrible secret: Two-thirds of the people in the restaurant were eating . . . steak and potatoes! Safety Zone is the Korean Sizzler, simmered octopus its equivalent of Malibu chicken, little bowls of kimchi its salad bar. 3630 Wilshire Blvd.; (213) 387-7595. Open daily 11 a.m.-11:30 p.m. Dinner for two, food only, $15-$25. Full bar. Takeout and delivery. MC, V.
Shabu Shabu House
When you sit down at the counter at Shabu Shabu, a man takes your drink order and sets potfuls of water to bubbling on electric burners in front of each stool. A second man in a gargantuan green toque slices an enormous rib eye as thin as prosciutto. You are brought a platter of the sliced meat and a basket of vegetables: daikon and carrots, stiff white fans of Chinese cabbage, bundles of tiny enoki mushrooms, elegant snips of scallion tops. For the end of the meal, when the water has absorbed flavor from the vegetables and beef, there are cubes of tofu and tangles of yam and udon noodles. If you have not eaten shabu-shabu before, Yoshi, the owner, will instruct you in the intricacies of the art. 127 Japanese Village Plaza Mall (on Second Street), Little Tokyo; (213) 680-3890. Open for lunch and dinner Tues.-Sun. Dinner for two, food only, $20-$30. Beer and wine. MC, V.
Taylor's is a real urban steak house, a two-fisted meat-and-martini joint where an account executive can blow his Pritikin thing with massive hunks of well-aged sirloin, at about half what he'd pay in one of those Beverly Hills joints. The filet mignon here is soft, buttery, as rare as you order it, and crusted with char; the New York steak is beefy and rich; London broil, kind of stewy-tasting, comes sliced, with a horseradish and sour-cream sauce on the side. But the glory of Taylor's is the culotte steak, a softball-shaped prime thing cut from the top of the sirloin. If you order it rare, the interior is scarlet, dripping juice, marbled with fat, full of the tremendous mineral sourness of great meat. It's the steak that time forgot. 3361 W. Eighth St.; (213) 382-8449. Open Mon.-Fri. 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m., Sat. 4-10 p.m., Sun. 4-9 p.m. Dinner for two, food only, $24-$36. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, CB, DC, MC, V.