Al-Watan. If you have a taste for meaty northern Indian cooking, Pakistani cooking is probably everything you like and more so, spicier than Punjabi and meatier, more deeply inflected by the flavors of ginger, cardamom and wood smoke. Nahri is a beef curry strongly flavored with fresh ginger; magaz nahri is a creamy, unctuous beef curry plumped out with ground nuts. There is even stuff for a vegetarian to eat: Navrattan korma, a mixture of cauliflower, green beans and carrots stir-fried with chile and plenty of spices, is like a wonderful Muslim ratatouille, the flavors of each vegetable fresh and distinct while contributing to the cumulative effect of the cumin-scented whole. 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. JG $b
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 noted on Artesia’s Little India strip 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. 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 $b
ÎHurry Curry. Japanese curry tastes more like the sort of “African” gravies you find in the Portuguese colony Macao than anything you might run across in Britain — or, for that matter, India. At the same time, it’s characteristically Japanese: sweet, thick, homogenized, and powered by a multilayered pepper heat that somehow comes together as a single note. The signature product at Hurry Curry, a sleek, modern dining room tended by waitresses in belly shirts, is a sticky, dark, dense goo, served in a bowl and ready to be spooned onto plates of rice and crisply fried chicken, beef or pork cutlets; vegetables too, we suppose. 37 S. Fair Oaks Ave., Pasadena, (626) 792-8474. Open Sun.–Thurs. 11 a.m.–10 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 11 a.m.–11 p.m. MC, V. Beer and sake. Parking lot. Takeout. JG $b?
ÎIndo Café. The cooking here is sort of an intelligently gentrified, Muslim-accented greatest-hits version of pan-Indonesian cuisine, with curries of all sorts. Mellow Javanese-style chicken soup is slightly soured with lemon grass, thick with slippery glass noodles, garnished with handfuls of musky-tasting toasted betel-nut chips. Martabak telur, a scramble of meat, eggs and herbs folded into something like filo dough and fried, is a terrific sort of Indonesian borek, an exotically spiced version of something you’d expect to find at a North African restaurant. And Indo Café may be the only Southland restaurant to serve the fried, stuffed mashed-potato fritter called perkedel, crisp-edged and fine, that is pretty good on its own, but which almost explodes with flavor when you daub it with a bit of Indo Café’s fiery chile condiments. 10428 W. National Blvd., West Los Angeles, (310) 815-1290. Open Mon.–Thurs. 11:30 a.m.–9:30 p.m., Fri.–Sun. 11:30 a.m.–10 p.m. for lunch and dinner. No alcohol. Takeout. Street parking. JG$b
Kuala Lumpur. Ronnie Ng is the maestro of Malaysian cooking in Los Angeles, and his Pasadena restaurant is a great introduction to one of Asia’s most pleasant, most accessible cuisines. Here, you’ll find the pungent, spicy salad known as rojak; crisp coriander chicken; and an epochal nasi lemak, rice boiled with coconut milk and pandan leaves, then mounded in the middle of a platter and surrounded by little heaps of exotic garnishes. Be sure to order a bowl of the rich, chile-stained curry laksa, bathed in a rich coconut broth. 69 W. Green St., Pasadena, (626) 577-5175. Lunch and dinner Tues.–Sun. 5:30–9:15 p.m. Beer and wine. Validated lot parking. AE, MC, V. Entrées $4.95–$12.95. Malaysian. JG ¢
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, an awesomely spicy chile-garlic curried duck, and bright-green jade noodles tossed with bits of 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., Hollywood, (323) 665-1035. Lunch and dinner 7 a.m.–8:30 p.m., closed Wednesdays. No alcohol. Takeout. Lot parking. Cash only. Lunch for two, food only, $8.50–$14.50. Thai. JG¢b
Shahnawaz Halal Tandoori Restaurant. The best dish at this Pakistani redoubt may be mirch ka salan — a thick, tan curry of fresh jalapeño peppers, heady with the scents of garlic and ginger, bound with a pungent, grainy mortar of ground spice. On weekends, there’s a very nice biryani, basmati rice cooked with butter and sweet spices and tossed with chunks of lamb. And consider the tandoori-mix plate: a rare lamb chop, subtly smoky, crisp at the edges; a few pieces of bright-red marinated chicken tikka that spurt juice like chicken Kiev; a ruddy whole chicken leg; several inches’ worth of clove-scented minced-lamb kebab; and a tart pile of yogurt-marinated roasted beef. 12225 E. Centralia St., Lakewood, (562) 402-7443. Open. Tues.–Sun. for lunch and dinner. No alcohol. Lot parking. AE, D, MC, V. Pakistani. JG$
Shan. The Artesia restaurant caters to a large Muslim clientele, big family groups powering through sauced mutton feet and grain-enriched lamb stews, the sizzle from a dozen tandoori platters drowning out the droning Bollywood soundtracks. It’s probably the only place on the Little India strip that boasts of halal meat, and it draws a mostly Pakistani crowd, eager to get its hands on the highly spiced mutton chops crusted black from the grill, the delicious tandoor-cooked chicken, the creamy, Mogul-style chicken korma. Shan is not a bad place to try the fiery lamb curry called nehari or minced-lamb seekh kebabs. And, of course, there is biryani, a splendid plate of food, a giant heap of rice stained yellow with saffron, a little shiny with grease, sizzling with stinging handfuls of cinnamon, cloves and garlic, and enough cardamom to flavor your breath for days, plumped out with what must be a half-pound of crisped lamb — or vegetables, if you insist. It may not be the delicate dumphukt biryani that is currently fetishized by England’s glossiest food magazines, but Shan’s biryani is powerfully delicious. 18621 Pioneer Blvd., Artesia, (562) 865-3838. Open Tues.–Sun. 11:30 a.m.–9:30 p.m. Dinner for two, food only, $18–$24. Lunch buffet, $7. No alcohol. MC, V. JG $