It's a mighty good week to stop and appreciate the rich cultural diversity
Dan Sung Sa
The giant mural of Kim Jong Il, traditionally crafted wood fixtures and a Korean-speaking clientele make for a pretty transportive experience — and there are no windows to the outside world to prove otherwise. The spicy chicken and pork belly skewers are reason enough to come here, but at heart this is a late-night pojangmacha — a place to throw ’em back as quickly and cheaply as possible (as evidenced by the sign in the bathroom asking customers not to puke in the sink).
3317 W. Sixth St., Koreatown. (213) 487-9100, dansungsala.com.
If you’re vegetarian — and even if you’re not — you’ll love the food at Surati Farsan Mart in Artesia’s Little India. This is a Gujarati restaurant, specializing in dishes from India’s western coast. The miles-long menu offers everything from a complete meal on a thali to veggie burgers and dosa (there’s even a chocolate dosa). Try the silky yellow rolls called khandvi, topped with mustard seeds, cilantro and coconut, or khasta kachori, which smothers crisp, bean-filled shells with layers of fine noodles, yogurt and sweet and spicy sauces. Snack on saladlike bhel puri, a mix of crunchy rice puffs, beans, potato and onion with cilantro and spicy sweet seasoning. Or bite into a soft idli, a rice-and-lentil cake, which comes with sambhar, a lentil-and-vegetable soup that is especially good here. After you’ve eaten, head to the counters filled with sweets and snacks so tempting that you’re sure to leave loaded with bags and boxes. No problem if you’ve never seen such goodies before. The friendly staff is really nice about handing out free samples. —Barbara Hansen
11814 186th St., Artesia. (562) 860-2310, suratifarsan.com.
Cart Tacos on Beverly Boulevard
This is in the classic L.A. tradition of nonrestaurant restaurants. Seven nights a week, shopping carts reimagined into free-standing grills line the intersection of Beverly and Edgemont on the north end of Koreatown. Silhouetted against a strip of small stores and a
Beverly Boulevard & Edgemont Street, Koreatown.
One of the fun games to play when dining at Jitlada, outside of celebrity spotting, is to watch as customers around you try to eat the things they’ve ordered after they’ve proclaimed “I love spicy food!” Indeed, it’s become a pilgrimage site for spice seekers, for lovers of Thai food, for those who attach the potency of their manhood to their tolerance of the Scoville scale. The competition for the city’s best Thai food gets fiercer by the day, but Jitlada remains the O.G. of no-holds-barred Southern Thai cooking, and its insanely long menu, colorful dining room and Hollywood clientele make it as good a place as any to start when trying to learn the landscape of L.A.’s deep, vast Thai food scene. There are curries here in myriad varieties, complexly spiced salads made with crispy catfish or morning glory, fragrant soups, fish balls stuffed with salted duck eggs, and around 200 other things on this dizzying menu. People come here for the ebullient company of co-owner Sarintip “Jazz” Singsanong as much as for any other reason — once you get in her good graces, there’s hardly a more welcoming place to eat on Earth. —Besha Rodell
If there’s a greater source of piggy pleasure in L.A. than the glorious pile of cochinita pibil at Chichén Itzá, we’ve yet to come across it. Think of all the descriptions that attach themselves to good meat — tender, juicy, dripping with flavor — and then apply it in your mind to a mound of shredded, slow-cooked pork topped with pickled red onion and nestled against fluffy white rice and hearty frijoles negros. The stand in the back of Mercado La Paloma in Historic South-Central is undoubtedly the most celebrated L.A. establishment serving Yucatecan cuisine, and for good reason. Owner Gilberto Cetina literally wrote the book on the food of the region (Sabores Yucatecos: A Culinary Tour of the Yucatán, which you can buy at the restaurant), and Chichén Itzá serves up some specialties here that are hard to find anywhere else. Get a feel for the mixed heritage of the Yucatán with the Lebanese-tinged kibi, or try the agua de chaya, made from the leafy green chaya plant. Enjoying all this in the bustling, colorful Mercado is a plus, and makes for one of L.A.’s great dining experiences. —Besha Rodell
3655 S. Grand Ave., University Park. (213) 741-1075, chichenitzarestaurant.com.
Pine and Crane
You might meet an elderly Taiwanese man here, a regular, who’ll tell you he’s been waiting all his life to taste the food of his childhood in Los Angeles, and it's finally arrived. Or you might meet a hipster who couldn’t point to Taiwan on a map but is positive that this place is his jam. Along with the rest of the line out the door, they’re both here to savor the outstanding pork dumplings,
1521 Griffith Park Blvd., Silver Lake. (323) 668-1128, pineandcrane.com.
In the increasingly competitive San Gabriel Valley scene, the reputations of top-tier dim sum houses can shuffle as quickly as NBA power rankings. But like the perennial team that seems to never miss the playoffs, Elite has managed to remain in the forefront. At this unassuming banquet hall on Atlantic Boulevard in Monterey Park, you’ll find no old-school carts but sharp service and an illustrated menu that will relieve some of the stress accumulated by hourlong waits on the weekends. Few establishments can top Elite’s buttery, flaky, Macau-style egg tarts or its golf ball–sized shu mai dumplings crowned with bright orange fish roe. And few culinary joys can match that feeling when your table is blanketed in metal steamer tins and you’re passing around niblets of spare rib in black bean sauce, crispy turnip cakes and soft cream buns that ooze yolk-colored decadence. Utter dominance can’t last forever — just look at the Lakers — but we’ll gladly ride Elite’s grand wave while we can. —Garrett Snyder
700 S. Atlantic Blvd., Monterey Park. (626) 282-9998, elitechineserestaurant.com.
Heaven called — it melted into a pot over at Tsujita and is waiting for you. This ramen and tsukemen (a bowl of large noodles you dip directly into a liquid with a consistency somewhere between broth and gravy) joint has a sizable cult following. Lines form around the block at Tsujita, and its annex restaurant across the street, day and night. Avoid waiting inside — the staff doesn't like it. Once they do let you in, you'll be amply rewarded with broth that's been carefully tended, perfect eggs and pork and bespoke noodles.
Buna Ethiopian Restaurant & Market
Anticipating the arrival of your maddeningly fragrant food feels as endless as waiting for the next season of Game of Thrones, but it, too, is worth it. The fermented injera bread rivals the famed and far pricier stuff across the street at Meals by Genet. Get the veggie combo with
1034 S. Fairfax Ave., Fairfax. (323) 964-9731, bunaethiopianmarket.com.
Newport Tan Cang Seafood
The Newport restaurant that first stunned locals in the ’80s has reincarnated up north, thrice over. It offers the classic Chinese seafood experience with subtle Thai, Cambodian and Vietnamese influences. Order a family dinner to maximize the dishes you can try in one sitting. Be sure to include the special lobster and crab with curry sauce — they’re as fresh as can be. (It’s for this reason that you don’t want to befriend the crustaceans in the fish tank upon entering.)
18441 Colima Road, Rowland Heights. (626) 839-1239, newportseafood.com.