Bistro K. To put it plainly, Bistro K is a restaurant out of a daydream, with a kitchen that may rank among the few dozen best in town, run by gifted and accomplished French chef Laurent Quenioux, with a bring-your-own-wine policy and no corkage charge; a place where a fine, intimate dinner costs rather less than a quick meal of cheeseburgers and drinks at Houston’s. A warm salad of duck gizzards sautéed with cèpes, chanterelle mushrooms and hot chiles, one of the most satisfying appetizers I have ever eaten in Los Angeles, costs only $7; a bowl of perfect mussels steamed with lime and curried coconut milk, less than $8; an impeccable marquise au chocolat, less than $6. The cassoulet of duck hearts, tender nuggets of meat braised with turnips and slippery bits of poached duck’s tongue, served in a cardamom-scented mushroom sauce on a sort of footed cake plate, is worthy of a multistarred Michelin laureate. 1000 S. Fremont Ave., South Pasadena, (626) 799-5052, Wed.–Sat. 5:30–9 p.m. Free corkage. Lot parking. AE, MC, V. Dinner for two, food only, $60–$80. JG $$

Kim Chuy. The basic deal at this noodle shop is, of course, the noodles: slippery rice noodles or firmer, square-cut egg noodles, submerged in broth, garnished with things like boiled duck legs and sliced pork. At Kim Chuy, the special noodles include duck and shrimp, squid and cuttlefish, and four kinds of fish cake; also floppy, herb-spiked won ton. The Chiu Chow beef-stew noodles come with melting shanks of tendon and hunks of long-simmered chuck. Chiu Chow spiced beef noodles come in a gritty, spicy demicurry, almost crunchy with ground nuts (another missing link between Chiu Chow cooking and Thai). 727 N. Broadway, No. 103, Chinatown, (213) 687-7215. Breakfast, lunch and dinner daily 8 a.m.–8 p.m. No alcohol. Takeout. Lot parking. Cash or AE, MC, V. Food for two $8–$10. JG ¢

{mosimage}Josie. Josie LeBalch, who spent her 20s as the chef of an Italian restaurant but cooks with a French accent, is most famous for game dishes but may be as deft with a dish like baby squid and lentils as she is with all-American preparations of duck, wild boar and elk — although her guinea fowl with wild rice is pretty special. She is large. She contains multitudes. And there’s chocolate bread pudding for dessert. 2424 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica, (310) 581-9888. Dinner Mon.–Thurs. 6–10 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 6–11 p.m., Sun. 5:30–9 p.m. Full bar. Takeout. Valet parking. AE, MC, V. Entrées $18–$32. Progressive American with French and Italian. JG $$$

Minibar. A new small-plates restaurant situated in a patch of Universal City that doesn’t like to admit it’s part of the San Fernando Valley, Minibar is a tall lounge with sofas, throbbing post-rock and hidden antechambers.The snack-food-intensive menu — put together by Sharon Hage, who is often called Dallas’ answer to Alice Waters, and executed by Noah Rosen — is as cross-cultural as they come: crisp cheese-stuffed yuca puffs like the ones that show up at breakfast time in São Paulo; Yucatecan-style pollo pibil, baked in banana leaves; Indian-style curried lamb; Shanghai-style spring rolls stuffed with French duck confit and served with a Thai-style peanut sauce. And there’s a lot of interesting wine priced around $20 a bottle — which is good, because it takes a lot of experimentation to figure out the proper thing to drink with plantain latkes smothered in Salvadoran crema. Go with the Albarino, I say. Merlot and plantains are just not a match. 3413 Cahuenga Blvd., Universal City, (323) 882-6965. Sun.–Thurs. 5:30–11:30 p.m.; Fri.–Sat. 5:30 p.m.–1 a.m. Full bar. Takeout available until 9 p.m. (8 p.m. Fri.–Sat.). Valet parking. AE, D, DC, MC, V. Price range $35–$45 per person. Global tapas. JG $$

Rod-Ded. Rod-Ded is well-known in the Thai community for its pungent bowls of duck noodle soup, as well as for a delicious dish of stewed pork leg with homemade pickles and the crustiest, most delicious fried bananas you have ever tasted. And Rod-Ded’s version of pad kee mao, rice noodles stir-fried with basil, is usually pretty good, slightly charred from contact with a really hot wok, and brought up to breathtaking heat with fresh and dried chiles. 5623 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood, (323) 464-9689. Lunch and dinner Wed.–Mon. 11 a.m.–8 p.m. No alcohol. Street parking. Cash only. Lunch for two, food only, $10–$14. Thai. JG $

Sanamluang Café. Sanamluang is a Thai place to duck into and out of at 3 a.m., after the clubs close, for vast plates of rice fried with mint leaves, seafood and chiles; for big, comforting bowls of chicken soup flavored with toasted garlic; and for wide noodles fried with Chinese broccoli and shiitake mushrooms. Truly extraordinary is the general’s noodle soup: thin, garlicky egg noodles garnished with bits of duck, barbecued pork, crumbles of ground pork and a couple of shrimp, submerged in a clean, clear broth. 5176 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood, (323) 660-8006. Open daily 10:30 a.m.–4 a.m. No alcohol. Lot parking. Cash only. Entrées $5–$10. Thai. JG ¢

{mosimage}Spago. Wolfgang Puck long ago re-defined Americans’ idea of what a great restaurant might be. His cooking always had a deceptive air of simplicity about it, like the culinary equivalent of a caprice Yo-Yo Ma might toss off on the Today show. In the last several years, bolstered by imaginative executive chef Lee Hefter and pastry chef Sherry Yard, he’s re-defining our idea of what Spago might be — and the roasted-beet cake with goat cheese, the turbot with Chino Ranch vegetables, and the roast duck perfumed with star anise are good enough to make you forget the duck-sausage pizza and the chopped-vegetable salad that originally made Spago famous. Is a tasting menu within your budget? Don’t think twice. 176 N. Canon Drive, Beverly Hills, (310) 385-0880. Lunch Mon.–Fri. 11:30 a.m.–2:15 p.m., Sat. noon–2:30 p.m.; dinner Mon.–Thurs. 5:30–10:30 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 5:30–11 p.m., Sun. 5:30–10:30 p.m. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, D, MC, V. Entrées $25–$49. California with Asia and Europe. MH. $$$

Sunshine. Sunshine, which looks as if it has been stuffed into the shell of a former coffee shop, is a relentlessly cheerful place, brightly lit and gaudily decorated, staffed by waitresses who practically bounce to the table, bathed in upbeat Thai pop. The papaya salad, barbecued-beef salad and sweet duck salad may be closer to Thai-Chinese cooking than to the intense Isaan side of the spectrum, but they manage to be pretty good nonetheless. 13212 Sherman Way, North Hollywood, (818) 764-6989. Open Sun.–Thurs. 11 a.m.–10 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 11 a.m.–11 p.m. Beer and wine. Takeout. Lot parking. D, MC, V. JG $$

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