The basic deal at a Chiu Chow — Thai-Chinese, that is — noodle shop is, of course, Chiu Chow noodles: slippery rice noodles the width of your little finger, or firmer, square-cut egg noodles that resemble bouncy linguine, 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. Fried noodles — with chicken, with beef, with mixed seafood — are passed, smoky but still soft, through an ultrahot pan and served not 10 seconds after they are cooked. They‘re fully possessed of that elusive quality that Chinese call wok chi, special wok energy that is possible only in restaurants as small and informal as Kim Chuy. 727 N. Broadway, No. 103, Chinatown; (213) 687-7215. Open daily 8 a.m.–8 p.m. Lunch for two, food only, $8–$10. No alcohol. Validated lot parking. Cash only.
La Luz del Dia
The last place you’d expect to find a real Mexican joint is among the maraca vendors and befuddled German tourists of Olvera Street, but there it is (and has been for decades): La Luz del Dia, serving cactus salad to the hordes. La Luz is a simple place, and most of what it serves are basic permutations of the two or three things it does best. So whatever you think you ordered — soft tacos, carnitas, tostadas, whatever — you‘ll probably get at least one helping of picadillo, the chunky Mexican beef stew that, with its carrots and potatoes, looks like a stew somebody’s mother might have made . . . provided that somebody‘s mother has an industrial-size garlic press and a Thai tolerance for chile heat. Chicharrones, fried pork skins, come sogged with a truly awesome version of what gets slopped on enchiladas in chain restaurants, a chile sauce that’s as sophisticated in its slight bitterness as a dry martini. 1 W. Olvera St., downtown; (213) 628-7495. Open Tues.–Sun. for lunch and dinner. Lunch for two, food only, $9–$11. Beer. Cash only.
While there may be better noodle shops in L.A., the Mandarin Deli remains the standard by which such shops can be judged. The key to ordering noodle dishes here is to specify the handmade noodles, which means you‘ll get wide, thick, square-cut noodles, something like fettuccine on steroids. They taste much better in rich pork stock or in a searing chile’d broth than the spaghettilike noodles you‘d normally get. So much for noodles. The real reason to come to Mandarin Deli just may be the fish dumplings, airy, steamy things filled with a loose, fragrant mousse of whitefish and chopped greens that could serve as a $19 specialty at any high-priced Pacific Rim restaurant in town, except these are better. 727 N. Broadway, No. 109, Chinatown; (213) 623-6054. Open daily for lunch and dinner. Lunch or dinner for two, food only, $8–$12. Takeout. No alcohol. Validated lot parking. Cash only.
If you’ve eaten in many Shanghainese restaurants, you know what to expect here: appetizer plates of bony smoked fish, hacked bits of cool chicken marinated in rice wine, a vivid pink terrine of cured pork, chewy vegetarian ”duck“ sculpted from black mushrooms and bamboo shoots. Shang-kang chicken is what you‘re really looking for when you order a sweet-and-sour dish, poultry chunks topped with a slightly sweet orange-peel-spiced sauce and fried crisp. The steamed lion’s-head meatballs may be the best food in the house, big and fluffy, decked out with ruffly manes of cabbage, fragrant with garlic and star anise, bathed in half an inch of the mother of all brown sauces. 970 N. Broadway, Chinatown; (213) 625-1195. Open daily for lunch and dinner. Dinner for two, food only, $19–$32, more with live seafood. Beer and wine. Validated lot parking. AE, MC, V.
As in most Vietnamese noodle shops, the best dish is listed first: pho (pronounced something like ”far“) dac biet, slices of brisket, tendon, tripe and rare beef submerged with slippery rice noodles in a beef broth fragrant with garlic and cinnamon, onion and herbs. Almost everything at Pho 79 that isn‘t beef soup has something to do with the combination of cool rice noodles and garlicky, wonderful barbecued pork. With bun cha, the grilled bits of pork are marinated in nuoc cham, the clear, sweet garlic-fish sauce that is to Vietnamese cooking what soy sauce is to Chinese, then rolled up with ground peanuts, fried chips of garlic, plain vermicelli and crisp romaine lettuce. Bun thit nuong is more or less the same thing, except the lettuce and the pork are on top of the noodles in a bowl; bun tom thit nuong throws in a couple of charbroiled shrimp. 727 N. Broadway, Suite 120, Chinatown; (213) 625-7026. Open daily 8:30 a.m.–7 p.m. Lunch or dinner for two, food only, $7–$12. Validated parking. Beer and wine. Cash only.
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.