If you grew up in the Southland, you've probably known the taste of Little Joe's ravioli – soft meat puffs in red marinara sauce – since you were small. If you grew up almost anywhere else, you've tasted something like Little Joe's ravioli, and the spaghetti and the manicotti, and the spumoni for dessert. You also probably know what the place looks like: high ceilings and guys in shirtsleeves, leather booths, a zillion different dining rooms with sawdust on the floor, rosy acres of Italian scenes painted on the walls. Located two minutes north of the Civic Center, Little Joe's sells familiarity and convenience the way Spago sells pizza. Actually, the best things in the house seem to be the steaks and chops – good meat, accurately grilled. Side 'em with some polenta and a dab
or two of sour red. 900 N. Broadway, Chinatown; (213) 489-4900. Open Mon.-Fri. for lunch and dinner, Sat. for dinner only. Dinner for two, food only, $16-$32. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, D, DC, MC, V.
The key to ordering noodle dishes at Mandarin Deli – the standard by which all local Chinese noodle shops may be judged – is to specify “handmade” noodles, which means you'll get wide, thick, square-cut noodles something like fettuccine on steroids. Handmade-noodle soup with spicy chile: That's the ticket. “Ground flour soup noodle” involves tiny pasta nuggets, a little like Chinese spaetzle, in a thick, egg-spiked broth; “square noodles” are little pasta hankies in more or less the same eggy soup. And while the cold noodles tossed with sesame paste, slivered cucumber and chicken are exemplary, the real reason to come here just may be the seaweed salad: julienne strips of the crunchy sea plant as elusively briny as a Hog Island oyster, slightly sweet and sour, shot through with an astonishing quantity of garlic, and maybe the best two bucks you'll ever spend in a restaurant. 727 N. Broadway; (213) 623-6054. Open daily 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Lunch or dinner for two, food only, $8-$12. No alcohol. Takeout. 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. House special 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. Then there's the fish-head earthen pot, the front half of a gigantic carp stewed in an aromatic stock, laced with sharply spicy chiles and mellowed with bean paste, the thing to get here if you don't mind your dinner looking back at you. 970 N. Broadway; (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.
Philippe the Original
Everybody who has lived in Los Angeles more than a year has heard how it was Philippe himself who invented the French-dip sandwich – 80 years ago, when he accidentally dropped a sandwich into some gravy. The place is so much a part of old Los Angeles that sometimes it feels as if it isn't really a part of Los Angeles, as if it belongs to a city much older and much more attached to its distant past. The lamb sandwich is wet and rich, with something of the gamy animal pungency of old-fashioned roast meat, while all around the restaurant you can see nostrils flare as people hit a little depth charge of Philippe's hot mustard in their sandwiches. Philippe's is a fine place, too, for lunch, dinner or breakfast: crisp doughnuts, decent cinnamon rolls, and coffee for 10 cents a cup. 1001 N. Alameda St.; (213) 628-3781. Open daily 6 a.m.-10 p.m. Lunch or dinner for two, food only, $7-$12. Beer and wine. Takeout. Lot parking. 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 (between First and Second streets), 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.