View more photos in the “Guerrilla Cuisine: Jonathan Gold’s Essential L.A. Restaurants” slideshow.
As surely as figs ripen, basil bursts into fragrance and the paleta vendors step up their rounds, so too arises the question of what an essential Los Angeles restaurant experience might be, whether one is in line at a taco stand or sipping an exquisite Meursault among the Robert Graham bronzes in the patio at Michael’s. And in this year, which saw both the grandest restaurant openings in decades and the rise of the pedal-powered pushcart, the discussion takes on a different sort of weight.
The idea of an essential Los Angeles restaurant includes neither the kitchen so hamstrung by the whims of the farmers market that it is barely able to get a sandwich to table, nor the hotel dining room run by a supremely gifted Spanish chef but slinging the more reproducible artifacts of molecular cuisine without respect to season or place. Luxury for the sake of luxury seems almost vulgar now — you’re probably not going to see a padded footstool for your purse again — but the ruder sorts of chefly idiosyncrasy, the bit of pickled lard in your tomato salad, are going to be around for a while.
This year especially, an essential L.A. restaurant may not even be a restaurant at all — it may be a tweet telling you which street corner to hang around at, or a cart parked in the same location from the hours of 11 to 2. Clubgoers are used to seeing their favorite band at the Smell one week and at Spaceland the next, but it is a new thing for diners, separating chef from dining room, the exultation of guerrilla cuisine.
As we’ve said before, an essential restaurant is one that reflects Los Angeles in a startling and unusual way, that uses fresh local ingredients in a fashion that respects the land in which they were grown, that showcases cooking echoing both foreign-trained chefs’ region of origin and the hypercharged mosaic of the L.A. dining scene. An essential restaurant moves people, inspires them to think about food in a different way, inspires them to think about Southern California as a great agricultural region, a great port, a builder of the shiny symbolism that is a large factor in how the rest of the world thinks of itself. And it’s also a damned good place to eat. —J.G.
* DENOTES RESTAURANTS NEW TO THE LIST
Green is the navy blue of the Westside, we hear, and in Culver City’s downtown business district, where adaptive reuse has taken on the patina of true religion, the gutters flow with green wash. But even by Culver City standards, Akasha, where the recycled wood is sealed with beeswax, the chairs are upholstered in hemp and the waiters wear organic cotton, stands alone. Akasha Richmond, who is both chef and muse here, was one of the best-known vegan cooks in the world before an obsession with weight-lifting led her to rediscover the virtues of meat. The kitchen’s commitment to organic, sustainable, certified, cruelty-free ingredients goes without saying, and you can get cocktails rich in free radicals and high-end antioxidants. But although you can eat as low on the food chain as you like at Akasha, and Richmond’s bowl of curried mung beans is the kind of thing you always used to hope for when you visited a hippie restaurant, her cooking is pretty homey: star anise–braised short ribs, flatiron steak with pecorino-crusted potatoes, and pistachio-crusted scallops. Or you could just order a plate of lamb sliders with feta and what are probably the best onion rings in town. 9543 Culver Blvd., Culver City, (310) 845-1700. akasharestaurant.com. Lunch Mon.-Fri., 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.; dinner Mon.-Sat., 5:30-11 p.m. Full bar. Takeout and catering. Garage parking. All major credit cards accepted.
Alcazar is a slice of coastal Lebanon transplanted to the heart of Encino, a sun-dappled terrace perfumed with cumin, grilled mullet and the bright coals of apple-scented tobacco burning in brass hookahs. The cooks may be Arab, but the owner, a well-known Armenian crooner who sometimes sings here on weekends, is not above insisting that the chile-red Armenian version of hummus and the fluffy raw-beef dish kibbe nayeh share space on the menu with more traditionally Lebanese things like fried sea bass with fried pita and tahini; stuffed grape leaves and a wonderful dish of sautéed chicken livers with pomegranate. The shish towook, grilled kebabs of extravagantly marinated chicken breast, is as good as a kebab ever gets. On weekends, ultrathin sajj bread, like lavash, is baked on the patio over a vast heated surface, wrapped around grilled meat or made into the thin, crisp, thyme-scented Arab quesadillas called kl’leg. Lebanon is famous for its red wine, but Alcazar, in the gentle levant of Encino, also serves oceans of arak, an anise-scented Lebanese liquor that turns milky when you stir it with ice and cool water. 17239 Ventura Blvd., Encino, (818) 789-0991. Tues.-Fri., 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m., 5:30-10:30 p.m., Sat., 11:30 a.m.-mid., Sun., noon-9 p.m. Full bar. Takeout. Lot parking in rear. All major credit cards accepted.
Evan Kleiman is probably the face of food in Los Angeles, host of KCRW’s Good Food (to which I contribute), founder of the local Slow Food movement, and the co-author of many well-regarded Italian cookbooks. She’s the one with the Webcam crew following her through the farmers market, the judge at the Kugel Kookoff, the woman in front of you in the line at the taco truck. So it can be easy to underestimate the importance of her restaurant Angeli, which, after all, is the place that may have delivered your last pizza, at least if you are lucky enough to live in its delivery area. But Angeli crystallized the affinity of Angelenos for casual Italian cooking — the spaghetti alla checca, garlicky roast chicken and minimally garnished pizza that a Tuscan teenager might eat for dinner at the joint down the block on the nights his mother didn’t feel like turning on the stove, but which was essentially unobtainable to those of us on this side of the sea. In other words, it’s the real thing. 7274 Melrose Ave., L.A., (323) 936-9086, angelicaffe.com. Lunch Tues.-Fri., 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.; dinner Tues.-Thurs. & Sun., 5-10 p.m., Fri.-Sat., 5-11 p.m. Beer, wine. Takeout. Valet parking. AE, D, MC, V.
There are two kinds of serious chefs in Italy: those who advance the limits of the medium by introducing new flavors and techniques to the classic dishes of their regions, and those who find purpose in menus that may not change for decades. Gino Angelini is clearly the second of these, a creative chef who likes to mark dishes as his own. His biggest influence locally has been with the alta cucina at restaurants like Rex, Vincenti and the late La Terza. But his osteria has always been a restaurant where people yearned to be, a cramped, happy dining room with the vibe of a busy city trattoria in Arezzo or Livorno: lunch crowds fueled with pasta al limone or a plate of tripe; oxtails served on Thursday nights; respectable versions of Roman trattoria dishes like spaghetti carbonara and pollo alla diavola coexisting with the Tuscan classics. This may not be the most serious kitchen Angelini has ever run, but sometimes you are in the mood for artistry, and sometimes you just want to have supper. 7313 Beverly Blvd., L.A., (323) 297-0070, angeliniosteria.com. Lunch Tues.-Fri., noon-2:30 p.m., dinner Tues.-Sun., 5:30-10:30 p.m. Beer, wine. Takeout. Valet parking. All major credit cards accepted.
Animal is probably the first restaurant to raise Boy Food to the level of a genuine cuisine — a farmers market–intensive version of Boy Food, but animated by the pretty hardcore personal vision of chefs Vinny Dotolo and Jon Shook. The operating principle at Animal is neither the aggressive clams-in-ham philosophy of so much avant-garde cooking nor the Rabelaisian head-to-tail approach, but pleasure, whether it be pork belly with kimchi, fried quail with grits, the Hawaiian diner classic loco moco dressed up with seared foie gras, or even the plate of salty fried hominy, seasoned simply with a squirt of lime. The restaurant is famously devoted to pork in all of its various manifestations — pancetta, head cheese, chorizo, ears, bellies, ribs and especially bacon, which appears everywhere on the short, seasonal menu, up to and including a chocolate dessert. There is a nice list of manly wines available by the bottle, the glass and the half-bottle carafe. But Animal is not quite the place to bring your vegan friends: a note on the menu, strictly enforced, states plainly: “Changes and modifications politely declined.’’ 435 N. Fairfax Ave., L.A., (323) 782-9225, animalrestaurant.com. Sun.-Thurs., 6-11 p.m., Fri-Sat., 6 p.m.-2 a.m. Valet. All major credit cards accepted.
Everybody loves a proper brasserie, whether authentically Alsatian or not: ceilings stained yellow with nicotine, absurd decor or belle époque flourishes, and menus rich in solid, well-prepared versions of beef stew, sole meunière and gooey, cheesy onion soup. There may be grand bottles, but almost everybody drinks sturdy house wines served in carafes. The priciest thing on the menu will always be a communal platter of cold fruits de mer, stocked at a minimum with clams, mussels, iced prawns and a few kinds of oysters. And in Los Angeles, Anisette is as proper as brasseries get, absinthe bottles rising to heaven behind the zinc bar, sprawling through an awkwardly narrow space that spent most of its life as a bank. Chef Alain Giraud’s grounding in French haute cuisine includes decades behind the range in Parisian three-stars, a long stint as the chef de cuisine at Citrus and a term as the founding chef at Bastide. But at Anisette, Giraud’s cooking is less a three-star fantasy than regular French cooking as designed by an amazingly skilled French chef: steak-frites and salad Niçoise and skillfully made terrines, prepared with superb California produce and served by Santa Monica waiters who occasionally seem practiced at French diffidence. Desserts are generally things like floating island, chocolate mousse and profiteroles. One goes to Anisette not to experience the new and revolutionary; one goes to be fed. 225 Santa Monica Blvd., Santa Monica, (310) 395-3200, anisettebrasserie.com. Mon.-Thurs., 7:30 a.m.-mid., Fri., 7:30 a.m.-1 a.m., Sat., 8 a.m.-1 a.m., Sun., 8 a.m.-mid. Full bar. Nearby city lot parking on Second Street free for two hours. AE, MC, V.
Los Angeles is awash in cheese at the moment, in well-sliced prosciutto, in glasses of Rasteau and Madiran. If you’d like to thank somebody for the new generation of wine bars, look to Suzanne Goin. Her pan-Mediterranean A.O.C. is a fantasy of a modern small-plates restaurant, the kind of place you drop into for a glass of Friulian Tocai and a plate of sliced prosciutto, a Cairanne and some bacon-wrapped dates with Parmesan — or basically anything that comes with Goin’s spicy Catalan-influenced romesco sauce, which would probably be irresistible even if you used it to grease down a brick. You could drink and eat like this all night if you remembered to make a reservation — and if A.O.C. didn’t unreasonably stop serving so early. 8022 W. Third St., L.A., (323) 653-6359. Mon.-Fri., 6-10:45 p.m., Sat., 5:30-11 p.m., Sun., 5:30-10 p.m. Wine bar. Valet parking. AE, MC, V.
* Auntie Em’s
Auntie Em’s, which often feels less like a restaurant than a house party gone slightly out of control, has always had the grooviness thing down: the great music, the meatloaf sandwiches, the maple-syrup containers improvised from old Coke bottles, and the Eastside empathy for chefs and musicians, artists and poets, the people who don’t get around to breakfast until about 3. Terri Wahl, the chef/proprietor, once sang with the Red Ants, one of the better garage-punk bands in town. The place is a haven for the kinds of vegetarians who don’t mind sharing a restaurant with sausage fanciers, and both the enormous chocolate-chip cookies and the red-velvet cupcakes attract long lines of devotees. The food occasionally seems less put together by a cook than grabbed out of the fridge, but Wahl has acquired a serious farmers market habit, the skirt steak on focaccia is delicious, and the cheese board is unexpectedly refined. And while Auntie Em’s is still a grungy breakfast joint, it is a grungy breakfast joint where the omelets are scrambled with all manner of organic squashes, the bacon is thick-cut and applewood smoked, and the puddinglike French toast, garnished with fresh berries, is lightly scented with orange. 4616 Eagle Rock Blvd., Eagle Rock, (323) 255-0800, auntieemskitchen.com. Mon.-Fri., 8 a.m.-7 p.m., Sat.-Sun., 8 a.m.-4 p.m. No alcohol. Takeout, bakery and catering. Street parking. AE, MC, V.
A comfortable dinner house that just happens to have great food, Babita is one of the most vital Mexican restaurants on the Eastside, a casual corner joint whose service is burnished to a white-tablecloth sheen. Chef-owner Roberto Berrelleza, who worked as a maitre d’ at places like the Brown Derby long before he ever picked up a pan, is a modern master, especially gifted at the cuisine of his hometown of Los Mochis on the Sinaloa coast. A few of the classic-seeming dishes may have been invented by Berrelleza himself: his fish-stuffed gueritos chiles in strawberry salsa, his seared halibut with huitlacoche vinaigrette, and his habanero-inflected shrimp Topolobampo, a singularly fiery dish that can take over its victims’ bodies like the plague. The oozy, porky version of Mexico’s national dish, a chiles en nogada, lightened with dried fruit and toasted pecans, is probably the best in a chile-mad town. If you’re anywhere near the restaurant in the September-January period in which it is served, you really should drop in. 1823 S. San Gabriel Blvd., San Gabriel, (626) 288-7265. Lunch Tues.-Fri., 11:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m.; dinner Sun., Tues.-Thurs., 5:30-9 p.m., Fri.-Sat., 5:30-10 p.m. Beer, wine. Takeout. Street parking. AE, D, DC, MC, V.
Beacon: An Asian Café
Blue-neon tower visible from airplanes, a Hopperesque intimacy at night, Beacon was the bowshot that started the Culver City restaurant invasion, and marked the culinary maturity of Kazuto Matsusaka, who was chef for almost a decade at Wolfgang Puck’s Chinois in the ’80s. Do we know people who live for the giant, dripping cheeseburgers at lunch, piled with Nueske’s bacon and oozing thick soy sauce and melted Gruyère? We do, although our noontime thing is the BLT with seared albacore and wasabi mayonnaise, tempered with the occasional order of udon with braised pork belly, or grilled shisito peppers, or miso-marinated cod.
But Matsusaka is a serious chef, playing with Japanese flavors from a position of mastery of the modern California grill, and while you’d probably never find anything like his salad of perfectly ripe avocado dressed with toasted sesame seeds and minced scallions in Tokyo — or miso-braised short ribs, or kushiyaki with ume paste — the dishes follow classical principles, and they are luscious. Matsusaka’s hanger steak with wasabi is so successful, the searing tang of the horseradish interacting so well with the tart, carbonized flavor of grilled meat, that the invention seems almost inevitable, as proper art always should. 3280 Helms Ave., L.A., (310) 838-7500, beacon-la.com. Lunch Mon.-Sat., 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m.; dinner Tues.-Wed., Sun., 5:30 p.m., Thurs.-Sat., 5:30-10 p.m. Beer, wine. Lot parking. AE, DC, MC, V.
Laurent Quenioux has long been the most mysterious of L.A.’s first-rank chefs, a guy who basically disappeared from the scene for almost 20 years after he left the Seventh Street Bistro, a madman at the range whose idea of French cooking expands to include ant eggs, headcheese and baby-goat burritos, frog legs in barbecue sauce served with a begonia chutney, oatmeal with lobster, and eel with grits. During his brief run at Bistro K, the faithful crowded into the tiny converted funeral parlor to taste what he was doing with hare, pheasant and grouse. If your plate of rare pigeon breast is garnished with duck hearts and gizzard confit, you know you’re at a Quenioux restaurant. And at the new Bistro LQ, there’s all of that and more, rare salmon over a chewy chicharrones ragout, pintade hen with bergamot, and a mixed grill that includes mastic-smoked oxtail. Almost everything on the menu can be ordered in half-portions, which are plated with an elegance belying a $7 price tag, and the short, obscure but exquisite wine list includes some bottles at less than their retail price. In winter, expect Quenioux’s head-scratchingly good versions of cassoulet, pot au feu and choucroute garnie. 8009 Beverly Blvd., L.A., (323) 951-1088, bistrolq.com. Tues.-Thurs., 6-9:30 p.m., Fri.-Sat., 6-10:30 p.m. Beer, wine. Valet parking. AE, MC, V.
Grace chef Neal Fraser, who has been preparing impossibly complex California-style dishes around here since he was a sprout manning the range at Boxer in a CIA baseball cap, is probably best known for his ability to bounce international idioms off one another like a pool shark running the table. User-friendliness has always been the last thing on his mind. But at his diner BLD, he turns out to be a brilliant short-order dude, flipping lamb burgers, moistening sandwiches with aïoli, using smoky house-made ketchup where he can and Heinz 57 where he must, and dropping coleslaw bombs like a 40-year fry cook who has canola oil in his veins. Grace may be all his, but BLD belongs to the neighborhood, a place for quick breakfasts or long, well-lubricated brunches of fluffy ricotta pancakes and eggs Benedict; for salads and meaty feasts; for serious date-night dinners and after-movie coffee. When line cooks raid the walk-in to make themselves guerrilla after-hours dinners, it is something like BLD’s Philly rib-eye sandwiches and braised short ribs in mole that they have in mind. 7450 Beverly Blvd., L.A., (323) 930-9744, bldrestaurant.com. Open daily 8 a.m.-11 p.m. (bar food ’til mid.). Full bar. Valet parking. AE, MC, V.
There are other places in town now to try pescado Veracruzano and chicken panuchos, sticky Southside dives that serve perfectly good tacos of lamb barbacoa, and bakeries that actually specialize in tres leches cake. When Mexican-food purists lament the poor quality of beef used in local taquerias, it is most assuredly not to Border Grill’s succulent garlic-stuffed rib eye that they suggest you turn. Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger are unlikely Mexican heroes in what is the second-biggest city in all Aztlan. But Border Grill is a place of charro beans, of wondrous ceviche, of hot tortillas made to order. And while we may all be inured to Milliken’s and Feniger’s Mexican cooking after 25 years, they still use their impeccable technique and first-rate ingredients to transform the taco, the tostada and the homely chile relleno. The long, black dining room, an artifact of the late 1980s whose crazily skewed ceiling is still painted with rocket ships and batmen, looks even better now than it did when the place first opened. 1445 Fourth St., Santa Monica, (310) 451-1655, bordergrill.com. Sun.-Thurs., 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m., Fri.-Sat. ’til 11 p.m. Full bar open ’til mid. Takeout. Street and valet parking. AE, D, MC, V.
* Bottega Louie
Housed in a retrofitted Brooks Brothers flagship, a roaring, gleaming-white deli/bar/brasserie fashioned from marble, brass and tile, Bottega Louie is the most popular downtown restaurant in decades, attracting crowds whose volume you may associate more with sporting events than with meatball sandwiches — it’s what Musso & Frank might have been, had its original chef been from Italy instead of France. The dining room feels like a brasserie but serves Sam Marvin’s American-Italian classics: sliced steak, eggplant Parmesan and a big, crisp, buttery chicken-breast Milanese. The bready, crisp-edged Neapolitan-style pizzas that come out of the big wood-burning oven are decent, if not quite up to the level of the city’s best. Bottega Louie aims to be all things to all people downtown, and it more or less succeeds — open early enough for breakfast and late enough for supper after the opera, serving elaborate meals and tasty snacks, with a vast takeout counter and an elegant bar, grand enough for a birthday, but with a small-plates menu even art students can afford. Bulgarini gelato is served in all of its various manifestations, and the pastry chef’s peanut butter terrine is already the stuff of legend. If you can get over the idea of eating spaghetti Bolognese where you used to buy your socks, Bottega Louie is an easy place to be happy. 700 S. Grand Ave., dwntwn., (213) 802-1470 or bottegalouie.com. Open daily 6:30 a.m.- (about) 11 p.m. Full bar. Takeout and prepared foods. Valet parking. AE, MC, V.
In the rear of an obscure Altadena shopping center, tucked in behind the local Kragen Auto Parts, Leo Bulgarini runs what might as well be a gelato speakeasy, as far from what you expect of a mere ice cream shop as his establishment is from anything you would consider typical retail. Want to try the Florentine chocolate with sea salt? Sorry, sir, we’re sold out for the year. Need a quart of the profoundly goaty gelato with toasted cacao nibs? It ideally should be — no, really must be — served with a pale Prosecco rosato. His from-scratch gelati are labeled only in Italian, and he has been known to pull his delicious sorbetti from the menus of restaurants and the freezer cases of retailers that fail to come up to his standards. But the gelateria, the love child of Roman ex-pat Bulgarini and his Altadena-raised wife, Elizabeth Foldi, is a singular, perfect blossom: gelato powerfully flavored with the pistachios he hand-carries back from Bronte, vibrant peach sorbetto, yogurt gelato scented with Tuscan olive oil, and dark, smoky chocolate gelati flavored with orange peel, with fresh hazelnuts or with rum. Bulgarini probably pulls the best espresso shots in the area when he’s in the mood: thick, syrupy thimblefuls drawn from a burnished old machine. 749 E. Altadena Drive, Altadena, (626) 441-2319. Tues.-Thurs., noon-10 p.m., Fri., 11 a.m.-10 p.m., Sat., 11 a.m.-11 p.m., Sun., 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Takeout.
Josiah Citrin, a burly ex-surfer who earned two Michelin stars for his cooking at Mélisse, rules haute cuisine in Santa Monica. Caché, his new, lounge-tinged restaurant down on Main Street, is his stab at the world beyond truffles, a masculine place with an air of the tropics and a bar that seems to recede into infinity. This isn’t dude food — the menu is pretty much market-driven French — and although the wood-burning oven churns out surprisingly good thin-crusted flatbreads, they’re topped with things like caramelized shallots with Brie, or fried sage with sopressata, instead of pepperoni. But as at Mélisse, Citrin’s style is direct, focused and simple in effect (though not in preparation), characterized by unexpected sparks of citrus and fresh herbs, at its most typical in things like first-of-season Alaskan halibut in a bacony onion broth; slices of raw bluefin, smoky and slightly charred at the edges, with ovals of tart, marinated eggplant and roasted Jidori chicken on a salty, garlicky bed of braised greens. This space will probably always be remembered as the site of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s cigar-friendly restaurant Schatzi, but Citrin has made it his own. 3110 Main St., Santa Monica, (310) 399-4800, cacherestaurant.com. Dinner Sun., Mon.-Wed., 6-10 p.m., Thurs.-Sat., 6-11 p.m. Bar open ’til 2 a.m. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, D, MC, V.
When Village Voice critic Jeff Weinstein called Campanile “the last restaurant of the ’80s’’ shortly after it opened, almost everybody dismissed the statement as hyperbole — surely the sprawling, busy, democratic restaurant with important architecture, deep relationships with farmers and perfected Urban Rustic grill cooking would be with us forever. But at the remove of two decades — Campanile celebrated its 20th anniversary last spring — it appears that Weinstein may have been correct. No restaurant since has managed to marry populist tendencies with the highest levels of culinary ambition, and no restaurant has introduced even a fraction of the number of wines, from Italy and boutique California, to the American palate.
But although it is occasionally difficult to navigate the restaurant’s welter of family dinners and wine dinners and soup-kitchen dinners and grilled cheese nights, Campanile is as vital as it was the day it opened, the farmers market vegetables as vibrant, and Mark Peel’s virtuosity behind the grill is still unmatched. The basic premise of the cuisine here is the perfection of Mediterranean peasant dishes, often in ways that may be incomprehensible to the Mediterranean peasants in question; the best farmers market ingredients, assembled with chefly skill, and illuminating the spirit of each dish as if from within. 624 S. La Brea Ave., L.A., (323) 938-1447. Lunch Mon.-Fri., noon-2:30 p.m.; dinner Mon.-Wed., -9 p.m., Thurs.-Fri., 6-10 p.m., Sat., 5.30-10 p.m.; brunch Sat., 10.30 a.m.-1:30 p.m., Sun., 9:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, DC, MC, V.
Of all the neighborhood pizza parlors touted as the best in L.A., one of them actually has to be the best. The first time you step into Casa Bianca, neon sign glowing “Pizza Pie” in nursery pink and blue, you will know it is the one, whomped with garlic, set with checked tablecloths, thick with families who have been coming here for generations. Sam Martorana, the soul of the family-run restaurant, passed away in 2007 after more than a half-century in the kitchen, but his mandate endures: burnt, chewy, bubbly pizza, dusted with gritty cornmeal and sliced in the odd manner of thin-crusted bar pizza from the south side of Chicago, which is where Martorana learned his trade. The mushrooms are canned, if that sort of thing bothers you, but anybody who orders his pizza topped with anything but homemade sausage or fried eggplant is kind of missing the point. Barack Obama may have gone for the Hawaiian pizza in the years when Casa Bianca was his local, but you can chalk it up to hometown nostalgia. 1650 Colorado Blvd., Eagle Rock, (323) 256-9617. Tues.-Thurs., 4 p.m.-mid., Fri.-Sat., 4 p.m.-1 a.m. Beer, wine. Takeout. Street parking. Cash only.
If your idea of a Moroccan meal involves belly-dancing, jangling chains and the sensuous wail of the oud, this sleek Fairfax District bistro might not be for you. But while Chef Adel Chagar’s lightened cooking may verge on the modern, his techniques come straight from the traditional Moroccan kitchen: b’stilla made with the tricky pastry leaves called warka; house-made couscous light as perfumed air; and lamb-shoulder tagines cooked until the meat almost dissolves into a kind of lamb-scented cloud. Chameau may describe itself as French-Moroccan, but the food is different from both the plain cooking you’ll find at Paris’ fashionable couscous cafés and the contemporary French menus that happen to feature a tagine or two. 339 N. Fairfax Ave., L.A., (323) 951-0039. Tues.-Sat., 6-10 p.m. Beer, wine. Takeout. Street parking. AE, D, DC, MC, V.
The Eastern Chinese cooking in the San Gabriel Valley leans toward hominess instead of hauteur, authenticity over polish. Chang’s Garden is that rarity, a chef-driven restaurant, serving the Hangzhou-style cooking of chef Henry Chang, whose restrained, earthy style has attracted the local Chinese community for years. Chang’s Garden is probably most famous for its elegant version of dong po pork, a dish beloved by Chinese poets. His dish of pork ribs steamed in lotus leaves figures so prominently in Nicole Mones’ novel The Last Chinese Chef that it is practically a character of its own. The crisp, rolled-beef pancakes, the candied lotus root stuffed with sticky rice, the fresh Chinese bacon with chiles and the whitefish fried into seaweed-enhanced beignets are worthy of at least a short story or two. Try the puddinglike slabs of Japanese eggplant cooked down with garlic. 627 W. Duarte Road, Arcadia, (626) 445-0606. Open daily 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Beer, wine. Lot parking. MC, V.
* Chaya Downtown
Is it okay to begin by mentioning the Japanese equivalent of a TV dinner? Because the Monday-only obento box at the newish Chaya Downtown is a pretty extraordinary thing, a partitioned wooden vessel the size and heft of a Sunday Times, bearing miso-marinated sea bass, braised wagyu beef and a full, seasonal component of both sushi and first-rate sashimi, prodigious in size and exquisite in presentation; the plate isn’t cheap, but it’s an obento good enough to obsess about the other six nights of the week. The starkly beautiful restaurant is decorated with vintage posters and an odd, compelling chandelier that seems to be fashioned from plastic beach detritus.
Tagliatelle with sea urchin and avocado? Jet-black orecchiette with fresh squid? Whatever fusion cooking might be, the Chaya group has been doing it longer than anyone else in L.A., from the severe Japanese-French cooking at the late La Petite Chaya in the earliest 1980s through the serene Asianized bistro food of Chaya Brasserie. Tokyo-chic Chaya Downtown, looking out onto the same bank plaza as Drago Centro, may be the best Chaya yet. 525 S. Flower St., dwntwn., (213) 236-9577, thechaya.com. Lunch Mon.-Fri., 11 a.m.-2 p.m.; dinner Mon.-Fri., 5:30-10 p.m., Sat., 5-10 p.m. Full bar. Happy hour Mon.-Fri., 4-7 p.m., Sat., 5-7 p.m. Validated valet parking. AE, MC, V.
Chichén Itzá is the most formidable Yucatecan restaurant in town, its menu a living, chile-intensive thesaurus of the citrusy, fragrant, sometimes searingly hot cuisine of the Mayas: panuchos and codzitos, sopa de lima and papadzules, vaporcitos and banana-leaf tamales. From the delicious banana leaf–baked pork called cochinito pibil to the cinnamon-scented bread pudding called caballeros pobres, Chichén Itzá, named for the vast temple complex north of Cancún, is as fresh as a marketplace restaurant in Mérida. Its original location, in the Mercado La Paloma near USC, is a destination for its complex antojitos, its shark casseroles and its occasional specials of baked deer. The sleekly rustic second location is probably the most genteel dining room in the Westlake District, favored by politicians and gourmands from the nearby Mexican Consulate. Tikin-xic, seared sole fillets, coated with a reddish achiote paste, and the odd but authentic Yucatecan dish of stuffed Gouda cheese are worth seeking out. The first time I ate at Chichén Itzá, I liked the cooking so much that I booked a plane ticket to Mérida the next day. 2501 W. Sixth St., L.A., (213) 380-0051. Sun.-Thurs., 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m., Fri.-Sat., 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Beer, wine. Takeout. Validated parking. AE, MC, V. Also in Mercado La Paloma, 3655 S. Grand Ave., dwntwn., (213) 741-1075. Open daily 8 a.m.-6:30 p.m. MC, V.
Chung King is the gritty, grungy star of the local Sichuan-restaurant community, the best source among many for Chinese bacon fried with leeks, for the cold, hacked chicken with chile, for the great, multiflavored beef casseroles that are so spicy they attack the nervous system like a phaser set to “stun.” On what must have been my 30th or 40th visit to the restaurant, I was introduced to a new dish: beef in small pot. Or rather, the dish wasn’t new — it had been on the menu since the restaurant opened at its original Monterey Park location several years ago — but in the rush to eat as much water-boiled fish, bean-curd sheet with pickle and salt-and-pepper pork chop as humanly possible, I had totally overlooked the preparation, a dense, oily concoction of beef, garlic and an ungodly quantity of heat-bearing plants that would be the house special practically anywhere else. Chung King’s brand of Sichuan cooking, sizzling with four or five different kinds of chiles and smacked with the cooling, numbing sensation of Sichuan peppercorns, lies halfway between dentist’s chair Novocain and the last time you could afford a lot of blow. The must-order: fried chicken with hot peppers, a knoll of crunchy dark-meat cubes subsumed under a blizzard of dried chiles that are the red of silk pajamas, the red of firecrackers, the red of the Chinese flag. 1000 S. San Gabriel Blvd., San Gabriel, (626) 286-0298. Open daily 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Beer. Takeout. Lot parking. Cash only.
* Church & State
When we are in a carnivorous mood, we sometimes daydream about Church & State, about wood-baked flatbread with Époisses and poached duck tongues, Santa Barbara spot prawns buried in drifts of finely diced cucumber, and giant, sizzling marrowbones, naked and split in two. Pig’s-foot fritters. Rabbit terrine. Pork belly with fresh peas. Garlicky snails baked under little caps of puff pastry. French fries seethed in pure lard. The whole, whirling carnival of meat. You may have been to Church & State in its earliest days, as a rough-edged artists’ brasserie built into a loading dock deep, deep downtown, music turned up high and lights turned down low; its most interesting features were the cocktails made by its weekend bartender, Michel Dozois. But when Walter Manzke took over the kitchen, fresh from a stint as the chef at Bastide, he transformed the dullish menu into a document guaranteed to dampen the eyes of even the steeliest gourmet. What the restaurant may remind you of is one of the bistros born from the ’90s recession in Paris, slightly grungy places opened by young chefs who had worked in the city’s grandest hotel restaurants, and who transformed simple dishes through hard-won haute-cuisine technique. Manzke shares some of their preoccupations: a fondness for pig parts; fetishes for farmers-market produce and for detail; and the adoption of technology when it suits his purposes. Is this the most refined bistro cooking in Los Angeles? Look at it this way: Manzke can make pig’s ears taste better than fries. 1850 Industrial St., L.A., (213) 405-1434, churchandstatebistro.com. Lunch Tues.-Fri., 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.; dinner Tues.-Thurs., Fri.-Sat., 6-11 p.m. Full bar. AE, MC, V.
It has never been easier to find a mojito downtown, a cunningly stuffed empanada, or an unconventional tamale. But there is still Ciudad, the pan-Latin outpost of Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger, which may be all things to all people but especially to all people whose pleasures include upending an oyster or two, digging into a ceviche plate and bending an elbow every now and then: There are strong mojitos, mellow Pisco sours and an inspiring collection of rum to go along with the Bolivian-style tamales, Caribbean paella and a classic pescado Veracruzana, the Bahia-style moqueqas and a fritanga that would knock them silly in Managua. Daytime is for office workers; at night, two-thirds of the customers are dressed in black. 445 S. Figueroa St., dwntwn., (213) 486-5171. Mon.-Tues., 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m., Wed.-Thurs., 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m., Fri., 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m., Sat., 5-11 p.m., Sun., 5-9 p.m. Full bar. Takeout. Valet parking. AE, D, MC, V.
David Myers’ brasserie is a few degrees off-kilter, and I think the chef likes it that way — a sleek, theatrically lit restaurant lined with mirrors, halls lined with chalkboards, tables filled with smartly dressed citizens of the local design community. Sona, Myers’ other restaurant, is a serene bubble of luxury and refinement; Comme Ça is loud, young and cocktail-driven, bubbling with oysters and steak tartare, choucroute garni on Wednesdays and braised pork belly on Saturdays. Comme Ça is open early for croissants and coffee and late for mussels and champagne, serving both formal entrées and bistro classics. Is there good onion soup? A great one, informed but not overwhelmed by its gooey mantle of melted Gruyère. And the cheeseburger, made from the chef’s mom’s recipe and served only at lunchtime unless you have the pull of Jack Nicholson, is one of the very best in town. 8479 Melrose Ave., W. Hlywd., (323) 782-1178, commecarestaurant.com. Mon.-Thurs., 11 a.m.-11 p.m., Fri., 11 a.m.-mid., Sat., 9 a.m.-mid., Sun., 9 a.m.-11 p.m. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, MC, V.
Cora’s Coffee Shoppe
Cora’s reign as a ratty surf dive may be long forgotten by this point, but the desire for a decent cappuccino is eternal. Sometimes what you need on a weekend morning is Cora’s straight shot of L.A. fantasy: a patio shaded with crimson bougainvillea, a burbling Tuscan fountain, the distant crashing of the surf — sometimes you want a chef’s salad, and sometimes you want an omelet made with farmers-market tomatoes and oozingly creamy burrata cheese; sometimes you need ham ’n’ eggs the morning after, and sometimes delicate petals of San Daniele prosciutto. Cora’s hamburgers are magnificent, almost-molten objects fashioned from coarsely chopped, beyond-prime Wagyu cow. And if you are luckier than I have been lately, there will be an intense homemade burnt-caramel ice cream as bitter as tears. 1802 Ocean Ave., Santa Monica, (310) 451-9562. Mon.-Sun., 7 a.m.-3 p.m. No alcohol. Takeout. Lot parking. AE, MC, V.
Cut is a study in contradictions, a restaurant whose stark Richard Meier interior suggests less a dining room than a museum of contemporary art, a steak house whose strengths lie in its warm veal-tongue salad and bone-marrow flan rather than in its prime Nebraska beef; in its potato “tarte tatin’’ rather than cottage fries; its marvelous Austrian reds rather than its California cabs. It’s Wolfgang Puck’s most glamorous restaurant — does Tom Cruise ever eat anywhere else? — but its sensibilities mirror those of Lee Hefter, filtered through Ari Rosenson. There is the matter of the first-quality Japanese beef, wrapped in ninja-black cloth and carried around by the beef sommelier. And if you haven’t been wiped out by Bernie Madoff, you will discover a miracle unduplicated in the world of meat, richness upon richness, all possible permutations of smoke and char and animal, dancing across your consciousness like sunlight rippling on a pond. A small, Japanese rib eye runs more than $150, but as a shared appetizer, it will easily feed four. 9500 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills, (310) 276-8500. Mon.-Thurs., 5:30-10 p.m., Fri.-Sat., 5:30-11 p.m. Full bar. Valet parking a half-block south of Wilshire Blvd. on Rodeo Drive. AE, D, MC, V.
Parts of Los Angeles, currently experiencing a ramen phase, have become warrens of secret ramen parlors and shiny ramen chains, high-end ramen in supermarket food courts and low-rent ramen in Beverly Hills, ramen thick with MSG and even self-described molecular-gastronomy ramen, which comes in chicken soup. We’ve heard all the arguments about authenticity — one of the area’s most active food bloggers writes about nothing else — and we’ve seen Tampopo too many times to count. But when the yen for ramen strikes, you’ll usually find us at Daikokuya, set-decorated to resemble something from an old Imamura movie, where the broth is made from carefully simmered Kurobuta pork bones, the noodles have both snap and vigor, the tiny gyoza are plump, and the condiment jars on each table are filled with pure, minced garlic. (Ask for your ramen “kotteri-style,” with extra-rich broth.) Some connoisseurs may try to talk you out of Daikokuya, but they’re wrong. Let them gripe: It means the line will be that much shorter after a concert at Disney Hall up the street. 327 E. First St., dwntwn., (213) 626-1680. Mon.-Thurs., 11 a.m.-mid., Fri.-Sat., 11 p.m.-1 a.m., Sun., noon-8 p.m. Beer, wine. Takeout. Street parking. AE, MC, V.
* Drago Centro
If you should happen to wander through the sprawling kitchens of Celestino Drago’s newest restaurant, you are likely to see the chef up to his elbow in one kind of carcass or another, surrounded by a heap of pigeons to be boned out, or preparing elaborate salmis that may never make it onto a menu. Some chefs love to parade through dining rooms, but Drago — whose style is defined by a light touch, wild flavors and deftness with fresh pasta — is never happier than when his starched chef whites are spattered with blood.
Drago Centro, carved out of a former bank in a Bunker Hill office plaza, is a new kind of restaurant for Drago, less specifically Italian than Italian-inflected, perhaps less driven by the good, handcrafted pasta than by crisped risotto with octopus tentacles, truffle-crusted chicken, and steaks sourced from the one guy in America ranching real Piemontese cattle, less by the veal chop — though it is very good — than by foie gras crème caramel. Since the 1930s, the grandest restaurants in L.A. have tended to be run by Italians whose menus respect few borders. Drago Centro is a new sort of luxury restaurant, skyscrapers blazing outside the big windows, wine towers reaching to the sky, a grand gesture that seems to be exactly what downtown needs. 525 S. Flower St., dwntwn., (213) 228-8998, dragocentro.com. Mon.-Fri., 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m., Mon.-Sat., 5:30-10:30 p.m. Full bar. Evening valet parking on Figueroa between 5th and 6th streets, includes free shuttle to Staples Center, Music Center or Nokia Theatre. AE, MC, V, DC, D.
8 oz. Burger Bar
Hammered by poor reviews in Manhattan and the closing of his Miami restaurant, with his new Los Angeles Table 8 still nowhere to be seen, hometown hero Govind Armstrong is in a rebuilding phase. But his 8 oz. is still rocking on, a loud, cheery hamburger bar where solace may be found in a mug of microbrew or a perfect rye Manhattan, a plate of chicken-confit buffalo wings or little wagyu-beef cocktail-weenie corn dogs, fried potato skins sprinkled with truffle salt or a grilled cheese sandwich stuffed with braised short ribs. The burgers are of the drippy, bloody school, especially the burger made with roasted mushrooms and grass-fed beef — if you concentrate, you can taste every blade. Is it a drag to pay a buck extra for ketchup, no matter how organic, heirloom and artisanal it may be? Kind of. But there are s’more tarts for dessert. 7661 Melrose Ave., W. Hlywd., (323) 852-0008. Sun., 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m., Mon.-Sat., 11:30 a.m.-mid. Bar open until 2 a.m.
El Huarache Azteca
Highland Park is developing as the local center of chilango cooking, with a half-dozen restaurants specializing in the meats and snacks from the area around Mexico City. El Huarache Azteca was the first, and its huaraches are still the industry standard: concave troughs of fried masa piled high with beans, meat and soured Mexican cream — the cabeza, meat from a roasted cow’s head, is probably the way to go, and the house green salsa is splendid. Weekends are probably the best time to visit the cramped storefront, joining the families guzzling gallons of house-made horchata and watermelon drink at the pol cloth–covered tables or picking up tacos and sopes by the dozen to bring home to their families. Don’t miss the burning-hot huitlacoche quesadillas — fried turnovers stuffed with musky, jet-black corn fungus — made on weekends by a stone-faced woman who mans a fry cart outside the entrance. 5225 York Blvd., Highland Park, (323) 478-9572. Open daily 9 a.m.-10:30 p.m. No alcohol. Street parking. Takeout. Cash only.
For almost 20 years, many of us were sure that El Parian served nothing but birria, Guadalajara-style roasted goat in a consommé made from its amplified drippings, because when you sat down at one of the well-battered tables, the waitress didn’t offer you a menu, she simply asked whether you were having a full order or were only hungry enough for a small bowl. Well that, and the fact that the chips and salsa were worse than anything you could find outside a Del Taco. El Parian’s superb birria ranks amongst the best regional Mexican dishes in L.A., but the kitchen was clearly not into multitasking. Then Chowhound posters discovered the carne asada tacos, and El Parian began to pull a crowd of people less interested in goat than in the sweet, garlicky charbroiled steak. The taco people are eating well — the carne asada is well blackened and peppered with delicious pockets of liquified fat, and the thick corn tortillas are strictly homemade. 1528 W. Pico Blvd., L.A., (213) 386-7361. Open daily 8 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Beer. Takeout. Cash only.
As the massive Cantonese restaurants begin to stagnate, the most attractive Chinese seafood house is Elite, a former semi-experimental mainland-owned restaurant that still serves such oddities as suckling pig with foie gras, prawns with fried oatmeal flakes, and papaya salad with goose webs. There are enough unsustainable choices on the seafood menu to make a Heal the Bay member weep salty, salty tears. Yet the roast squab has skin as delicately crunchy as any Beijing duck. The Shunde-style soup of seafood with minced ham and bits of bitter melon is tautly balanced. The balls of chopped shrimp steamed in nets of shredded turnip and garnished with its own roe are the essence of the sea captured. And the morning dim sum breakfasts, ordered from menus instead of carts, are well worth the inevitable 45-minute wait. 700 S. Atlantic Blvd., Monterey Park, (626) 282-9998. Dim sum Mon.-Fri., 10:30 a.m.-3 p.m., Sat.-Sun., 10 a.m.-3 p.m.; dinner nightly 5-11 p.m. Beer, wine. Street parking. AE, MC, V.
Euro Pane Bakery
Sumi Chang’s bakery is the center of civilized life in Pasadena: a place to buy excellent-to-superb scones and baguettes and pains au chocolat, of course, but also the heart of a certain sort of society, the Caltech professors, theology students and writers who worship at the twin altars of caffeine and conversation, a place where you are likely to bump into a zillion-dollar chef, a man who helped to design the Mars Rover, or the star of the play you saw last night at the Taper. On a good day, Euro Pane’s magnificent croissants could in a police lineup be mistaken for France’s best, and, the natural-starter sourdough is superb. Toss in the homemade granola, the epochal bread pudding, the puff-pastry tarts with pears and frangipane, and the gooiest egg salad sandwich in town, and it’s no wonder that Euro Pane’s regulars treat the bakery more as a permanent residence than as a café. If your visit happens to coincide with the emergence of the few chicken potpies baked each day, elbow your way to the front of the line and get as many as they’ll sell you. 950 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena, (626) 577-1828. Mon.-Sat., 7 a.m.-5:30 p.m., Sun. ’til 3 p.m. No alcohol. Street parking. MC, V for orders over $10 only.
A three-table museum of American wiener culture, Joe Fabrocini and Susie Speck Mayor’s Fab Dogs is a lovingly curated shrine to the Hatch chile dogs of New Mexico, the slaw dogs of West Virginia, the northern New Jersey–style Italian hot dogs and a close facsimile of the street-cart dogs sold in New York’s Central Park, made like the rest of Fab’s offerings with artisanal, small-production franks Joe imports from New Jersey. Fab even makes a version of the cheesy, bacony Sonora dog, which is the unrequited crush object of generations of Arizona refugees. There is an interpretation of a Chicago dog that is exact but slightly too perfect, like a Vermeer rendered by a masterful art forger, a lovingly constructed version of a Detroit-style Coney, and even an approximation of our own native Oki dog. Fab’s actual specialty is a kind of deep-fried New Jersey–style monstrosity called the Ripper, a frank tossed in the deep-fryer until it literally explodes. It is awesome, really, the number of Fab customers who plow through three of them, toss down an order of homemade tater tots, then swagger up to the counter to order three more. 6747 Tampa Ave., Reseda, (818) 344-4336, fabhotdogs.com. Mon.-Sat., 11 a.m.-9 p.m., Sun., 11 a.m.-6 p.m. No alcohol. Takeout. Street parking only. AE, MC, V.
Tehrangeles, the stretch of Westwood Boulevard thick with Iranian bookstores, groceries and curio shops, is lined with Iranian kebab restaurants, each of them serving decent polo and koobideh and tah dig, hot glasses of tea, and frothing glasses of the yogurt drink dough. You may already have a favorite, and you’re probably not wrong. But even from the street, you can see the shiny clay sphere at Flame’s heart, the fiery tanor oven from which you will be served smoking, hot flatbread almost continuously throughout dinner. Much of the produce here is organic, bought at farmers markets, and the meat is sustainably sourced. You will find the usual bowls of yogurt-based white-garlic dip, the vinegary Iranian pickles called torshi, and the usual homestyle stews — the pomegranate-walnut concoction called fesenjon, the vegetable/salted-lime stew gormeh sabzi, and the tomatoey split peas called ghemeh. But as always, the kebabs are inevitable, so you may as well saddle up a rack of lamb, a shish kebab or a skewer of ground, grilled chicken, if only to have something to put on the enormous drifts of rice. Even at lunch, the customers tend to be better-dressed than they are anywhere this side of Spago and the Grill. 1442 Westwood Blvd., Westwood, (310) 470-3399. Open daily 11:30 a.m.-10:30 p.m. No alcohol. Street parking. AE, MC, V.
What did the people at Sony do before downtown Culver City became home to two wine bars in every block? Jason Travi’s restaurant is clearly a locus of love and obsession, from the meticulous plateaux de mer that rival the majestic displays of shellfish at Parisian brasseries to Travi’s house-cured meats, from the careful juiciness of the Kurobuta pork chop with violet mustard to the subtle sweetness of the rabbit tortelli with brown butter. Longtime maitre d’/sommelier Thierry Perez has moved onto other projects, but so far, the restaurant is more or less unchanged. 9411 Culver Blvd., Culver City, (310) 839-6800, fraicherestaurantla.com. Open daily 5-10:30 p.m., bar open ’til mid. Full bar. Nearby parking in city lot. AE, MC, V.
Battered communal table? Sure. Fire pit in the patio? Of course. Wood-burning oven, IPA on tap, random cured meats and an interesting chandelier? This is Abbot Kinney — you might as well ask if the restaurant had doors. Gjelina is loud and crowded, the waiters are better-looking than you are and tables are difficult to reserve, but the difference between chef Travis Lett’s restaurant and the other small-plate joints on this newish restaurant row is that the food is actually good. Everybody may do a wood-oven pizza now, but Gjelina’s is thin, pliable and slightly burnt, topped with things like hen-of-the-woods mushrooms and English peas, or guanciale with crushed olives; while a mania for farmers market vegetables is also common on the Westside, Gjelina’s vegetable-intensive dishes, roasted Jerusalem artichokes or corn with arugula have a snap, a sweetness about them, and a seasonality specific enough that a farmers market devotee could probably tell you what week it was based on the garnishes on the chickpea plate alone. 1429 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Venice, (310) 450-1429, gjelina.com. Dinner nightly 5:30 p.m.-mid.; lunch Mon.-Fri., 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m.; brunch Sat.-Sun., 10:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. City lot behind restaurant.
As iconic as the San Gabriel Mission, Golden Deli is a Vietnamese noodle shop whose imitators have spawned imitators, a mini-mall citadel of banh hoi and pho so popular that its customers wait up to an hour in the parking lot for a spot at one of the sticky, cramped tables. The prospect of Golden Deli’s bun thit, noodles tossed with fish sauce, grilled pork and fresh herbs, can do that to your judgment. There’s still no beer, but the restaurant did recently start accepting credit cards. Almost nothing on the long menu takes longer than a couple of minutes or so to cook and serve, and Subway offers more in the way of amenities. But Golden Deli has the best cha gio — fried Vietnamese spring rolls — in the observable universe, and the owners know it. After a bite or two, so will you. 815 W. Las Tunas Drive, San Gabriel, (626) 308-0803. Mon., Tues., Thurs., 9:30 a.m.-9 p.m., Fri., 9:30 a.m.-10 p.m., Sat., 9 a.m.-10 p.m., Sun., 9 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Closed August. No alcohol. Lot parking. Cash only.
* Golden State
As served at Golden State, an ale-intensive Fairfax gastropub whose owners would probably bite down on cyanide capsules before they would allow Miller Lite into their bar, the beer float is practically a sacrament: a scoop of splendid brown-bread ice cream from the cult gelateria Scoops, moistened gently with Old Rasputin Imperial Stout–caramelized intensity playing against caramelized intensity, a marriage of cold creaminess and explosive fizz, with a strong back taste that reminded a Russian friend of the fermented-bread drink kvass. The menu’s conceit is that everything comes from California and is grown as sustainably as possible. The hot dogs, served with things like roasted peppers, aïoli and grilled onions, come from Let’s Be Frank, and the sausages are from Huntington Meats, just down the street at the Farmers Market. The burger, made with aged Harris Ranch beef and Fiscalini cheddar, is among the best in town, especially if you order it rare. Golden State, in the vanguard of the new beer bar movement, may be centered around its ultrahopped, superboutique suds, but as a new institution in this heavily Jewish area, what it sells is really evolved chazzerai. 426 N. Fairfax Ave., L.A., (323) 782-8331, thegoldenstatecafe.com. Tues.-Sun., noon-10 p.m. Beer, wine. Street parking. MC, V.
Although Burma itself may not be a culinary destination, it makes a certain amount of sense that the country, snuggled between Thailand, Bangladesh and China, would have some interesting cooking of its own. Golden Triangle, steadfast in its patch of Uptown Whittier — even as its tone changed from bibliophile to skate rat — is the best place in California to taste Burmese food, a phantasmagoria of a cuisine that draws from the cooking of its neighbors, clarifying the flavors, perhaps, and adding a bit of homegrown funk. The restaurant specializes in the garbanzo flour–thickened catfish chowder called moh hin gha, the biryani-style rice dish called dun buk htaminh, and lap pad thoke, a salad made with pickled tea leaves that have the consistency of stewed collard greens and the caffeine kick of a double espresso. Sometimes you’ll run across a sour vegetable dish made with a special Burmese green that the owner grows in his backyard. Don’t leave without trying the incredible ginger salad: biting shreds of the spice tossed with an almost-too-crunchy mélange of coconut, fried garlic, fried yellow peas, peanuts and sesame seeds. If the world ever gave it a chance, ginger salad might have the universal appeal of spaghetti Bolognese. 7011 S. Greenleaf Ave., Whittier, (562) 945-6778. Open daily 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Beer, wine. Street and lot parking. AE, D, MC, V.
* Good Girl Dinette
The Good Girl Dinette blog was the spring’s food-nerd obsession: Diep Tran, who used to work at Blue Hen and whose family owns the Pho 79 chain of Vietnamese noodle shops, chronicled the year she spent opening this restaurant in Highland Park. Even the haterati were rooting for her. Tucked into a storefront below an old Masonic lodge, the local Good Girl Dinette is a clean, airy space, filled with earnest couples and young families, serving bubbly soft drinks they make with farmers market fruit (the Meyer lemon is especially good), preparing a menu of Vietnamese-American comfort food that is friendly to vegans.
If your obsessions are centered in South El Monte or Little Saigon, this may not be the place for you. The chicken pho will not remind you of your favorite pho ga. The fried imperial rolls are stodgy; the fresh spring rolls are stuffed with tofu instead of grilled pork and shrimp. But the spicy fries are astonishingly good — topped with the mince of cilantro, fresh chiles and garlic you usually see on Vietnamese-Chinese fried crab or squid, an idea good enough to seem almost inevitable; the biscuit-topped curried-chicken potpie is wonderful. And the clove-spiked beef stew is a perfect amalgam of Vietnamese flavors and Depression-era diner cooking, a blend that seems to be exactly what this neighborhood, and these times, demand. 110 N. Avenue 56, Highland Park, (323) 257-8980, goodgirlfoods.com. Lunch Sat.-Sun., 11 a.m.-2 p.m.; dinner Sun., Tues.-Thurs., 6-10 p.m., Fri.-Sat., 6-11 p.m. Closed Mon. No alcohol. Cash only.
Grace, a chic, perpetually booked restaurant equidistant from El Coyote and Grace’s sister restaurant BLD, is the demesne of Neal Fraser — a rock star of L.A. cuisine, a chef with a wobbly, idiosyncratic style that couldn’t be further from the finish-fetish crowd pleasers. His is a detailed, market-oriented sort of New American cooking, heavy on French technique, strong flavors and intricate presentations. The cooking can still be a little rough around the edges at Grace — Fraser’s style is pretty improvisational — but this is still tremendously ambitious food, most of it locally sourced. If you’re lucky, you’ll run into a Scottish hare served with a tiny, crisp blackberry pie, a giant, unctuous slab of braised rare-breed pork belly on black rice, or Angus beef tartare mounded atop a miniaturized, grilled cheese sandwich saturated with truffles. And there are freshly fried jelly doughnuts for dessert. What more could you want? 7360 Beverly Blvd., L.A., (323) 934-4400. Tues.-Thurs., Sun., 6-10 p.m., Fri.-Sat., 6-11 p.m. Full bar. Valet parking; difficult street parking. AE, MC, V.
The Grill on the Alley
The Grill seems as permanent as the Hollywood Hills, with its dining room washed in a pale, masculine light that seems imported from a century-old restaurant in New Orleans, and the white-jacketed waiters who call you sir, even if you are wearing sneakers. This is, in other words, a serious place to have lunch, the kind of restaurant where the Beverly Hills Rotary might hold its meetings if the Rotary had a chapter for aspiring billionaires. The steaks are good, the Caesar salad is dependable and the steak tartare is sublime. No better corned beef hash exists, and a crisp plate of it — well-done, thanks — is the ideal companion for a clear, cold, gin martini. You will also find this town’s essential rice pudding: touched with cinnamon, drizzled with heavy cream, coaxing the nutty, rounded essence out of every grain of rice. 9560 Dayton Way, Beverly Hills, (310) 276-0615. Mon.-Thurs., 11:30 a.m.-10:30 p.m., Fri.-Sat., 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m., Sun., 5-9 p.m. Full bar. Takeout. Valet parking; free street parking before 6 p.m. AE, DC, D, MC, V.
A proper mole negro, the classic sauce of central Mexico, is black as midnight, black as tar, black as Dick Cheney’s heart. There may be 50 Oaxacan restaurants in Los Angeles, each claiming the gooiest memela and the most delicious homemade horchata, but Guelaguetza, the first serious Oaxacan restaurant in town is still the best: the mintiest green mole, the richest mole amarillo and the spiciest goat barbacoa. At the original Koreatown location of Guelaguetza, not far from the biggest concentration of Oaxacan restaurants and bakeries this side of Oaxaca itself, you’ll find grasshoppers fried with chile, tlayudas the size of manhole covers and delicious, mole-drenched tamales. The black, black mole, based on ingredients the restaurant brings up from Oaxaca, is rich with chopped chocolate and burnt grain, toasted chile, and wave upon wave of textured spice — it’s as simple yet as nuanced as a great, old Côte Rôtie. 3337½ W. Eighth St., L.A., (213) 427-0779. Open daily 8 a.m.-10 p.m. No alcohol. Street parking. AE, MC, V.
Sunday mornings at Huckleberry, the new bakery/café from Rustic Canyon pastry chef Zoe Nathan, come perilously close to full-contact brunch, a scrum of Lululemon and UCLA sweatshirts. There is a line to get into the line here, and not an orderly one. Customers angle for views of the chalkboard menu, bribe small children to scout the pastry case, and jostle for tables in front of the serene counterstaff, who have obviously done enough yoga to rise above the petty turmoil of the crowd. At Huckleberry, even the governor waits in line. Nathan, the pastry chef, is beginning to get the kind of food-world attention previously reserved for Sherry Yard and Nancy Silverton, and her reputation for homey, carefully constructed desserts may be exceeded only by the buzz about this bakery. And it is worth a certain amount of trouble to get a crack at her prosciutto-stuffed croissants, so buttery that they threaten to spurt like a well-constructed chicken Kiev, or her flaky bacon-maple biscuits; her crumbly rustic tarts stuffed with goat cheese or her ultrarich flatbread. Brisket hash? Sure. Green eggs and ham is reinterpreted as pesto drizzled over sunnyside-up eggs nestled into La Quercia prosciutto on a housemade English muffin, and afternoons see sandwiches and rotisserie chicken — duck on Thursdays! 1014 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica, (310) 451-2311, huckleberrycafe.com. Open Tues.-Fri. 8 a.m-7 p.m., Sat.-Sun. 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Takeout and retail bakery. Street parking. AE, MC, V.
The Hungry Cat
Is it about the hamburger? Very well then, it’s always about the hamburger, which in this case is made with loosely packed organic Niman Ranch whatever, bleeding profusely through blue cheese into a La Brea Bakery roll that may be a little too crusty for the job. Two bucks more will get you a fried egg on that. The hamburger in question is the only meat dish at Hungry Cat, Suzanne Goin and David Lentz’s odd lozenge of a restaurant dedicated to the neverending bounty of the sea, including oysters, clams, chowder, pan-roasted skate, marinated yellowtail with plums, etc. It’s a fishy, fishy place, the Hungry Cat, best known for its lobster roll, a buttery, abstracted rendition of the New England beach-shack standard transformed into a split, crisp, rectangular object about the size of a Twinkie. In Maine, the $20-plus it costs would buy you a lobster the size of a small pony, but we are in Hollywood, where the next acceptable lobster roll may be 2,800 miles away. Lentz is from Maryland, meaning his fetish object of choice is fried crab cakes, which Hungry Cat not coincidentally also serves. The restaurant is a civic treasure, open early for fishy weekend brunches and late for supper after the ArcLight, a place to drop into for a dozen oysters or a bowl of shrimp, plateaux de mer or hamachi pastrami, a glass of Picpoul de Pinet or an expertly mixed Aviation from the truly wonderful cocktail bar. 1535 N. Vine St., Hlywd., (323) 462-2155, thehungrycat.com. Mon.-Sat., noon-mid., Sun., 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Full bar. Validated parking. AE, MC, V.
The most puzzling news of the last several months was Il Moro’s hiring of Gianfranco Minuz, the reclusive chef whose brilliant dishes of Friuli and the Veneto always made Tre Venezie one of the most distinctive Italian restaurants in town — so far, he has been preparing the specials every evening, although I suspect they won’t include his signature casserole of polenta and sauerkraut. Il Moro is more or less an embassy of Bolognese cuisine, best known for Davide Ghizzoni’s tiny, meat-stuffed cappelletti floating in a deep-yellow capon broth, baked lasagna enriched with a gobs of béchamel, chestnut pasta with porcini, and L.A.’s definitive pumpkin tortelloni. Prosciutto and salami are served in the traditional Modenese way — with gnocco, oblong, unsweetened beignets that would be equally appreciated by New Orleanians and by Homer Simpson. Tucked into the ground floor of a Westside office building, Il Moro is open late for pizza and wine, and backs onto a rather romantic patio, and is usually pretty easy to slip into without a reservation even on a Saturday night. 11400 W. Olympic Blvd., W.L.A., (310) 575-3530. Lunch Mon.-Fri., 11 a.m.-3 p.m.; dinner Mon.-Thurs., 5-10 p.m., Fri.-Sat., 5-10:30 p.m., Sun., 4:30-9:30 p.m. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, DC, MC, V.
Any place in town can broil an acceptable filet mignon, but Suzanne Tracht’s snazzy steak house is a blast from the Mad Men ’60s, chefly riffs on the strip steak and the porterhouse, the hash brown and the french fry that may or may not incorporate every last pea tendril and star-anise infusion in the Asian-fusion playbook. (On weeknights, the bar area becomes Suzpree, a rolling preview of the Bangkok-inspired small-plates restaurant Tracht and Preech Narkthong are planning to open.) Some people we know have never even tried the steak here — the braised pork belly, the glorious pot roast and the various and sundry wonders of the duck-fried rice are just too compelling. But the steak is about as good as it gets. The décor is straight off the set of a Cary Grant movie. And there’s always banana cream pie for dessert. 8225 Beverly Blvd., L.A., (323) 655-6566. Sun.-Thurs., 5:30-10 p.m., Fri.-Sat., 5:30-11 p.m.; brunch Sun., 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, D, MC, V.
JiRaffe is a pleasant space in a bright corner of Santa Monica, all neo-Palladian windows, white tablecloths, and the kind of minimal Gallic décor you see in the restored farmhouses they feature in Elle Decor. Raphael Lunetta’s food tends to be elegant, almost ladylike, with the sort of seasonality you might expect from a serious restaurant located a few hundred yards from the best farmers market in Southern California, and careful, restrained presentations. JiRaffe is a real California bistro, the kind of casual yet slightly formal place the Ivy only pretends to be, and with much better food. In restaurants as in architecture, sometimes less is more. 502 Santa Monica Blvd., Santa Monica, (310) 917-6671. Mon., 6-9 p.m., Tues.-Thurs., 6-10 p.m., Fri.-Sat., 6-11 p.m., Sun., 5:30-9 p.m. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, MC, V.
We don’t take Jitlada for granted, really we don’t. When chef Suthiporn Sungkamee showed up one day with a typewritten list of 75 new items, effectively doubling the number of regional Southern Thai dishes available in L.A., we almost danced on the table with joy. We still hadn’t managed to work our way through quite all of the Southern Thai dishes already on the current menu — curried fish kidneys aren’t necessarily something you want to eat every day. Because Jitlada is that rare thing, a Thai restaurant frequented mostly by non-Thais who come not in spite of but specifically because of the thorny regional dishes listed on the typed pages at the back of the regular menu. Sungkamee — call him Tui — and his sister Jazz Singsanong introduced Hollywood to the Songkhia-style rice salad; the fried sea bass with homegrown turmeric; and the infamous endorphin bomb kua kling Phat Tha Lung, a beef curry that in its purest form is spicy enough to strip the bark off a log. The printed menu is still a roster of the usual Thai banalities, but the typed insert of Southern specialties — originally translated by a visiting Chicago blogger — is basically a list of dishes you’ll find in few other places: delicious, foul-smelling yellow curries of fermented bamboo shoots; delicate lemon curries; curries of fried softshell crabs and the notorious sataw bean; wild tea leaves cooked down like creamed spinach with bits of gluey-skinned catfish; and beef simmered with pickled buds of Asian cinnamon. There are accessible dishes, too, like grilled beef with green papaya salad, steamed mussels with lemongrass and chile, a tropical coco-mango salad and shrimp fried with basil. When you need to show visitors the diversity and wonder still possible in L.A. restaurants, Jitlada is Exhibit A. 5233½ Sunset Blvd., Hlywd., (323) 663-3104. Mon., 5-10 p.m., Tues.-Thurs., 11 a.m.-10 p.m., Fri.-Sun., 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Beer, wine. Difficult lot parking. AE, MC, V.
Shabu shabu is vessel cooking reduced to its inevitable minimum, transparents of prime beef swished through bubbling broth for a second or two, just until the pink becomes frosted with white. You can find shabu shabu restaurants now in half the suburbs in the county. But when the dish is done correctly — and if the quality of the meat and vegetables is as high as it is at Little Tokyo’s superb (and expensive) Kagaya — the texture is extraordinary, almost liquid, and the concentrated, sour flavor of really good beef becomes vivid. It is tempting to order the wagyu beef, but stick with the regular prime: Unless you have the skills of a master, the expensive fat will melt away, and you will be left with chewy goldfish nets of flesh. 418 E. Second St., dwntwn., (213) 617-1016. Tue.-Sat., 6-10:30 p.m., Sun., 6-10 p.m. Closed Mon. Wine, beer, sake. Lot parking. DC, MC, V.
Kiriko may still be L.A.’s great, undiscovered sushi bar, and Ken Namba’s traditional yet creative sashimi surpasses most of what is sold, at three times the price: The traveling Japanes gourmands tend to pass the Kiriko address to one another like a secret. Namba smokes fresh Copper River salmon over smoldering cherry wood, slices it thick and wraps it around spears of ripe mango: The sashimi is soft and luscious, salty and sweet, penetratingly smoky yet delicate — one of the most magnificent mouthfuls of food imaginable. There is Spanish mackerel dressed with grated ginger and ponzu, and mackerel as rich as ripe Brie. The sea bream pulled out of Japan’s Inland Sea is almost gooey in its extreme freshness, dusted with the zest of a yuzu, served with a small dish of salt grated to order from a pink, quartzlike stone. One of the gifts of a great sushi chef is nonchalance, and Namba has it to spare — the ability to appear casual, unhurried, processing the food for an entire restaurant while looking as serene and unbothered as Fred Astaire. 11301 Olympic Blvd., No. 102, W.L.A., (310) 478-7769. Lunch Tues.-Fri., noon-2:15 p.m.; dinner Tues.-Sun., 6-10 p.m. Beer, wine. Parking lot. AE, MC, V.
In Manhattan, David Chang became famous for his version of bossam, a combo platter of steamed pork belly and ultraspicy turnip kimchi, and maybe oysters, all of which you assemble into a sort of taco. If you should find yourself in the East Village with $200 in your pocket and an entourage to feed, we can’t recommend Ssam Bar enough. But if you’re in L.A., you may as well hit up the Koreatown bossam specialist Kobawoo, a polished, respectable destination restaurant with some of the best food in Koreatown at prices almost unbelievably low. The restaurant has a decent version of samgyetang, a soothing chicken-in-the-pot stuffed with ginseng and sticky rice; and very good pig’s feet, boiled and pressed into a terrine. The home-style pindaeduk, mung-bean pancakes, are a big draw — the pancakes are ethereal beneath their veneer of crunch, melting almost instantly in the mouth, like a sort of intriguingly flavored polenta. And the house bossam is an elegant preparation, which, like so many other Korean dishes, seems almost custom-designed to accompany a bottle of soju. 698 S. Vermont Ave., L.A., (213) 389-7300. Daily, 11-10 p.m. Valet, lot parking.
A rumble of exhaust, a sweet puff of barbecue smoke, a rain-slicked parking lot, deserted 10 minutes previously and now home to 300 iPhone owners — the Kogi truck is a new paradigm of a restaurant: an art-directed, Mexican-style take on Korean street food. Kogi tacos, stuffed with grilled short ribs, spicy pork or marinated tofu, are cheap, unbelievably delicious and unmistakably L.A.; it is food that makes you feel plugged into the rhythms of the city. You keep track of Kogi’s whereabouts on a frequently updated Twitter feed. Roy Choi, who was executive chef at the Beverly Hilton, is constantly coming up with specials, and the regulars keep coming back to try things like kimchi quesadillas; Kogi dogs; or steamed pork belly wrapped around leaves of dandelion and the Korean herb gaenip. Ask any Korean: Fresh gaenip is the key to happiness. Track current location of truck at kogibbq.com or twitter.com/kogibbq. No alcohol, but often alcohol-adjacent. Takeout only. Cash only.
If you hear of any real estate deals in North Hollywood, let us know. Because we’d really like to move a little closer to Krua Thai, a noodle shop whose pad kee mao and boat noodles keep rocking until the wee small hours. “Best Pad Thai in Los Angeles,’’ says the legend on the menu, and in a city where great Thai noodle shops are all that keep some of us going some days, Krua Thai has a pretty fair title to the claim. It could be the Thai equivalent of a delicatessen like Canter’s: cheerful, fast, popular across ethnic lines, and open very, very late. 13130 Sherman Way, N. Hlywd., (818) 759-7998. Open daily 11 a.m.-3:30 a.m. No alcohol. Takeout. Lot parking. All major credit cards accepted. Also at 935 S. Glendora Ave., W. Covina, (626) 480-0116.
We are as jingoistic about fried chicken as the next guy, and we’ve been to dives in Louisiana where the chicken was so good it made a roomful of testosterone-crazed roustabouts weep like your mother’s bridge club that time Steel Magnolias came on TV. But Korean fried chicken really is an evolutionary leap forward — steeped in a cabinet full of spices, saturated with garlic, double-fried to a shattering, thin-skinned snap dramatic enough to wake a sleeping baby in an adjoining room. The first of the Korean chicken joints, Kyochon definitely has some problems. The chicken is cooked to order, so even a simple to-go box can take an hour to prepare, and the only real appetizer is marinated daikon cubes. Somebody should really teach them how to set the carbonation controls on the Coke machine. But then the whole tiny chicken comes out and every femur and scrap of rib meat becomes the most important thing in the world. 3833 W. Sixth St., L.A., (213) 739-9292. Open daily 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m. No alcohol. Lot parking. MC, V. Also at 2515 Torrance Blvd., Torrance, (310) 320-9299.
La Casita Mexicana
If you follow Spanish-language media, chefs Jaime Martin del Campo and Ramiro Arvizu are everywhere, demonstrating recipes on the Univision morning show, opening supermarkets, on billboards advertising Mexican avocados. They have the presence in the food pages of La Opinión that, say, Suzanne Goin does in the Times, and no local discussion of mole poblano, nopalitos or chilaquiles is complete until they have had their say. The two haunt communal farms, looking for huazontle, hoja santa and nopales as fresh and beautiful as they might be in the Jalisco villages in which they grew up. But mostly there is the cooking: a half-dozen different kinds of chilaquiles at breakfast; subtle soups; a beautiful purple-corn posole; delicious enfrijoladas; and an impeccable version of chiles en nogada, the most famous dish of haute Mexican cuisine. There is no alcohol, but ask about the aguas frescas — you may luck into the alfalfa drink, green as envy and flavored with the tiny Mexican limes that grow in Jaime’s mom’s backyard. 4030 E. Gage Ave., Bell, (323) 773-1898, casitamex.com. Open daily 9 a.m.-10 p.m. AE, M, V. No alcohol. Street parking.
The coffee wars between La Mill partisans and Intelligentsia fans have grown pretty heated in the last year. Lovers of La Mill’s winey, lightly roasted coffees face off against those who prefer Intelligentsia’s more robust beans, while Intelligentsia buffs draw swords on behalf of that coffeehouse’s espresso-intensive program against what they see as La Mill’s gimmicky coffee drinks — as if coffee made with doughnut-infused milk could be anything but a triumph! I am happy to listen to the arguments of either side as long as I have a hot cup of the beverage in question in front of me. But what is beyond question is the excellent cuisine at La Mill — whose menu is designed by Providence’s Michael Cimarusti and Adrian Vasquez. As you finish off the last bites of a Tasmanian sea trout carpaccio, eggs en cocotte with fresh Dungeness crabmeat or a $12 ham-and-cheese sandwich, you may agree. The cooking, which verges on molecular gastronomy, is among the most exciting at this price point in Los Angeles, including a hanger steak with an impossibly complicated watercress purée; duck breast sous-vided to within an inch of its life and crisped with honey and vadouvan; and a big, crunchy-skinned hunk of wild Alaskan salmon; and desserts — calamansi floats, liquid-center lollipops, s’mores with lemongrass cremeux — are basically straight out of the Providence playbook. If you needed further incentive to visit La Mill, there are now french fries, cooked with the same attention to detail as its potato chips. 1636 Silver Lake Blvd., Silver Lake, (323) 663-4441. Sun.-Thurs., 7 a.m.-10 p.m., Fri.-Sat., 7 a.m.-11 p.m. No alcohol. Takeout. AE, MC, V.
The late Al Langer was among the last of the great deli men, a guy who could talk to you about sandwiches until your ears fell off but more importantly, knew the contours of a pastrami the way a great sushi chef does a side of tuna. In the course of the half-block walk from the Alvarado Blue Line station to his delicatessen, you smell the food from a half-dozen Central American countries, pass within sight of Mexican street murals, and are offered the opportunity to buy a counterfeit green card. Within the deli itself, run by his son Norm, you may wait for a table with customers speaking every language but Yiddish. Bite into a Langer’s pastrami sandwich: thick slices of hand-sliced beef, glistening with peppery fat, as dense and as smoky as Texas barbecue; thickly cut seeded corn rye, hot, crisp-crusted and soft inside, with a slightly sour tang that helps tame the richness of the meat; a dab of yellow mustard, as important to the whole as a sushi master’s wasabi, and you’ll know the inescapable fact: Langer’s serves the best pastrami sandwich in America. 704 S. Alvarado St., L.A., (213) 483-8050. Mon.-Sat., 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Beer, wine. Curbside service (call ahead). Validated lot parking (on corner of Westlake Ave. and Seventh St.). MC, V.
You won’t see Roscoe’s-size portions at Larkin’s, vegans will find more to eat than they’d expect, and there is a bit of mint in the sweet tea. Southern food purists — and there are a lot of them— love to gripe about this modern juke joint, owned by chef Larkin Mackey, a shy, slender man who rarely leaves the kitchen. Every dish on the menu is probably somebody’s best recipe: The tart, creamy potato salad is credited to Aunt Carolyn; the ground beef–intensive chile verde to chef Mackey’s grandpa; the caramel-tasting banana pudding to Mama. But one thing is beyond argument: Mackey’s fried chicken — tender-crusted and juicy, golden and singing with the taste of clean oil — is about as good as it gets in L.A. restaurants. 1496 Colorado Blvd., Eagle Rock, (323) 254-0934, larkinsjoint.com. Lunch Wed.-Fri. & Sun., 11:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m. Dinner Wed.-Sat., 5:30-9:30 p.m., Sun., 5 p.m. until the food is gone. No alcohol. Limited lot parking. AE, MC, V.
Let’s Be Frank
In what I have come to think of as the Year of the Truck, Let’s Be Frank was first out of the garage, upgrading from a hot dog cart parked at the Helms Bakery complex to a fancy, bright-red, frequently mobile beast. The proprietor is Sue Moore, a former Chez Panisse forager, and her dogs are made with organic, grass-fed, sustainably raised beef; her bratwurst from organic Berkshire pork; her Italian sausage, should you be lucky enough to run across it, from rare-breed Heritage pigs. None of this would matter if the hot dogs weren’t great, but they are: taut, delicious natural-skin beauties that snap like rim shots when you bite into them; mildly seasoned, tucked into griddled buns and served, if you wish, with grilled onions, organic sauerkraut and an occasional mystery condiment Moore hides under the counter like the secret stash at a comic book store. Helms Ave., between Venice and Washington boulevards, Culver City. Wed.-Fri., 11:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m., Sat.-Sun., 11:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. No alcohol. Lot parking. AE, MC, V.
* Little Dom’s
Little Dom’s is a young person’s idea of an old person’s restaurant: all dark wood and dim lights, snappy waitresses and deep booths. The mostly Italian wine list isn’t bad, but everybody seems to be drinking martinis or ginger-infused highballs. You can get modish salads of beets and burrata or blood oranges with fennel and goat cheese, but the action seems to be with the fried shrimp and an Italian wedding soup that could have come from the first scene of The Godfather, with thick steaks and spaghetti and meatballs. The easy comparison may be to neighborhood Italian restaurants in South Jersey, but chef Brandon Boudet grew up in New Orleans, and Little Dom’s seems patterned after the neighborhood joints in that city: grown-up places where short, idiosyncratic menus may lean Italian, French or even Vietnamese, but the local preferences for anise, artichokes and fried seafood poke out where you least expect them. An appetizer of fried shrimp and artichoke wedges, served with a kind of salsa verde of mint with lots of capers, is the kind of dish I can imagine Tom Fitzmorris, the Rush Limbaugh of New Orleans food, going on about for a half-hour on his radio show. And if you are offered an oyster po’ boy as a daily special, don’t hesitate: Boudet’s interpretation — which involves fried, freshly shucked mollusks piled onto crunchy toasted focaccia with tomatoes, a crumpled sheet of fried speck, and a peppery rémoulade — is unconventional but is probably the best in L.A. 2128 Hillhurst Ave., Los Feliz, (323) 661-0055.Open daily 8 a.m.-3 p.m., Sun.-Thurs., 6-11 p.m., Fri.-Sat., 6 p.m.-mid. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, D, DC, MC, V.
Los Balcones del Peru
So close to the ArcLight Theater that it shares its parking lot, Los Balcones del Peru lies at the precise border of redeveloped Hollywood and its shadow, a breath of garlicky authenticity a few steps south of the velvet-rope district. Los Balcones also may be the only Peruvian restaurant in town without tapes of Andean panpipe music, which is almost a miracle. It is easy to spend hours here after a movie, eating fried fish, fried-chicken “chicharrones” and scallops broiled with Parmesan cheese, drinking Peruvian beer from the Inca city of Cuzco. The standard Peruvian-Chinese dishes, the saltados and taillarines, aren’t that good here — ceviche is pretty much the specialty: shrimp ceviche; fish ceviche; shrimp, squid and octopus ceviche; and the camarones a la piedra, a spicy, sharp shrimp ceviche from the north of Peru, which is properly served warm. Los Balcones is much cheaper than Nobu. 1360 N. Vine St., Hlywd., (323) 871-9600. Sun.-Thurs., 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m., Fri.-Sat., 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Beer, wine. Validated parking at ArcLight Cinema. AE, MC, V.
* Loteria Grill
In just the last few months, L.A.’s number of sleek, date-night Mexican restaurants has almost doubled, but the Lotería Grill seems as if it has been in its space forever, Jimmy Shaw’s spare, modern dining room levered into a storefront between the Geisha House and Mood; a soaring space decorated with a vast display of tequila bottles and replicas of game cards from the Mexican gambling game lotería. The restaurant has a huge tequila selection and a first-rate nopales salad; a rotating selection of aguas frescas (try the cucumber); great chilaquiles and huevos rancheros at breakfast; and a array of soups, enchiladas and stewed meats inspired by the recipes of the chef’s mentor, Diana Kennedy. Lotería Grill is one of the city’s few restaurants to prepare the “dry soup” called fideo, a staple of Mexican home cooking: thin noodles browned in oil and then simmered like paella until they soften and absorb all the tomato-laden broth. Shaw’s Mexican-style ice creams are extraordinary, and you would be foolish not to try the example studded with the sweet, curdled-milk cheese known as chongos. It’s delicious, it’s unique, and after your third tequila, the word chongos seems like the funniest thing in the world. 6627 Hollywood Blvd. Hlywd., (323) 465-2500, Sun.-Wed., 9 a.m.-mid., Thurs.-Sat., 9 a.m.-1:30 a.m. Full bar. Valet parking. All major credit cards accepted.
Lou Amdur, a connoisseur of diaper-pail Burgundies and a lover of Frappato, a man who talks more passionately about biodynamic wines than anyone who hasn’t actually buried a dung-filled animal horn at midnight during a full moon, is the proprietor of this tiny, wonderful wine bar on the south end of Vine, home to both his list of organic country wines and the supersustainable cuisine of his chef, DJ Olsen, as well as a pretty decent range of artisanal cheeses, the garlic-laced salamis of Seattle’s Armandino Batali, and house-made rillettes. Amdur has a minor specialty in both long-braised meats and tasty vegetarian soups, and the elaborate Monday-night wine dinners revolving around, say, choucroute or the season’s first Alaskan halibut should not be missed. Do we ever get past the pig candy: a chewy, crisp, smoky concoction made with Amdur’s house-cured bacon and a minor tonnage of brown sugar? Sadly, sometimes we do not. 724 N. Vine St., Hlywd., (323) 962-6369, louonvine.com. Mon.-Sat., 6 p.m.-mid. Wine. Lot parking. MC, V.
The California-Mediterranean cooking of Suzanne Goin, which is feminine in all the best ways, is profoundly beautiful in its simplicity, and there is satori to be found in every bite of grilled fish, every herb salad, every roasted vegetable. When she’s on, Goin teases out the flavor from a tomato with the precision of a sushi master, while playing with bursts of acidity and the resinous flavors of fresh herbs. Lucques, named for a vivid green variety of a French olive, is located in Harold Lloyd’s old carriage house; it boasts an ultrasleek Barbara Barry design and one of the nicest patios in West Hollywood, but on loud weekend nights the restaurant can sometimes seem as if it is about 90 percent bar. Sunday family dinners are legendary. 8474 Melrose Ave., W. Hlywd., (323) 655-6277. Sunday nights feature three-course prix-fixe dinners. Lunch Tues.-Sat., noon-2:30 p.m.; dinner Mon.-Wed., 6-10 p.m., Thurs.-Sat., 6-11 p.m., Sun., 5-10 p.m. Full bar (limited bar menu available 10 p.m.-mid.). Valet parking. AE, MC, V.
* Ludo Bites
While bands release music directly into the ether, and writers flit from magazine to magazine without their readers becoming aware of so much as an altered URL, the most progressive of chefs still works in meat space. Even if you are megachef Alain Ducasse, whose skills are as grounded in global organization as they are in haute cuisine, there is no getting around the physicality of a parsnip. So in a sense, Ludo Bites, the restaurant of Ludovic Lefebvre, doesn’t really exist. You can’t find it in Directory Assistance, and you can’t have dinner there tomorrow night. It has no address. It served its last meal of the summer toward the end of August, in borrowed space at Breadbar, and may not serve its next until it opens in another space in October, at which point it will again be discernible from its host only by a few banners picturing tattooed roosters, a stack of signed cookbooks, and the presence of Lefebvre himself. But when Ludo Bites is there, it’s there, and your dinner is as real as the DJ set you may have heard last week from the guy they flew in from Brussels. Lefebvre was the protégé of three of the four greatest modernist chefs in France, and wonders flow from his borrowed stoves. Prices are pretty low, too, usually just $8 to $14 per dish, especially when you factor in the minimal corkage on the wine you must bring in yourself. Will there be miso soup with foie gras, a blood-sausage terrine blown out into the texture of angel food cake, or Basque-style chicken fried in duck fat? Probably not, not even the celery root carbonara or the duck confit with quivery “imaginary’’ choucroute, not even the chocolate cupcake frosted with savory foie gras whipped cream. Because, you see, the restaurant is a figment of Ludo’s imagination. And if you’re lucky, of yours, too. For location and hours go to ludolefebvre.com.
M Café de Chaya
This is the place that made macrobiotic cuisine fashionable, partly because almost anything tastes great when it is made with vegetables bought at a decent growers market, but also because the kitchen lets kale taste like kale but has the sense to let tempeh-based club sandwiches taste like something you’d pick up at the Daily Grill. Owned by the people who run Chaya Venice and Chaya Brasserie, M Café food may be based on strict macrobiotic principles — the vegetable sushi here is made not just with brown rice but with organic, artisanally produced heirloom brown rice — but when the tomatoes are ripe, the pesto is pungent and the house-baked bread is crisp. Even a sybarite can overlook the fact that the “mozzarella” started its life as a plant. If you enjoy the spectacle of health-conscious actresses juggling an iPhone, a BlackBerry, two ex-boyfriends and a vegan Benedict, the original Melrose outlet offers some of the best people-watching in town. 7119 Melrose Ave., L.A., (323) 525-0588. Mon.-Sat., 9 a.m.-10 p.m., Sun., 10 a.m.-10 p.m. mcafedechaya.com. Beer, wine. Takeout and delivery. Limited lot parking. AE, MC, V. Also at 9433 Brighton Way, Beverly Hills, (310) 858-8459, and 9343 Culver Blvd., Culver City, (310) 838-4300.
Marouch has been Hollywood’s Lebanese-Armenian mainstay for so long that it is sometimes possible to forget just how good it can be, how succulent the grilled quail, how zataar-fragrant the toasted-bread salad fattoush, how reliable the kebabs, which sing with spice and juice and char. I can’t count the times I’ve crushed out on some Middle Eastern dish I’d tasted in Glendale or Michigan only to find out that Marouch chef Sosy Brady had it on her menu all the time, whether fried fish with tahini; the pungent aged-cheese salad shanklish; the walnut-pomegranate dip muhammara; or the Lebanese melted-cheese dessert knafeh. If you wanted to imagine you were in Beirut, you could stop by this place a few times a day — midmornings for a piece of baklava and a thimbleful of Armenian coffee; lunch for a plate of makanek sausages and a bottle of Lebanese beer; late afternoons for the falafel, house-made from scratch, and a bowl of dense lentil soup; and dinner for one of the home-style daily specials, real Armenian mom stuff. Year after year, Marouch becomes nothing but better. 4905 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A., (323) 662-9325. Tues.-Sat., 11 a.m.-10 p.m., Sun., 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Beer, wine. Lot parking. All major credit cards accepted.
Meals by Genet
In Fairfax Avenue’s Little Ethiopia district, a long city block lined on both sides with restaurants, coffeehouses and markets, most of the menus feature the same half-dozen dishes; their injera are purchased from the same bakery, and their multicourse feasts are served on the same metal trays. But Meals by Genet is more or less an Ethiopian bistro, which is to say a homey, softly lit dining room that looks at least as French as it does African; which is to say Ethiopian by way of Elle Décor; and the sensibility is that of a chef, Genet Agonafer, whose flavors cut straight to the Ethiopian soul. The menu is short: a half-dozen stews and Agonafer’s delicious version of kitfo, a dish of minced, raw beef tossed with warm, spiced butter. Her version of the chicken stew doro wot is jaw-droppingly good, two days in the preparation, vibrating with what must be ginger and black pepper and bishop’s weed and clove but tasting of none of them — a jammy reduction so formidably solid that the poultry becomes just another ingredient in the sauce. 1053 S. Fairfax Ave., L.A., (323) 938-9304, mealsbygenet.com. Wed.-Sun., 5:30-10 p.m., Sat.-Sun., 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Beer, wine. Catering. Street parking. MC, V.
Josiah Citrin’s Mélisse may well be the most formal restaurant in Los Angeles since the 1980s, a rather stolid dining room whose luxury ingredients seem not to dissuade a local public that usually seems happy enough to eat its seared venison without the benefit of Christofle silver, velvet purse stools or airy sauces inflected with fresh black truffle. Nor do the luxury prices — $105 for an all-but-mandatory four-course menu — that are a bargain only by Parisian standards. But Citrin grew into Mélisse, and he now wears it like a custom-fitted suit. His two Michelin stars are real. The truffled corn ravioli is a revelation. And his cooking, which uses farmers market produce and modern kitchen techniques without calling attention to itself, has shed most of its baby fat — try the slow-cooked rabbit, the lobster Bolognese, and the elaborate tasting menus devoted to tomatoes, summer truffles or wagyu beef. 1104 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica, (310) 395-0881, melisse.com. Dinner Tues.-Thurs., 6-9:30 p.m., Fri., 6-10 p.m., Sat., 5:45-10 p.m. Closed Sun.-Mon. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, D, DC, MC, V.
High-quality Peruvian seafood is not hard to find in L.A. After all, it was here that Lima ex-pat Nobu Matsuhisa launched the variations that conquered the world. But the ceviche at this Peruvian lunch counter is as about good as it gets: cubes of sushi-quality tuna in a vinegar emulsion, soft and tart and brutally spicy all at once. Nobu’s version is good, but this is earthier, more sensual, more Peruvian, speaking as much of the mountains as of the sea. Ricardo Zarate, the chef-proprietor, is a Lima native who has spent most of his adult life running the kitchen at high-end Japanese restaurants, including Weekly favorite Wabi-Sabi in Venice. He knows his way around the big Japanese seafood wholesalers downtown. What he is attempting here is professional Peruvian cooking at popular prices, and while the physical space may be just a few rickety tables plunked into a corner of the community-oriented Mercado La Paloma near USC, the crab-enriched potato salad causa is as carefully composed as a three-star appetizer, the stir-fry lomo saltado is made for once with the traditional filet mignon, and his crisply roasted version of seco de cordero is arranged on an obsessively detailed bed of Peruvian canary beans with a puréed cilantro. And while the herbed, griddle-crisped barracuda with stewed chickpeas may be more classically Cal-Med than classically Peruvian, by the time you slap on a bit of Zarate’s rocoto-pepper paste or moss-green chile-huacatay compote, you might as well be in Arequipa. 3655 S. Grand Ave., L.A., (213) 747-2141, mo-chica.com. Mon., 11 a.m.-8 p.m., Tues.-Sat., 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Closed Sun. No alcohol. Takeout. Validated lot parking. MC, V.
* Moles La Tia
Rocio Camacho is the new face of Oaxacan cooking in L.A., an artist who works in the medium of mole. Gradations of char, pantries full of spices, and an immense range of sullen chile heat wash through her sauces as deftly as Richard Diebenkorn layered paint; wild pre-Colombian flavors translated for the 21st-century palate. It wasn’t that long ago that the traditional seven moles of Oaxaca seemed like the height of exoticism, but on most nights in Camacho’s moody Maravilla dining room, the number is pushed up to 20 and beyond, the magnificent seven supplemented by almond mole on chicken and pistachio mole on salmon, tamarind mole on roasted duck breast, and red pumpkinseed-based pepian on pork, or the intense machamantales, “tablecloth-stainer” mole flavored with dried fruits, on veal. If you’ve ever wanted to compare a ruddy, first-rate mole poblano with its Oaxacan equivalent, this is your only logical destination: Camacho’s mole negro is so dark it seems to suck the light out of the airspace around it. The last time I was as inspired by something so glossy and black, it was part of Charles Ray’s infamous sculpture Ink Box, and it was enshrined in a major museum of art. 4619 E. Cesar Chavez Blvd., L.A., (323) 263-7842, moleslatia.com. Mon.- Thurs., 8 a.m.-8 p.m., Fri.-Sun., 8 a.m.-9 p.m. No alcohol. Lot parking in rear. MC, V.
As the hydra-headed Mozza oozes down its Melrose block, digesting travel agencies and computer stores and leaving nothing behind but smiling, garlic-scented Prius drivers waiting for the valet, the mozzarella-spewing creature presents even seasoned observers with a single, overwhelming question: How can I get a reservation? As with the famous natural-starter bread recipe of Mozza’s co-owner Nancy Silverton, if you want to eat tonight, it is necessary to have begun the process last month. To be fair, it is often possible to slide into the mozzarella bar on the osteria side, where Silverton herself prepares delicious snacks built on the milky orbs she imports from both Santa Fe Springs and northern Puglia — imagine a great sushi chef who has chosen to work with mozzarella instead of fish — and also have full access to Matt Molina’s handmade pastas and roasted guinea fowl, as well as the skillfully curated all-Italian wine list. Next door at the wonderful but oversubscribed Pizzeria Mozza, Silverton has more or less reinvented the very idea of pizza: airy and burnt and risen around the rim, thin and crisp in the center, neither bready in the traditional Neapolitan manner nor as wispy as you find it in Rome. Any increase in the supply of Mozza pizza is what St. Thomas Aquinas used to call a Universal Good. So the complex’s new Mozza 2Go, and tricked-out to resemble an ancient food shop in Chiusi or Pienza, prepares a broad range of Mozza pizza by preorder, to folks who wait in line — or even by delivery, the availability of which should bump up property values in adjacent areas. (Standard disclaimer: Silverton is a family friend. A family friend who happens to make breathtakingly good pizza.) In addition to a full array of Pizzeria Mozza salads, antipasti, lasagne and panini, Mozza 2Go offers a few things unavailable in the restaurant proper: a porchetta sandwich that practically explodes with fennel pollen; a short, flaky coconut-almond cookie; and a flat, round, hot panino stuffed with greens and custom-made stracciatella cheese that is the closest thing to an Umbrian torta al testo you’ll ever find in California. Pizzeria: 641 N. Highland Ave., L.A., (323) 297-0101. Osteria: 6602 Melrose Ave., L.A., (323) 297-0100. Also 6610 Melrose Ave., Hlywd., (323) 297-0100, mozza2go.com. Open for takeout and delivery Tues.-Sun., noon-11 p.m.
Musso & Frank Grill
Before we all learned to eat like Tuscan peasants, the height of Hollywood glamour may well have been its white-tablecloth joints: Chasen’s, the Brown Derby and the Musso & Frank Grill — places with extra-dry martinis made to exacting specifications and perfect Caesar salads tossed right in front of you. Before Musso became a martini-fueled Hollywood clubhouse, where generations of character actors learned to show up on Wednesday for the chicken potpie, the restaurant was already a showcase for what was then considered California cuisine: a genteel marriage of the local produce, abundant local fisheries and masculinized lunchroom cooking: avocado cocktails smeared with sweet, pink dressing; sand dabs with lemon; steaks and chops; kidneys Turbigo. It was the cosmopolitan life before Cosmopolitans. Has Musso changed, or have we? The answer may lie in long, drowsy lunches of jellied consommé, finnan haddie and Welsh rarebit, followed by a dry Gibson and a long nap — an experiment in what one friend calls gout-stool cuisine. 6667 Hollywood Blvd., Hlywd., (323) 467-7788. Tues.-Sat., 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Full bar. Validated parking in rear. AE, DC, MC, V.
The motto of the Nickel Diner is probably Home of the Maple Glaze Bacon Donut, a slogan inscribed both on the home page of its Web site and in the arteries of its best customers. And that doughnut is a lovely thing, paved with crushed bacon and glistening with what Dr. Dean Ornish might interpret as pure evil. Like Huckleberry in Santa Monica, the Nickel is a precise reflection of its neighborhood and time, a restaurant whose particulars are almost shorthand for the state of Main Street in 2009: untouched 1950s wall mural; floor lamps glued to the ceiling; and a menu of hash-house favorites: the pancakes and fried eggs and overcooked bacon without which there would be rebellion in the streets. But the toast, including the cinnamon-dusted Nickel Bag, is made with bread baked in-house — baker Sharlena Fong once cooked at the likes of Bouchon and Per Se — and the hash is made with spicy pulled pork shoulder instead of canned corned beef. Are there candied pecans in the chicken salad, quinoa in the salmon salad, arugula in the BLT, and roasted tomatoes in the macaroni and cheese? Guilty as charged. If you’re looking for Bukowski’s version of Fifth and Main, you’ll have to walk a block to the King Eddy. But if you’re around at supper, stop by the Nickel first. The stack of fried catfish with corn pancakes and pecans is worth the trip. 524 S. Main St., dwntwn., (213) 623-8301, 5cdiner.com. Tues.-Sun., 8 a.m.-3:30 p.m., Tues.-Sat., 6-11 p.m. No alcohol. Takeout. Street parking only (or nearby paid lot). MC, V.
Nobu Los Angeles
Nobu Matsuhisa is the most influential Japanese chef in the United States, the father of a strange, original cuisine equally rooted in the sushi kitchen, the informal izakaya, and the seafood preparations of cosmopolitan Lima. Without him, half the new restaurants in L.A. and New York might still be selling California rolls and salmon-skin salad. But there is a steep learning curve to the restaurant Matsuhisa, with hundreds of dishes on the menu, and waiters who are perfectly happy to serve nonregulars the same omakase meal the kitchen has been pumping out for almost 20 years. But the West Hollywood Nobu, a David Rockwell–designed restaurant in the former l’Orangerie space, has been reverse-engineered for user-friendliness, the menu stripped of mystery, the walls ricocheting electronica, and the banquettes stuffed with black microdresses and $400 hoodies. The streamlined menu resembles that of New York’s Nobu Next Door, including things like whole black snapper roasted in a wood oven, steamed Chilean sea bass and even the occasional steak. If you are hungry for the now-classic hamachi with jalapeño or toro tartare with caviar, you can be assured of finding them here. And there’s roasted banana with soy caramel for dessert. 903 N. La Cienega Blvd., W. Hlywd., (310) 657-5711. Mon.-Thurs., 6-11:15 p.m., Fri.-Sat., 6 p.m.-mid., Sun., 6-10:15 p.m. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, MC, V.
If Oinkster weren’t a diner, it could probably be the premise of a reality show: a fancy-restaurant chef converting an old burger stand to gleaming midcentury-modern loveliness, and serving chefly takes on the burgers, pastrami and chicken already emblazoned on the sign. “Slow fast food,” proclaims the sign outside: smoky Carolina-style pulled-pork sandwiches, chopped salad, and fast food–style Angus-beef hamburgers with sweet house-made ketchup. Andre Guerrero roasts chickens on a creaky rotisserie and smokes his own pastrami. Would you be willing to pay a couple dollars extra to experience artisanal soda pop, purplish Fosselman’s-based ube milkshakes and other fast food with a chefly edge? Guerrero bets you are. With all of the above, of course, it is necessary to have an order of Belgian fries — fried twice to leave them light and hot, their fluffy potato essence encased in a stiff, perfectly golden capsule of crunch. 2005 Colorado Blvd., Eagle Rock, (323) 255-OINK, oinkster.com. Mon.-Thurs., 11 a.m.-10 p.m., Fri.-Sat., 11 a.m.-11 p.m., Sun., 11 a.m.-9 p.m. No alcohol. Takeout. AE, D, MC, V.
Palate Food + Wine
Often compared to the Slow Club from Twin Peaks — although usually by people whose view of the dining room’s giant bunches of plastic grapes has been inflected by a bottle or two of Auxey-Duresses — Octavio Becerra’s relaxed, butter-yellow space is an opium dream of a restaurant, a dining room sprawling into a cocktail lounge, a wine bar, laboratories for curing meats and aging cheeses, and a well-curated wine shop and retail cheese operation. If you bring in some vinyl to the afternoon Sunday Sessions, you can even take a turn as DJ while your friends drink well-cellared Riesling and snack on $12 one-dish dinners. Palate, which occupies the ground floor of a huge wine-storage building, is an intensely personal restaurant, and an evening there can feel a lot like the culinary equivalent of an evening flipping through albums in your coolest friend’s living room: lamb from the eccentric Sonoma farmer Don Watson or goat from Bill Niman; butter churned from scratch; whatever gnarled roots or obscure shelling beans have been floating through the farmers market; or a “porkfolio” plank that might include Iowa prosciutto, a scrap of house-made lardo, or some salame from a secret California source. The menu is even tinier than it looks — most of the text on the slender document is devoted to charcuterie, house-made pickles and cheese — but changes at least once a week, to the rhythms of the farmers market. Becerra puts up a lot of things in Mason jars, stiff, unctuous pastes of pork or salmon enhanced with house-churned butter or pure lard. But mostly, he is deft at getting out of the way of great ingredients, and his best dishes — mackerel with dates and pistachios, grits with porcini, vegetables roasted in parchment — are almost deceptively simple, built around an array of precisely seasonal produce. 933 S. Brand Blvd., Glendale, (818) 662-9463, palatefoodwine.com. Mon.-Sat., 5-10 p.m. Full bar. Valet (and plentiful street) parking. AE, MC, V.
Koreatown is flush with restaurants serving barbecue, easily 200 or more, and at certain times of the evening you can float from one end of the neighborhood to the other on what blue, continuous cloud of sweet, blue smoke. While everybody has their favorite spots, the restaurant everybody agrees on is Park’s Barbecue, Koreatown’s palace of meat, all steel and glass, where the waiters resemble members of a martial-arts team more than they do restaurant workers, and the chefs source the meat as obsessively as they do at Spago.
The waiter comes over, rubs the hot grill with a lump of beef suet. He flinches back, as the melted fat explodes into a rush of blue flame. He lays meat on the grill as tenderly as you might put a kitten to bed, which almost makes sense — at more than $30 for an order of sliced Kobe-style beef and near that for short ribs, this is the most expensive Korean barbecue in town. Park’s Tokyo-X crossbred pork belly may be the best pig in Koreatown. And while the quality of the meat is a least a tick or two higher than at other high-end barbecue places, the restaurant does not hold back on the array of panchan, the little egg pancakes, puréed squash, tiny fish, kimchi, spicy roots, broccoli, and a half-dozen other things that are the measure of a Korean restaurant. 955 S. Vermont Ave., Koreatown, (213) 380-1717, parksbbq.com. Open daily 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Beer, soju. Valet parking. MC, V.
We go to other barbecue pits, really we do. Some of them are even quite good. But it is hard to visit the pit-of-the-month, to gnaw on a small end or gnarled bit of brisket without being tempted to stop by Phillips on the way home. Crusted with black and deeply smoky, the spareribs at Phillips Barbecue are rich and crisp and juicy, not too lean. Beef ribs, almost as big around as beer cans, are beefy as rib roasts beneath their coat of char, tasty even without the sauce. They are the only ribs that can compete on equal terms with the best from Kansas City or Bessemer, Alabama. And the extra-hot sauce, so crowded with whole dried chiles that the ribs occasionally look as if they have been embellished with Byzantine mosaics, is exhilarating. Tucked into a mini-mall between a liquor store and the local chapter of Alcoholics Anonymous, the original Phillips might be a little hard to find, although if you keep your window open, you should be able to sniff it out from a half-mile away. But the newest location, in the well-scrubbed chalet-style Crenshaw building, which until recently housed the well-regarded Leo’s Bar-B-Q, is only a couple of blocks south of the 10 freeway. 4307 Leimert Blvd., L.A., (323) 292-7613. Mon., 11 a.m.-8 p.m., Tues.-Thurs., 11 a.m.-10 p.m., Fri.-Sat., 11 a.m.-mid., Sun., 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Also at 2619 S. Crenshaw Blvd., L.A., (323) 731-4772. Tues.-Thurs., 11 a.m.-10 p.m., Fri.-Sat., 11 a.m.-11 p.m., Sun., 11 a.m.-6 p.m. And at 1517 Centinela Ave., L.A., (310) 412-7135. No alcohol. Takeout. Lot parking. Cash only.
* Pho Minh
Noodle-intensive Garvey Avenue in South El Monte is the new ground zero of the pho cult in Los Angeles, home to nearly a dozen places serving the delicious Vietnamese soup. When the wind is right, you can imagine that the fumes coming from the muffler repair shops have overtones of fish sauce and cinnamon. But even in this neighborhood, where every bowl of pho could be the best one you have ever tasted, the austere pho bac at Pho Minh is without peer. Its limpid, long-cooked broth, sprinkled with slivered fresh ginger, is delicate but compelling enough to make the usual add-ins of basil, lime and fresh-sliced chile seem almost unnecessary; the noodles are widish and slightly soft. The bowl is enriched with a battered hunk of filet mignon that looks as if it had just lost a razor fight — the slight, muddy tang of its blood comes through as an added ingredient in the broth. This is deeply old-fashioned pho, the stuff that was probably ubiquitous before jazz-age Saigon pleasure-seekers tweaked the recipe, and although there’s lots of pleasure in the pho dac biet, the pho equivalent of an everything bagel, it seems almost vulgar in comparison. 9646 Garvey Ave., No. 108, South El Monte, (626) 448-8807, phominhvietnameserestaurant.com. Mon-Thurs., 8 a.m.-8 p.m., Fri.-Sun., 8 a.m.-9 p.m. No alcohol. Lot parking. Cash only.
Pollos a la Brasa
The first thing you notice about Pollo a la Brasa is the wood smoke, great billowing drafts that perfume downwind noodle shops and coffee bars. Inside, an assembly line of workers is impaling one chicken after another onto thick steel skewers, jamming them into a vast, flame-licked apparatus, hacking the soon-cooked birds into parts and tossing them onto piles of French fries. The smoky, crisp-skinned chicken here, marinated in Andean herbs, sizzled over a hot wood fire and served with the incendiary Peruvian concoction aji, is what happens when you cross a chicken with a smoldering hardwood log. Peruvian cooking is the most varied in South America, but in Spanish-speaking communities, the word Peruvian on a restaurant sign is a code word for chickens like these. 764 S. Western Ave., L.A., (213) 382-4090. Wed.-Mon., 11 a.m.-10 p.m. No alcohol. Takeout. Lot parking. MC, V.
At this point in his career, Michael Cimarusti has the chef thing down cold, poised when he addresses environmental forums and genial on TV, the first in town to embrace the new cocktailian movement and an advocate for the coherence of L.A. cuisine. He wears his two Michelin stars well — his is among the best kitchens in Los Angeles — and if you’ve recently come into a small inheritance, a sum invested in Providence’s tasting menu will pay higher dividends than it would in the stock market. The fish-intensive menu changes frequently here, but Cimarusti has been going through an infatuation with Japanese fish lately, things like kampachi with miso and green grapes or tai with puréed peas and bacon, and when local spot prawns are in season, the tartare is superb, perhaps served with buttery leaves of brik pastry. The dessert tasting menu of pastry chef Adrian Vasquez is a five-course degustation that is demanding and ambitious enough to command the attention of an entire evening, a universe of puréed avocado and hot cider foam. 5955 Melrose Ave., Hancock Park, (323) 460-4170. Mon.-Fri., 6-10 p.m., Sat., 5:30-10 p.m., Sun., 5:30-9 p.m. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, D, MC, V.
This was the first home of regional Thai cooking in Los Angeles, a fortress of minced-shrimp larb and sour Isaan rice sausage launched at a time when most local Thai menus were all angel wings and spicy broccoli beef. This was where many of us first tried crispy rice salad and real koi soi, beef-intestine soup and seua rong hai. Newly remodeled, Renu Nakorn is modern and spacious, and filled with Breck girls from the local Bible college as well as Thai folk happy to be reacquainted with the restaurant’s Isaan specialties. If you ever went to the original Renu Nakorn (or to the fabulous Lotus of Siam in Las Vegas, which is run by the family that ran the restaurant in the 1990s), you probably know the tripartite nature of the menu, the usual Thai specialties supplemented by the barbecue and spicy grilled-meat salads of the Isaan region, and an almost-hidden list of specialties from the Chiang Mai area, which may be the kitchen’s real strength: pounded roast-chile dips to scoop up with freshly fried pork rinds, sweet pork curries influenced by Burma and coconut-enhanced khao soi noodles. After dinner, wander next door to the last working dairy in the area and pick up a quart of the excellent chocolate milk. 13019 E. Rosecrans Ave., Suite 105, Norwalk, (562) 921-2124. Mon.-Sat., 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m., Sun., noon-8 p.m.
Riva is a big, good-looking room in the tradition of the L.A. restaurant, with a long bar at one side, where the bartenders hope to tempt cocktalians with Riviera-inspired Aperol cucumber fizzes and concoctions of grappa and apricot instead of the inevitable Grey Goose and soda. Riva is open every night until midnight, which is no small thing in this early-closing corner of town. Although it started life as more or less a pizza-oriented bistro, chef Jason Travi, who is also at Frâiche, tweaked it into a stuzzichini bar, influenced by the cafés specializing in crostini, cured meats and little raw seafood dishes compatible with cheap wine or expensive vodka that are currently dominating piazzas all over Italy. And the cooking — a bit of this, a bit of that — has come together: a spicy mound of tomatoes and octopus fra diavolo to spoon onto slices of toasted baguette; slabs of fried tripe arranged around an arugula salad, slices of San Daniele prosciutto; slabby petalo pasta with a dense Bolognese sauce flavored with fresh mint; even Travi’s famous tuna tonnato. If you want a shot at the fig and gorgonzola pizza, you’ll have to come back at lunch. 312 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica, (310) 451-7482, rivarestaurantla.com. Open daily 11:30 a.m.-mid. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, D, MC, V.
It would not be much of an exaggeration to say that among a certain strain of hungry Angelenos, John Sedlar’s reappearance at Rivera, an elegant new restaurant a block or two from Staples Center, is a big deal, the first restaurant in 15 years from a chef whose blend of French haute cuisine and Southwest-flavors inspired an entire school of cuisine. And past the open kitchen, past the bar, past a casual-dining area, where you can stop for a tapa or three after a Lakers game or a concert at Nokia, is Sedlar’s new inner sanctum, a hushed, intimate dining room lined with glowing tequila bottles and populated with a healthy cross section of the local Latino power structure. Sedlar has apparently been up to a lot since we saw him last, and his cooking, mostly small plates, vibrates with Spanish as well as Latin-American flavors, with a slug of influence from the molecular-gastronomy guys. And unlike every other chef working the Latin-fusion riff, when Sedlar prepares something like a banana-leaf tamale with short ribs and exotic mushrooms, he understands that the most important thing is that the tamale itself be good. This is a restaurant Los Angeles has needed for a very long time. 1050 S. Flower St., dwntwn., (213)749-1460, riverarestaurant.com. Lunch Mon.-Fri., 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m.; dinner Mon.-Sat., 5:30-10:30 p.m., Sun., 5:30-10 p.m. Full bar. Valet parking. All major credit cards accepted.
If you spent the morning browsing through the Santa Monica farmers market, you have a pretty good idea of what you’re going to see on the menu at Rustic Canyon that night. Like so many other restaurants on the Westside, the food at this wine bar owes less to the standard bistro playbook than it does to the kind of cooking French guys don’t consider cooking at all: basically a sackful of glamorous produce collated with artisanal cheeses, sustainable meats and lovingly handcrafted pastas. As cynics might say, that’s not cooking, that’s shopping. On the other hand, it is also more or less the strategy followed by places like Lucques and Chez Panisse. And when executed by a chef as skilled as Rustic Canyon’s Evan Funke, whose goat cheese tortellone with fresh mint, duck breast with peaches, and sliced sunchokes sautéed with garlic are so fine, it seems like the only possible way to eat — the ratatouille is the essence of summer, and his roasted root vegetable shepherd’s pie couldn’t have been better if it were made with hare in place of the roasted turnips. The rustic pastries of Zoe Nathan, who also runs Huckleberry across the street, have won a national reputation, and when you taste her fresh corn cake with corn ice cream or her hot, cinnamon-scented doughnut spheres with stone-ground hot chocolate, you will understand why. 1119 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica, (310) 393-7050, rusticcanyonwinebar.com. Sun.-Thurs., 5:30-10:30 p.m., Fri.-Sat., 5:30-11:30 p.m. Beer, wine. Valet parking.
Sanuki No Sato
One ramen dive or another is always pulling us down to the Gardena/Torrance area, and we are always happy we made the effort. But when bombing up Western Avenue toward home, we always feel a bit wistful that we hadn’t stopped at Sanuki No Sato instead, the famously unmarked restaurant that is probably the area’s most elegant noodle restaurant. Udon noodles come in all the standard flavors: topped with crisp buttons of tempura batter in a plain soy-enriched broth, or with chewy bits of rice cake, or with exquisitely slimy Japanese mountain yams. Yuki-nabe udon — served in a rustic-looking iron kettle and buried beneath half an inch of grated daikon, a sprinkling of grated wasabi and a ferociously spiced cod-egg sac — is refreshing in spite of its bulk, an exotic bowl you could eat every day. At lunch, come early for the infamous sanuki obento, a multicourse banquet served in a lacquered box, and a testament to Japanese engineering: I have seen buffet tables with less food on them. 18206 S. Western Ave., Gardena, (310) 324-9184. Lunch Mon.-Fri., 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m., Sat.-Sun., 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m.; dinner Mon.-Sun., 5:30-10 p.m. Beer, wine. Lot parking. AE, DC, MC, V.
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 and bright-green “jade” noodles tossed with 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., Hlywd., (323) 665-1035. 7 a.m.-8:30 p.m. Closed Wed. No alcohol. Takeout. Lot parking. Cash only.
David Myers’ breakthrough restaurant is an exquisite L.A. space, a serene bubble of luxury and refinement with an endless, nuanced, ever-changing tasting menu, which often tends toward the Japanese: cubes of sansho-pepper-scented tuna married to sautéed sweetbreads, passion-fruit cannoli stuffed with peekytoe crab, tiny Nantucket scallops flavored with dates and poppy seeds, or rare duck with red wine and pumpkin seeds toasted to resemble the exact crunch of its skin. Sona is the furthest thing imaginable from the Rabelaisian assault of a brasserie. What we know as California cuisine may be dedicated to revealing produce at its best, but Myers goes after nature with blowtorches and microtomes and dynamite, determined to bend the old woman to her will. The morning after nine courses at Sona (this is one restaurant where only the tasting menu will do), it will already seem like a half-forgotten dream. 401 N. La Cienega Blvd., W. Hlywd., (310) 659-7708. Tues.-Fri., 6-10 p.m., Sat., 5:30-11 p.m. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, D, DC, MC, V.
The original Spago on Sunset was to New American Cooking what the Armory Show was to modern painting or Meet the Beatles was to rock & roll: the one that changed the rules. Designer pizza got its start in that Sunset Strip dining room, as did fusion cooking, the notion of the celebrity chef, and the idea that fine dining could be fun. In Wolfgang Puck’s glamorous Beverly Hills space, bolstered by imaginative executive chef Lee Hefter and pastry chef Sherry Yard, he’s redefined our idea of what Spago might be — and the roasted-beet cake with goat cheese, the turbot with Chino Ranch vegetables and the 10-spice roast squab are good enough to make you forget the duck-sausage pizza and the chopped vegetable salad that originally made Spago famous. If a tasting menu is within your budget, it’s probably the best way to experience what the restaurant can do. 176 N. Cañon 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., Sun., 5:30-10:30 p.m., Fri.-Sat., 5:30-11 p.m. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, D, MC, V.
When you have finished the sports section over coffee at Square One, and the stack of Weeklys has not yet been delivered, you could probably spend a good 15 minutes perusing the chalkboard, a roster of the vast and interconnected network of the restaurant’s organic suppliers. It is hard to go wrong with bacon, but Square One, a cheerful, brightly painted breakfast place in the L. Ron Hubbard district of East Hollywood, may have the city’s best: Nueske’s bacon, the well-regarded artisanal product from northern Wisconsin, sliced thick, laid on a rack and slow-roasted until it becomes crisp but pliable, sweet and deeply smoky, exploding under your teeth into gushers of fragrant juice. Still, even without the bacon, Square One is a pretty good place — epochal breakfasts, big salads for lunch made with roasted beets or house-cured salmon, pressed ham-and-cheese sandwiches, organic grits, fragile chocolate chip cookies as big around as dinner plates. The chefs shop the same way you do, or at least the way you would like to think that you would if your life were devoted to cooking breakfast rather than to such unimportant concerns as work, television and sex. 4854 Fountain Ave., Hlywd., (323) 661-1109, squareonedining.com. Tues.-Sun., 8 a.m.-4 p.m. No alcohol. Street parking. AE, MC, V.
What’s the female equivalent of big, hanging ones? Because while the boys were busy displaying their machismo this year by showing their prowess with big meat, bringing hacksaws to carcasses and sliding their unmentionables into throats all over town, Susan Feniger, the chef and proprietor of Street, was letting her eggs run wild, on top of Korean rice salad, garnishing spicy peanut noodles and served over South Indian tapioca, slid onto a bed of semolina and draped over a Cantonese white radish cake — and on pretty much every table, served almost as a dipping sauce for the kaya toast, the Singapore-style dish of brioche toast spread with soft coconut jam that has become the restaurant’s most popular dish.
In her new, hypercool restaurant, in the space that once housed the coffeehouse Highland Grounds, Border Grill/Ciudad chef Feniger, in her solo debut, revisits some of the transglobal ideas she and Mary Sue Milliken explored in her seminal ’80s-era City Restaurant, but with a direct, accessible twist: Street is a virtual museum of world street food, snacks and savories from every part of Asia — Korean-style mung-bean pancakes studded with bits of anise-braised pork belly; hollow, potato-stuffed Indian ping-pong balls called paani puri; a juniper-laced salad of roasted beets and crumbled walnuts; even a delicious version of the do-it-yourself Thai bundles of roasted coconut, bird chiles, peanuts, tamarind jam and minced lime, among other things, but sensibly wrapped in bits of collard instead of the traditional betel leaf. Half the menu is vegan-friendly, although you probably wouldn’t notice that fact unless it was important to you, and at least as much attention seems to have been paid to the roster of rare beers, spiced lassis and herbal coolers as to the short but appropriate wine list. Don’t miss Feniger’s parfait, a layered concoction of espresso gelatin, chocolate mousse and cream, sweetened with special halvah imported all the way from Canter’s Delicatessen. 742 N. Highland Ave., Hlywd., (323) 203-0500, eatatstreet.com. Open daily from noon for lunch and dinner; from 11 a.m. for Sunday brunch. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, MC, V.
Tacos Baja Ensenada
In most of Mexico, the words estilo Ensenada signify just one thing: fish tacos. Specifically the fried-fish tacos served at stalls in the fish market down by the docks. In East L.A., you will come no closer to the ideal than these crunchy, sizzlingly hot strips of batter-fried halibut folded into warm corn tortillas with salsa, shredded cabbage and a squeeze of lime, sprinkled with freshly chopped herbs and finished with a squirt of thick, cultured cream. Entire religions have been founded on miracles less profound than the Ensenada fish taco. 5385 Whittier Blvd., E. L.A., (323) 887-1980. Tues.-Sun., 10 a.m.-9 p.m. No alcohol. Lot parking. Cash only.
Tavern is the kind of place the Westside has needed for years, a big, comfortable space that functions as a gathering place for the gentry without locking out the less well-heeled. A lot of restaurants have tried to fill the niche, including the posh outlet of Hamburger Hamlet that used to occupy this spot, but this is the latest project of Suzanne Goin and Caroline Styne, the creators of Lucques and AOC, and their perfect pitch, their understated California cool, make Tavern absolutely the restaurant of the moment, from the Louis Armstrong floating down on the sound system to the Green Goddess dressing on the salad with avocado and crab; from the roster of gougères and spiced nuts at the bar to a surprisingly comprehensive children’s menu savvy enough to include pasta with cheese and butter but without parsley, which is universally considered yucky by the 8-and-under crowd.
Goin, of course, is the closest thing in L.A. to a farmers market deity, and her dinner menu is almost painfully seasonal — seafood may come with green garlic and tangelos in the spring or grilled in fig leaves in the summer; mustardy deviled chicken, served with a great heap of oiled, toasted bread crumbs, is given its presence by a tangle of sautéed leeks that surely would be ramps if they could. Beef daube, a rich stew that would seem like a consummate winter dish if restaurants in Provence didn’t insist on featuring it in the heat of summer, is given a further summer twist with brown butter and slightly caramelized cherry tomatoes. Tavern’s warm beignets and its version of Lucques’ famous walnut tart are delicious, but I must admit: The first time I visited the restaurant, I felt compelled to order grilled asparagus for dessert. 11648 San Vicente Blvd., Brentwood, (310) 806-6464, tavernla.com. Breakfast Mon.-Fri., 8-11 a.m.; brunch Sat.-Sun., 10 a.m.-2:15 p.m.; lunch daily 11:30 a.m.-2:15 p.m.; dinner Mon.-Sat. from 5:30 p.m., Sun., 5-9:30 p.m. Full bar. Valet parking. All major credit cards accepted.
In its native Toronto, Terroni has a reputation not unlike that of the Sushi Nazis here, as a pizzeria whose refusal to alter their pies, slice their pies or allow the customers to choose the toppings for their pies is considered undemocratic — downright un-Canadian. In its Los Angeles incarnation, where an outdoor foosball table draws the kind of expat attention usually reserved for the Juventus-Inter game, nobody seems really to notice. Terroni might actually feel more Italian than anywhere else in L.A. at the moment, with terra-cotta serving dishes, a roster of decent Italian wines available in half-liter and quarter-liter carafes, and the deftest espresso pull this side of Naples. Terroni’s pizzas may not be artisanal masterpieces, but they’re delicious: stretched thin, crunchy most of the way through, served as in Italy in individual uncut rounds, topped with things like broccoli rabe and crumbled sausage; Gorgonzola, honey and walnuts; or plain old mozzarella and tomato sauce. The Southern Italian–style pastas tend to be very good: linguine with clams and the dried mullet roe bottarga, a definitive penne alla Norma with fried eggplant, and possibly the first L.A. appearance of spaghetti ca’muddica, a Sicilian pasta a little like spaghetti alla puttanesca enriched with toasted bread crumbs. The oddest thing about Terroni may be its name, a derogatory term for southern Italians. 7605 Beverly Blvd., L.A., (323) 954-0300. Sun.-Thurs., 11 a.m.-10 p.m., Fri.-Sat., 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Full bar. Valet parking. Takeout. AE, MC, V.
Atop a newish mini-mall in Artesia’s Little India, Tirupathi Bhimas is a glowing, flying saucer of a restaurant, popular with the chic desi crowd but serving fairly orthodox Andhra Pradesh–style vegetarian cuisine, the heavy Southern Indian stuff, without a Bombay mojito or a chakratini in sight. Tamil is spoken and dishes are assumed to be searingly spicy unless specified otherwise. The standard order at Tirupathi Bhimas is the thali, the traditional combination plate of nine or so stews, soups and grain dishes, spooned into tiny bowls and arranged around the perimeter of a gleaming stainless-steel platter, garnished with a thin pappadum cracker, a pliable round of chapati bread, and perhaps a wad of spiced potatoes rolled into a spliff-size dosa. Will you know what is in the bowls? Probably not, and nobody will bother to explain them to you. Suffice it to say that the spicy Andhra thali will be spicy and the non-spicy thali will be pretty spicy too. After dinner, stop by the Saffron Spot downstairs for a dish of Indian ice cream. 8792 Pioneer Blvd., Artesia, (562) 809-3806, tirupathibhimas.com. Tues.-Thurs., 11:30 a.m.-2:15 p.m. and 6-9:15 p.m., Fri., 11 a.m.-2:15 p.m. and 6-9:45 p.m., Sat.-Sun., 11:30 a.m.-9:45 p.m. No alcohol. Catering. Lot parking. MC, V.
This tiny, luxurious sushi bar is famously the most expensive restaurant in California, and most nights it is also the best, with fish unseen anywhere else in the country. Other sushi restaurants display fish triple-wrapped behind glass in a refrigerated case; at Urasawa, the fish is out in the open, a glistening, translucent Noguchi sculpture rendered in flesh instead of stone. If a particular leaf or species of clam is in its Japanese two-week season, it will be on your plate, probably flown in from the Osaka market only hours before. Waitresses refill your glass with sake, replace hot towels and remove the exquisite earthenware dishes so efficiently that you are barely aware they are even there. And Hiroyuki Urasawa’s artistry with a fillet is surpassed in the United States only by that of his mentor, Masa Takayama — there is, one senses, an enormous effort to keep the customers in a bubble of serenity, an uninterrupted flow of bliss. 218 N. Rodeo Drive, Beverly Hills, (310) 247-8939. Mon.-Sun., 6-8:30 p.m. Full bar. Valet. AE, MC, V.
Valentino may be grander than Vincenti, La Terza flashier and Giorgio Baldi may draw a more famous clientele, but Vincenti feels like the spiritual center of fine Italian cooking in Los Angeles, its hearth. And befitting a hearth, much of Nicola Mastronardi’s food comes from the big, hardwood-burning ovens, flavored with the presence of smoke, forests, stone chimneys and chilly afternoons — a scallop, say, sprinkled with bread crumbs and baked in its shell until it sizzles; a magnificent veal chop; soft curls of cuttlefish tucked into an herb salad; a whole, truffle-laced squab. The adjacent rotisserie turns out the best restaurant version of porchetta I have ever tasted in California — loin and belly are wrapped into a spiral, seasoned with fennel and spit-roasted to a crackling, licorice-y succulence. It is certainly possible to eat several mediocre Italian meals elsewhere in this neighborhood for the price of a single superb one here. At these times, it is good to remember that on Monday nights, pizza also comes out of these ovens. 11930 San Vicente Blvd., Brentwood, (310) 207-0127. Dinner Mon.-Sat., 6-10 p.m.; lunch Fri., noon-2 p.m. Full bar. Takeout. Valet parking. AE, MC, V.
Wolfgang’s Steakhouse by Wolfgang Zwiener
Wolfgang’s Steakhouse by Wolfgang Zwiener, still best known for the completely justifiable infringement lawsuit filed by Wolfgang Puck, endeavors to be identical to New York’s Peter Luger, from the battered china and the lousy onion rolls in the bread basket to the proprietary brand of steak sauce on the tables. Zwiener was headwaiter at Luger for decades. The wine list is not just bad but unbelievably bad, and the steaks are priced within spitting distance of what you probably paid for your first car. The waiters try to get you in and out in about a half-hour, and if it weren’t for the full quart of whipped cream they pour on the cheesecake they import from Junior’s in Brooklyn, they’d probably succeed. But then the sputtering porterhouse comes, and the little saucer is slid under the plate, and the waiter starts to spoon the darkening juices onto the slices of meat that are going right to you, and that old black pit opens up again right on schedule, the small, blissful corner of the cosmos that can only be reached by way of the best prime, well-aged American beef. 445 N. Canon Drive, Beverly Hills, (310) 385-0640, wolfgangssteakhouse.com. Lunch Mon.-Sat., 11:30 a.m.-5 p.m.; dinner Sun.-Thurs., 5-10:30 p.m., Fri.-Sat., 5-11:30 p.m. Full bar. City lot parking in building. All major credit cards accepted.
Wurstküche occupies the kind of way-downtown location everybody loves, a short walk from SCI-Arc but leagues from Bunker Hill bankers; a few steps from the center of the Arts District but hidden from casual passersby, especially if they are looking for the actual street address, which corresponds with an unmarked exit from the bar. The restaurant brings in its sausages from artisanal butchers instead of making them in-house, which theoretically leads to flexibility, and the toppings are customizable only insofar as you have the choice of sautéed hot peppers, sautéed sweet peppers or sauerkraut to put with the grilled onions on top of your sandwich. The PETA crowd can get vegan bratwursts, kielbasas or Italian links, the sausage-joint equivalent of the Landlubbers’ Platter that used to be on the menu of seafood restaurants, and for the abstemious, there is Dandelion & Burdock, a soft drink reputed to have first been concocted by St. Thomas Aquinas, with the anise-y herbal complexity of an obscure monastery liqueur. It aims to be all things to all people, at least all people who don’t mind a sausage or two for dinner, people who think it might be a good idea to down a high-proof Unibroue la Fin du Monde or two before going back to work. 800 E. Third St., L.A., (213) 687-4444. Mon.-Sat., 11 a.m.-mid., Sun., noon-mid.
Zelo Gourmet Pizzeria
Zelo is an islet of counterculture in a conservative part of town, a poster-encrusted suburban takeout joint that vibrates to the sound of surf music and vintage punk-rock — if it weren’t a pizzeria, it could be tweaked into an indie record store in about a minute and a half. Zelo’s pizza is a different sort of pie, its crust enriched with a little cornmeal, packed and crimped into a high-rimmed, steel deep-dish pizza pan blackened from years in the ovens, and baked to a high crunchiness. A vegetarian pizza, available in both vegan and cheese-bearing versions, is piled with baked eggplant, roasted peppers and mushrooms. Even the plain-vanilla sausage pie is plumped out with marinated peppers, tomato chunks and sautéed onions. This may be the great, undiscovered L.A. pizza restaurant. And as the sign by the cash register says, save your fork; there’s cake — specifically a delicious Florentine-style zucotto. 328 E. Foothill Blvd., Arcadia, (626) 358-8298, zelo.us.
Editor's note: Regretfully, the first six of Jonathan Gold's 99 Essential L.A. Restaurants were inadvertently omitted from this list originally. They have now been restored.