Alcazar. This could be coastal Lebanon, really it could, a shaded terrace
of music, grilled mullet and waiters who transfer bright coals to brass hookahs.
Enormous kebab plates are rushed to tables — and the shish tawok, grilled kebabs
of extravagantly marinated chicken breast, is as good as a kebab ever gets. On
weekends, ultrathin sajj bread is baked on the patio in a vast heated pan, wrapped
around grilled meat or made into the thin, crisp, thyme-scented Arab quesadillas
called k’llej. 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. Lunch Tues.–Sun. 11:30 a.m.–2:30 p.m.; dinner 5:30 p.m.–10:30
p.m., Sunday until midnight. AE, MC, V. Full bar. Hookah and cigar lounge. Valet
parking weekends; lot parking in rear. Takeout.
JG $$
El Taurino. Some of the best tacos in town come from the truck that spends
its weekends parked behind the downtown Mexican restaurant El Taurino. Inside
the truck, a gleaming column of marinated pork al pastor rotates on a great big
stick before a simulated shepherd’s fire, as bits of the outside layer of meat
caramelize and drip juice. Somebody hacks off a few slivers, slivers you know
are meant for your very taco, and rushes to anoint the pork with finely chopped
onion, cilantro and a stupendous, dusky hot sauce that perfectly accents the sweetness
of the meat. These tacos tend to get eaten before you reach your car. Truck operates
on weekends behind 1104 S. Hoover St., downtown, (213) 738-9197. JG ¢

Fu Rai Bo. Fu Rai Bo doesn’t just specialize in chicken, but in spicy skewered
teba sake chicken wings; not a whole wing, but that spindly middle segment of
wing in which a couple of bones form sort of a frame protecting a sweet, if minuscule,
oblate ellipse of meat. They’re made for deep-frying the way a chicken breast
is for grilling, deeply absorbing Fu Rai Bo’s tart, spicy marinade, greaseless
and practically all brittle, crunchy skin. After the chef has dusted them with
various white powders and heaped them on plates alongside scoops of shredded cabbage
and mayo-intensive chicken salad, you could gnaw through a million of these wings,
sucking out the meat, while your teeth seek out hidden crunchy bits. 2068 Sawtelle
Blvd., West Los Angeles, (310) 444-1432. Lunch daily 11:30 a.m.–2 p.m. Dinner
Mon.–Thurs. 5:30 p.m.- 11 p.m., Fri.–Sun. 5:30 p.m.–11 :45 p.m. Lot parking. Take-out.
Beer and wine. MC, V.
JG $$

Gerlach’s Grill.
This little carryout place is run by a Japanese-influenced
Iranian chef taking on an Italian-tinged California-grill menu that happens to
include tacos. Got that? Beyond the multiculti stuff, you’ll find the standard
array of kebabs: tender things made from grilled filet mignon; garlicky lamb kebabs;
heartily spiced minced-beef kebabs called kubideh; black-edged chicken kebabs;
and tastefully underdone kebabs of tuna and halibut. Kebabs here generally come
with a big salad, a mountain of saffron-tinged basmati rice and a charred ripe
tomato, all neatly tucked into a foam clamshell. 1075 S. Fair Oaks Ave., Pasadena,
(626) 799-7575. Open Mon.–Sat. 10 a.m.–9 p.m., Sun. noon–8:30 p.m. Dinner for
two, food only, $12–$21. Takeout and delivery. AE, DC, MC, V.
JG $$
Hot Dog on a Stick. It’s a hot dog. It’s on a stick. It’s fried in a sweetish
corn batter and served by pretty college girls who wear tall, multicolored caps
that look like something that might have been worn by a Pan Am stewardess on The
Jetsons. Frankly, as regional hot-dog styles go, Hot Dog on a Stick may not rank
with Nathan’s Famous in Coney Island or the Vienna dogs served outside Chicago’s
Wrigley Field, but the stands in those cities have no spectacle that even comes
close to the sight of a short-skirted Hot Dog on a Stick employee pumping up a
tankful of lemonade. At various food-court locations, including Santa Monica Place,
Muscle Beach, Glendale Galleria and the Westside Pavilion. JG ¢
Kokekokko. This yakitori restaurant in Little Tokyo caters to levels of
chicken connoisseurship most of us will never develop: an appreciation of the
particular striations of one particular muscle in a chicken breast, the flavor
of right thigh over left, the ability to identify feed, breed and gender after
one small bite into a charcoal-broiled breast. Until you’ve been coming to Kokekokko
long enough to begin to know what to ask for, the ritual here is to order one
of the set menus, either five or 10 courses of grilled chicken flesh and innards:
loosely packed chicken meatballs, faintly scented with herbs; grilled skin, threaded
onto the skewer in accordion pleats; marinated slivers of thigh, separated from
each other by slices of onion. Wisps of breast stretched around Japanese chile
and okra that provide just a smidgen of residual slipperiness to intensify the
texture of the meat. 203 S. Central Ave., downtown, (213) 687-0690. Open Mon.–Sat.
6 p.m.–10:30 p.m. Street parking. Takeout. Dinner for two, food only, $30–$50.
Beer and wine. AE, MC, V.
JG $$
Marouch. Some people stop by Marouch several times a day: midmornings for
a piece of baklava and a thimbleful of Turkish coffee, late afternoons for a bowl
of dense lentil soup. Then there is the dinner combination meza, essentially everything
on the left-hand side of the menu: hummus; the Lebanese thickened-yogurt cheese
labneh; veal and bulgur-wheat kibbeh; fattoush, a tart, spicy salad of sweet peppers,
onions and tomatoes; and more. It can be overwhelming to face down a dozen plates
of food and realize that grilled quail, succulent kebabs and stuffed lamb shank
are yet to come. Marouch is as good as it ever was. 4905 Santa Monica Blvd.,
Little Armenia, (323) 662-9325. Open Tues.–Sun. 11 a.m.–11 p.m. Beer and wine.
Takeout. Lot parking. AE, DC, Disc., MC, V.
JG $$
Satay Fong. The Hong Kong Plaza Food Court may not seem a likely site for
a culinary epiphany ­— but if you were to get your hands on an order of mie, a
dripping, ink-black skewer of grilled pork at Satay Fong, you might be inclined
to disagree. Like any Indonesian fast-food joint worth its kecap, Satay Fong’s
menu revolves around variations on the basic nasi rames combination platter, foam
plates containing dabs of three or four dishes, a mound of simmered rice, and
a plastic cup or two of one chile sambal or another – maybe the mysterious but
powerfully delicious roasted green-chile sauce hot enough to make the reputation
of any Mexican restaurant in Los Angeles. Hong Kong Plaza Food Court, 989 S.
Glendora Ave., No. 18, West Covina, (626) 337-1111. Open Tues.–Sun. noon–8 p.m.
Cash only. No alcohol. Takeout.
JG $
Yazmin. In the San Gabriel Valley, ethnic institutions are layered as intricately
as microchips — an apt setting for what is probably the most polymorphous of all
the world’s cuisines, a shotgun wedding of Chinese, Indian, Indonesian, Thai and
indigenous Malay cooking. The satay at Yazmin is especially good, strips of grilled
beef or chicken crusted with ground cumin and coriander seed, burnt and crunchy
at the edges, floating in that hazy area of perfection between sweetness and charred
bitterness — and set off just right by an extremely fine sauce of chile and ground
peanuts, and a big heap of acar, a spicy Malaysian pickle stained bright yellow
with turmeric and showered with ground peanuts. 19 E. Main St., Alhambra, (626)
308-2036. Closed Tue. Open for lunch Mon., Wed.–Fri. 11 a.m.–3 p.m. Dinner Mon.–Thurs.
5 p.m.–9:30 p.m., Fri. 5 p.m.–10 p.m., Sat. 11 a.m.–10 p.m., Sun. 11 a.m.–9:30
p.m. Dinner for two, food only, $13–$20.Beer only. Takeout. Lot parking. Disc.,
MC, V.
JG $

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