In the '70s and '80s, countless Kelbo's and Don the Beachcombers closed, the Torches was razed for condos, and the Luau on Rodeo Drive, where three generations of Beverly Hills High School students purchased their first illicit drink, was replaced by the world's most expensive mini-mall. Take heart, though. The tradition survives at Bahooka, the kind of place you'd expect to find near a scruffy tropical seaport – all rusted nautical gear, stolen street signs and scarred dark wood. There are fish in the foyer, fish tanks surrounding three sides of each booth, fish swimming inside the glass-topped bar and, on the menu, fish puffs, which go better with a Monsoon or a Jet Pilot or a Flaming Honey Bowl than you can possibly imagine. When the steel-guitar lowings on the PA start to sound good, it's time for a Shark's Tooth or a Cobra's Strike. Halfway into one of those, a sticky order of Exotic Ribs seems just the thing. You can also get teriyaki chicken breast, ham with sweet-and-sour sauce, roast beef, or fried golf balls of shrimp. 4501 N. Rosemead Blvd., Rosemead; (626) 285-1241. Open daily for lunch and dinner. Dinner for two, food only, $20-$25. Full bar. MC, V.
The most famous Oki creation was/is the eponymous Oki Dog, a couple of hot dogs wrapped in a tortilla with chili, pickles, mustard, a slice of fried pastrami and a torrent of goopy American cheese – a cross-cultural burrito that's pretty hard to stomach unless you've got the tum of a 16-year-old, but strangely delicious nonetheless. The teriyaki steak sandwich must contain half a pound of sweet, grilled beef, thinly sliced and plopped into a torta a roll with lettuce and mayo. And the best of the Oki creations, a Chinese-American-Jewish-Mexican thing made by Japanese cooks for a mostly African-American clientele, is the pastrami burrito, a foil-wrapped grease bomb the size and weight of a large brick, bursting with fried pastrami, sauteed cabbage, onions and peppers, mustard and pickles, and a healthy dose of Oki chili. It's enough food to feed a medium-size family for a week. 5056 W. Pico Blvd.; (323) 938-4369. Open daily 9 a.m.-10 p.m. Dinner for two, food only, $3.50-$7. Lot parking. Cash only.
Probably the best of the local Hong Kong coffee shops, a Chinese Ships (R.I.P.) in a sea of Chinese Sizzlers, St. Honore is a fun scene, at least if your idea of fun is big meat in brown gravy: pork chops with mushrooms, Portuguese chicken (Macao style), ox tongue with onions, grilled chicken with bacon, a rather gamy-tasting filet mignon in black-pepper sauce – all served with French fries, vegetables and a big plate of white rice or indelibly garlicked spaghetti. The best stuff here, however, tends to be that which is most Chinese: chow fun noodles with bitter Chinese greens; complex, curry-tinged Singapore-style vermicelli fried with bits of meat and seafood; Hainan chicken with garlicky rice and a pungent ginger dip. And, oh yes, the desserts. Fountain drinks in little glass snowmen – especially the subtle, delicious red-bean ice – are first-rate, a night of serious drinking all by themselves. 141 N. Atlantic Blvd. (in Mar Center), Monterey Park; (626) 281-3281. Open 24 hours, seven days. Dinner for two, food only, $8-$25. No alcohol. Lot parking. MC, V. Also at 8118 E. Garvey Ave., Rosemead; (626) 288-2898. Open seven days for breakfast (dim sum), lunch and dinner. Dinner for two, food only, $18-$32. Beer and wine. Takeout. Lot parking. MC, V.
There is sushi. And then there is Spam musubi, a Hawaiian brick of vinegared sushi rice, the size of a chalkboard eraser but with 20 times the heft, burrito-wrapped in a sheet of dark-green nori seaweed and stuffed with a pink, glistening slab of the famous luncheon meat. It's substantial, Spam musubi, porky more in its aftertaste than in its first full frontal assault, with a density just this side of lead. You'll find Spam musubi at Shakas, and the fried Japanese dumplings called gyoza, and a mild chicken curry with potatoes. The Chinese chicken salad, not too sugary, is terrific, spiked with crunchy, toasty bits of bird and shreds of fried wonton skin. The plate lunches – the gravy-soaked hamburger steak called loco moco, the fried chicken cutlet, the Spam and eggs – are absolutely classic, with mounds of rice standing as proudly as the nuclear domes up the coast from Trestles. 2300 S. Garfield Ave., Monterey Park; (323) 888-2695. Open seven days 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Lunch or dinner for two, food only, $7-$13. No alcohol. Takeout. Catering. Lot parking. Cash only.
The Spoon House is a tidy Japanese-Italian spaghetti joint with the California bear painted on the window and a line spilling out the door. And once you get
past expecting anything here to taste like Italian food, some of the Spoon House specialties are actually delicious. Spaghetti is tossed with butter and cod roe until the mixture coats every strand, then tossed with sea-urchin roe, seaweed and cool slices of squid. (The subtle oceanic flavor, cut with the sharp bite of shredded shiso, is remarkable.) You can get the noodles sauced with basil and shiso, or with shiso and tart bits of pickled plums, or with squid and wasabi horseradish. Spaghetti with Japanese clam sauce comes with shiso, meaty sauteed shiitake, plenty of garlic and a big heap of clams – the kind of thing you'd be happy to eat at three times the price at Chaya Brasserie. 1601 W. Redondo Beach Blvd., Gardena; (310) 538-0376. Open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Dinner for two, food only, $9-$15. Beer and wine. Parking in rear. MC, V.
Sushi Bar Golf
The menu at Sushi Bar Golf, printed in English and Hangul but not Japanese, is rich in teriyaki plates and mackerel dinners and such, but seems to emphasize the sashimi assortments known as Par, Birdie and Eagle, sort of glacial moraines sculpted out of shredded daikon, then salted with fish-marketfuls of fresh sliced flesh. The Birdie plate, though listed as an appetizer, is dinner enough for two. The sushi here is fine, hand rolls stuffed with strips of grilled salmon skin, rather overvinegared mackerel sushi, beefy tuna, piers of grilled sea eel. But nothing goes better with a brimming glass of soju than Golf's hwe dup bap, a superb version of Korea's great contribution to sushi, bits of impeccably fresh sashimi topped with vinegared slivers of cucumber, strips of toasted seaweed, black sesame seeds and a raw quail egg, which you toss at table with sweet bean sauce and a bowl of hot rice. Fore! 239 S. Vermont Ave.; (213) 387-1233. Open for lunch and dinner Mon.-Sat. Dinner for two, food only, $20-$50. Full bar. Valet parking in rear. AE, MC,V.
Sushi on Tap
Although the selection of fish is about half of what it might be at places like Nozawa and Iroha just down the street, and the chefs may be more skilled at soft-shoe than sushi – you are more likely to engage the guys behind the bar in conversations about Savion Glover than about the provenance of the freshwater eel – the seafood at Sushi on Tap is actually quite fresh, and the preparations unobjectionable. If, like the vast majority of the customers, you come with a group, sit at a table instead of the bar and order soba noodles, tempura and sushi assortments, you will probably leave happy – especially when the chefs leave the bar, careen about the stage area to the rhythms of a sweetened recording of Cole Porter's “Let's Do It,” and collapse back behind the bar, giggling as you probably did after your eighth-grade talent show. 11056 Ventura Blvd., Studio City; (818) 985-2254. Open for lunch Tues.-Fri. noon-2:30 p.m. and for dinner nightly 5:30-10:30 p.m., Fri.-Sat. till 11 p.m. Dinner for two, food only, $16-$30. Beer and wine. Lot parking. AE, MC, V.