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iAy-Chung Flour-Rice Noodle. The most
popular of the new Taiwanese noodle shops is probably Ay-Chung Flour-Rice Noodle
in San Gabriel Square. The cold appetizers are nice: slivers of pressed tofu
or sliced pig’s ears drizzled with thick soy sauce. I like the rice plates,
which include a fried chop or luscious stewed belly pork with two different
kinds of Chinese pickles, half a tea-steeped egg and a bowl of soup. But Ay-Chung
is all about the mien hsien, skeins of superfine vermicelli made of wheat, rice
or bean flour, tossed into a glutinous broth flavored with soy sauce, bonito
flakes, vinegar, chile and plenty of garlic, a big bowl of pungent goo that
hits your palate like a slap. 140 W. San Gabriel Blvd., No. 208, San Gabriel,
(626) 280-7099. Open daily 11 a.m.–10 p.m. No alcohol. Takeout. Lot parking.
Cash only. Food for two: $4–$12. Chinese.
JG ¢ *

iChichén Itzá. Chichén Itzá is probably
the most serious Yucatecan restaurant in town at the moment, its menu a living
thesaurus of the panuchos and codzitos, poc chuc and papadzules, banana-leaf
tamales and shark casseroles that make up one of Mexico’s most thrilling cuisines.
From the delicious turkey tostadas called salbutes to the cinnamon-scented bread
pudding called caballeros pobres, Chichén Itzá, named for the vast temple complex
near Mérida, is indisputably the real thing. In Mercado La Paloma, 3655 S.
Grand Ave., (213) 741-1075. Breakfast, lunch and dinner Sun.–Wed. 8 a.m.–6:30
p.m., Thurs.–Sat. 8 a.m.–9 p.m. No alcohol. Takeout. Lot parking. MC, V. Food
for two: $12–$22. Yucatecan.
JG $ *

iThe Counter. The “Build Your Own
Burger” idea behind the Counter, a fashionable new dive in Ocean Park, makes
it a universe of possibilities centering around the hamburger and its matrix
of 40-odd fixings, a restaurant where a thick, rare, organic-beef hamburger
with herbed goat cheese, dried cranberries and roasted chiles seems not just
the fancy of a celebrity used to flexing his whim of iron but almost an imperative.
Ranch dressing on the side? Done! There is a wine-bar aspect to the place (very
decent, if obscure, vintages from California), a selection of microbrews, and
waitresses who do not, to put it mildly, look as if they are part of the regular
hamburger-eating demographic. 2901 Ocean Park Blvd., Santa Monica, (310)
399-8383. Open Mon.–Thurs. 11 a.m.–10 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 11 a.m.–11 p.m., Sun.
noon–9 p.m. Beer and wine. Takeout. Lot parking. MC, V. Food for two: $13–$22.
American.
JG $ *

iThe Griddle Cafe. On a Sunday morning,
the Griddle is really loud: clattering pans, a hundred shouted conversations,
amplified rock & roll bouncing off the high ceilings. Coffee comes to the
table in squat plunger pots, and the jumble of bottled condiments on each table
could stock a supermarket shelf. And the woman next to you at the counter is
eating a stack of berry pancakes so large that it looks like a movie prop, like
three large pizzas piled on top of one another and smothered in powdered sugar.
The enormous pancakes are available blanketed in cinnamon streusel, or spiked
with Kahlua and Bailey’s, or smothered under an improbable mass of whipped cream
and crumbled Oreos, and they are not the best pancakes in Los Angeles, but they
are good enough. 7916 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood, (323) 874-0377. Breakfast
and lunch, Mon.–Fri. 7 a.m.–3 p.m., Sat.–Sun. 8 a.m.–3 p.m. Beer. Takeout. Lot
parking. AE, D, MC, V. Food for two: $12–$18. American.
JG $ *

iHeidar Baba. Heidar Baba may be the
first halal Iranian restaurant in the Los Angeles area, a redoubt of extreme
cleanliness, meat slaughtered according to Islamic law, and cooks who wear the
hijab even in the heat of lunch rush; of strong tea served in glasses; of direct
flavors and unmodulated herbal tartness. One end of the restaurant is taken
up by a kind of café selling espresso, boba tea and exotic, rosewater-intensive
house-made ice cream. The menu is pretty basic — kebabs mostly, various combination
plates of grilled beef and grilled lamb, grilled chicken and grilled lengths
of koobideh, lightly seasoned ground beef or chicken, all flanked with charred
tomatoes and grilled hot peppers, lined up like soldiers around lofty drifts
of saffron-gilded rice that go on forever. 1511 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena,
(626) 844-7970. Lunch and dinner Mon. 11 a.m.–8 p.m., Tues.–Sun. 11 a.m.–9 p.m.
No alcohol. Takeout. Lot parking. AE, D, MC, V. Food for two: $14–$28. Halal
Iranian.
JG $ *

iLittle Sheep. If cumin were as toxic
as VX gas, the atmosphere at Little Sheep could be used as a weapon of mass
destruction. Little Sheep, a newish restaurant in yet another Monterey Park
strip mall, is a specialist in the Mongolian hot pot, which is to say the severely
aromatic hot pot of China’s extreme north, stocked with more medicinal plants
than an herbalist’s shop and fairly intensive in lamb, a meat many Chinese people
tend to dislike. There are juicy steamed lamb dumplings, lamb fried rice, a
sort of crunchy pan-fried lamb bun and lamb chow mein. And the walls are papered
with gauzy, room-size photomurals of grazing sheep and giant Mongolian shepherdesses.
120 S. Atlantic Blvd., Monterey Park, (626) 282-1089. Mon.–Fri. 11:30 a.m.–3
p.m. and 5 p.m.–midnight, Sat.–Sun. 11:30 a.m.–midnight. Beer and wine. Takeout.
Lot parking. AE, D, MC, V. Food for two: $14–$24. Mongolian.
JG $ *
H

iSanta Fe Station. For four and a
half years, the faithful have been going to Santa Fe Station, just north of
the Long Beach Airport and which supposedly goes through Hatch chiles the way
McDonald’s goes through McNuggets. You will find fajita platters on the menu,
and fried zucchini, and Cajun shrimp. Stacked enchiladas, tortillas piled on
one another like LPs on an old phonograph spindle, are awash in chile and molten
cheese, and garnished with a couple of fried eggs in case the bulk of the dish
isn’t quite enough. But the green chili, a fairly magnificent bowl of earthy,
pungent, roasted Hatch peppers, coarsely puréed, stewed down with pork and thinned
with a little broth, and served with a couple of sopapillas, is the real stuff.
The musky, gravylike red is fine in its way, but Santa Fe Station is all about
the green. 4101 Lakewood Blvd., Lakewood, (562) 429-8700. Lunch and dinner,
Mon.–Fri. 9 a.m.–10 p.m., Sat.–Sun. 7 a.m.–10 p.m. Beer and wine. Takeout. Lot
parking. AE, MC, V. Food for two: $14–$30. New Mexican.
JG $
*

iSimpang Asia. With a huge selection
of Japanese candy and boxes piled neatly to the ceiling, this small Indonesian
grocery, with a Web site, is what I’d imagine a 7-Eleven in Sulawesi might look
like: immaculate shelves of chile peanuts, dried squid and juice boxes of starfruit
drink, kilo bags of fried shallots, and more flavors of instant noodles than
you may have known existed. Neighborhood kids drop in, carefully counting dimes
for their rations of Pocky sticks or Japanese bubblegum. UCLA students haul
off caseloads of ramen. Simpang Asia is almost exotic in its nonexoticism. 10433
National Blvd., Los Angeles, (310) 815-9075,
www.veryasia.com. Lunch
and dinner, Mon.–Fri. 10 a.m.–10 p.m., Sat.–Sun. 11 a.m.–10 p.m. No alcohol.
Takeout. Lot parking. D, MC, V. Food for two: $10–$13. Indonesian.
JG
¢ *

iSushi Tenn. The basic sushi platters
at Sushi Tenn are pretty good, and a decent value. The first pass at an omakase
menu is also good (though quite expensive), a run through the selection of fish,
including their extraordinarily mellow yellowtail, aged like a fine steak, the
very decent chu-toro, tuna belly, and the crunchy, briny wedge of pale-yellow
herring roe. But the crab sushi is probably the best I’ve ever had — a single,
uninterrupted slab of meat laid across a faintly sweetened lozenge of warm sushi
rice, no soy sauce, no yuzu, no wasabi, garnished only with a single lentil-sized
glob of pea-green crab innards, possibly a sweet bit of liver, possibly the
esteemed kanimiso, or crab brain. 2004 Sawtelle Blvd., Los Angeles, (310)
473-2388. Lunch Mon.–Fri. noon–2:30 p.m., dinner Mon.–Sat. 6–10 p.m. Beer, wine
and sake. No takeout. Lot parking. AE, MC, V. Lunch for two: $20–$60; dinner
for two: $50–$150 and up. Japanese.
JG $$ *

iLa 27th. The fritanga plate, in all
its magnificence, is a crunchy tower of protein and shaved green bananas reaching
almost halfway to heaven. You will find the well-marinated Nicaraguan-style
carne asada on the plate, slivers of pork, and perhaps a few spareribs, rubbed
with chile and deep-fried to a spurting crispness. At La 27th, a family-owned
Nicaraguan restaurant, there are also chorizos, a skein of plump, peppery sausages
that half encircle the plate like a retaining wall, the requisite pickled cabbage,
and fried bricks of salty cheese that squeak like Wisconsin Cheddar curds when
you bite into them. But La 27th’s fritanga is a formidable plate of food. 1830
W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles, (213) 387-2467. Breakfast, lunch and dinner Mon.–Fri.
9 a.m.–10 p.m., Sat.–Sun. 8 a.m.–10 p.m. Beer and wine. Takeout. Lot parking.
AE, MC, V. Food for two: $12–$22. Nicaraguan.
JG $ *