Angeli Caffe. Twenty years ago, Evan Kleiman’s caffe crystallized the affinity
of Angelenos for casual Italian cooking — the spaghetti alla checca, roast
chicken and minimally garnished pizza that a Sienese teenager might eat for dinner
at the trattoria 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 Atlantic. Its popularity may have inspired hundreds of restaurants featuring
salads dressed with balsamic vinegar, but Angeli’s rustic simplicity is still
the benchmark. 7274 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles, (323) 936-9086, www.angelicaffe.com.
Lunch Tues.–Fri. 11:30 a.m.–2:30 p.m. Dinner Tues.–Sun. 5 p.m.–closing. Beer and
wine. Valet parking. Entrées $8.50–$24. AE, D, MC, V. Rustic Regional Italian.
Angelini Osteria. Angelini Osteria is a loud, reasonably priced Italian
restaurant with reasonable versions of Roman trattoria classics like saltimbocca,
spaghetti and pollo alla diavola, a place to go for a decent scottadito,
a glass of Chianti, or a crisp, sparely dressed pizza. The newer, more formal
La Terza seems closer to chef Gino Angelini’s sensibilities, but sometimes you
crave the challenging textural complexities of smoked sea bass smeared with bottarga,
and sometimes you just want a quick plate of spaghetti carbonara. If the nightly
specials include Angelini’s braised oxtails, do not hesitate. 7313 Beverly
Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 297-0070. Beer and wine. Valet parking. Lunch Tues.–Sat.
noon–2:30 p.m., dinner Tues.–Sun. 5:30–11:30 p.m. AE, MC, V. Entrées $12–$30.
Italian. JG $$
La Buca. La Buca is a tiny Italian café on Melrose, just east of the studios,
crowded with poster-size movie stills from Italian comedies and dramas. Though
the cook hasn’t exactly thought outside the box, La Buca does make its own bread,
pizza dough, gnocchi and ravioli — and all of these are worth eating. The pizzas
are thin but not too thin in the Neapolitan style, and traditionally topped like
the Margherita (tomato sauce and mozzarella) and the Napoli (tomato sauce, mozzarella,
anchovy and capers). House-made gnocchi has a fine, soft-to-melting texture and
good potato flavor. An impromptu complimentary bruschetta made with sautéed peppers
and garlic is the best appetizer we ate there. 5210 1/2 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles,
(323) 462-1900. Open Mon.–Fri. 11:30 a.m.–10:30 p.m. and Sat. 4:30–10:30 p.m.
Closed Sun. No alcohol. Street parking. AE, MC, V. Entrées $7.95–$18. Italian.
Caioti Pizza Café. When the secret history of California pizza is finally
written, a greasy volume inscribed in arugula, goat cheese and white truffle oil,
former Spago pizza chef Ed LaDou’s name will be known across the land. If a pizza
in Denmark or Ohio has smoked Gouda and pine nuts on it, it is in no small part
due to LaDou. And Caioti Pizza Café is a shrine to LaDou’s creations. The barbecue
chicken pizza, with slivered red onion, smoked Gouda and barbecue sauce instead
of tomato, is definitive nostalgia, a taste of multiculti post-Olympics Los Angeles
. . . with a hunk of gooey chocolate cake for dessert. 4346 Tujunga Ave., Studio
City, (818) 761-3588. Mon.–Thurs. 11 a.m.–10 p.m., Fri.–Sun. till 11 p.m.; brunch
Sat. 9–11 a.m., Sun. 9–2:30 p.m. No alcohol. Street parking. MC, V. $10–$15. Contemporary
California. JG $
Casa Bianca. Of all the neighborhood pizza parlors in Los Angeles touted
as the best this side of Brooklyn, one of them actually has to be the best. And
my vote goes to Casa Bianca, especially if the pizza happens to include the fried
eggplant, the sweetly spiced homemade sausage — or both. The lines are extremely
long, but the crust is chewy, and speckled with enough carbony, bubbly, burnt
bits to make each bite slightly different from the last. Remarkable. 1650 Colorado
Blvd., Eagle Rock, (323) 256-9617. Dinner Tues.–Thurs. 4 p.m.–mid., Fri.–Sat.
4 p.m.–1 a.m. Beer and wine. Street parking. Cash only. Entrées $8–$12. Italian.
Cheebo. Why aren’t more restaurants like Cheebo — a smart, fun, clattery
café where the food is mostly organic, very fresh, modestly priced and prepared
with an in-arguable flair for flavor? Try the halibut on smoky white beans, the
slow-cooked pork, the chewy, thin-crusted pizza topped with house-made sausage
and fennel. Sandwiches are assembled with — or, for you carb-a-phobics, without
— house-made bread. 7533 W. Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 850-7070. Lunch
and dinner, seven days, 8 a.m.–midnight. Beer and wine. Takeout. Valet parking.
AE, MC, V. Entreés $12–$18. Organic Italian. MH $$
Pacé. It’s pronounced “pah-chay” and means peace; certainly this quiet
Laurel Canyon nestler is peaceful and cozy. Both the small, leafy patio and cavelike
dining room are ideal for an intimate dinner with friends. The pizzas are superb
and the Bolognese sauce is big-souled. 2100 Laurel Canyon Blvd., Los Angeles,
(323) 654-8583. Dinner 6–11 p.m. seven nights, brunch Sat.–Sun. 10 a.m.–3:30 p.m.
Beer and wine. Valet parking. AE, CB, DC, MC, V. Entrées $12–$28. California Italian.
Spago. Wolfgang Puck long ago redefined Americans’ idea of what a great
restaurant might be. His cooking always had a deceptive air of simplicity about
it, like the culinary equivalent of a caprice Yo-Yo Ma might toss off onthe
Today show. In the last several years, bolstered by imaginative executive
chef Lee Hefter and pastry chef Sherry Yard, he’s redefining our idea of what
Spago might be — and the roasted-beet cake with goat cheese, the turbot
with Chino Ranch vegetables, and the roast duck perfumed with star anise are good
enough to make you forget the duck-sausage pizza and the chopped vegetable salad
that originally made Spago famous. Is a tasting menu within your budget? Don’t
think twice. 176 N. Canon 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. 5:30–10:30
p.m, Fri.–Sat. 5:30–11 p.m., Sun. 5:30–10:30 p.m. Full bar. Valet parking. AE,
D, MC, V. Entrées $25–$49. California with Asia and Europe. JG $$$
Zabumba. Zabumba is less a center of xinxin and jungle-fish
stews than a place to gulp a shrimp pizza and a glass of passion-fruit juice between
band sets. In fact, it’s the center of expatriate Brazilian life in Los Angeles.
In the evenings, Zabumba seems more bar than restaurant, with a long list of exotic
cocktails and a blender that seems to go nonstop. 10717 Venice Blvd., Culver
City, (310) 841-6525. Dinner Tues.–Sun. 5 p.m.–2 a.m. Full bar. Takeout. Street
parking. AE, MC, V. Dinner for two, food only, $14–$25. Brazilian. JG $
Zelo Gourmet Pizzeria. Arcadia is kind of a conservative place, but Zelo
distinctly is not. The music, played loud, ranges from surf tunes to vintage punk
rock, Blue Oyster Cult to Built To Spill, and might as well have been plucked
from the iPod of the coolest guy you know. But it’s all about the pizza here,
and Zelo’s pizza is a different sort of pie, 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 kind of 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 Los Angeles pizza restaurant. 328 E. Foothill Blvd., Arcadia,
(626) 358-8298. Open Tues.–Sat. 11:30 a.m.–9 p.m. Pizzas, $16, feed two or three.
Beer and wine. Abundant street parking. MC, V ($10 minimum). JG¢
Zucca. The menu is “Italian country,” with an obvious motif: roasted pumpkin
pizza, cream of pumpkin soup, pumpkin-filled tortelloni, pumpkin gelato. The food
tends to richness and portions to hugeness. Try the fritto misto with surprise
chunks of preserved lemon gnochetti, and the rotisserie pork. 801 S. Figueroa
St., downtown, (213) 614-7800. Lunch Mon.–Fri. 11 a.m.–2:30 p.m. Dinner Mon.–Thurs.
5–9 p.m., Fri.-Sat. 5–10 p.m. Sun. 5–9 p.m. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, D, MC,
V. $13.50–$26. Italian. MH $$