Burrito King

If your idea of an “authentic” burrito involves liquidy beans or brains or tongue or pig's stomach, allow me to recommend the currently more popular car-wash stand kitty-corner to Burrito King. Otherwise, the burritos at Burrito King — for 30 years as much the occasion for hip midnight pilgrimages as Tommy's or Pink's — are substantial, but less than grotesque. The renowned chile relleno burrito is plumped with orange cheese and surrounded with beans, and sometimes even includes the lip-numbing, soul-gladdening seed pod of the chile, while the green-chile burrito is bright with the fresh, almost citrusy taste of green chiles against the rounder sweetness of the beef and the grainy, almost fermented quality of the beans. Plus, this burrito is so well-engineered, you can almost eat the entire thing in the car before the chile drools onto your lap. 2109 E. Sunset Blvd.; (213) 413-9444. Open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Lunch or dinner for two, food only, $6­$9. No alcohol. Limited lot parking. Cash only.


Charming Garden

Charming Garden — whose smoked pomfret, bronzed and gleaming, at this splendid Monterey Park Hunanese restaurant may be the most beautiful plate of food in the San Gabriel Valley — has a small sideline in northern Chinese dumplings: minced-vegetable bao, and flaky taro rolls, and tender little won ton in a Szechuan-peppercorn-enhanced “hot herb sauce.” Almost everyone gets something called “crispy rolls of bean sheets,” a vegetarian equivalent of Beijing duck — pure texture — with little wafers of fried tofu skin, as thin and as crisp as filo, tucked into pancakes with hoisin sauce and scallions. The rolls are even better with the addition of sliced Hunan ham (or, in this case, pungent, musky Virginia ham mellowed with honey), which oddly enough brings out the vanilla sweetness of the fried tofu. There's also minced shrimp sautéed with garlic, tossed with crunchy bits of fried bread and wrapped like tacos in iceberg leaves: The contrast between the cold lettuce and the hot shrimp, the sweet garlic and the crisp mineral tang, is superb. 111 N. Atlantic Blvd., Monterey Park; (626) 458-4508. Open daily for lunch 11:30 a.m.­2:30 p.m., and for dinner 5:30­9:30 p.m. Lunch for two, food only, $8­$13; dinner for two, food only, $15­$30 (higher with seafood). Beer and wine. Takeout. Underground parking. AE, MC, V.


Pho 79

Almost everything at Pho 79 that isn't beef soup has something to do, somehow, with the combination of cool rice noodles and garlicky, wonderful barbecued pork. If you don't like noodles, you'll have to make do with pork chops. With bun cha, the grilled bits of pork are marinated in nuoc cham, the clear, sweet garlic-fish sauce that is to Vietnamese cooking what soy sauce is to Chinese. These bits come in one dish, garnished with ground peanuts and fried chips of garlic. Plain vermicelli comes in another, crisp romaine lettuce in a third. The idea, a do-it-yourself sort of thing, is to roll it all up into bundles of food, like little noodle-filled burritos wrapped in green, then dip them in nuoc cham. For a change, you can have the terrific fresh egg rolls called goi cuon, which are our old friends pork, shrimp, lettuce and vermicelli all wrapped up in a sheet of edible rice paper, ready to dip in the chile-spiked hoisin sauce called nuoc leo. 727 N. Broadway, Suite 120, Chinatown; (213) 625-7026. Open daily 8:30 a.m.­7 p.m. Lunch or dinner for two, food only, $7­$12. Validated parking. Beer. Cash only.


Sushi Gen

Sushi Gen has everything you could want from a sushi bar: the white-fleshed albacore tuna, lightly seared at the edges to tighten the sweet flesh; ultrafresh halibut drizzled with sea salt and a few drops of ponzu; cool, unctuous slices of pickled mackerel whose taste practically oozes over the sushi's wasabi bite; crunchy, briny sheets of herring roe; crisp, broiled sea eel. The nutty, clean, slightly bitter uni is maybe the best sea urchin I've ever had that wasn't attached to its shell — the stuff is usually too funky for me, but this uni still tastes of the sea. Ankimo, monkfish liver, while lacking a little of the gorgeous luxuriousness of the same preparation at Shibucho, is pure, almost Spartan, under its sprinkling of shredded daikon and tart ponzu sauce. And the sushi of giant longneck clam, sliced so thin that you can count the grains of rice underneath it, is fine. In the end comes the customary omelet tamago, tender layers of egg knit together tightly as silk. Or possibly the inevitable salmon-skin hand roll, seaweed rolled around generous lashings of radish sprouts, seeds, rice, gobo root and the crunchy, oily bits of toasted skin itself, then bound at the bottom with a second piece of seaweed so that the juicy mixture won't drip out onto your lap. 422 E. Second St.; (213) 617-0552. Open Mon.­Fri. 11:30 a.m.­2 p.m., Mon.­Sat. 5:30­10 p.m. Lunch or dinner for two, food only, $32­$44. Beer and wine. Takeout. Validated lot parking. AE, MC, V.


El Tepeyac

At El Tepeyac, few people ever manage to finish the enormous burritos, some of which approach the size of lap dogs (except a lap dog has more vitamins), and it is rare to see a party of four leave the restaurant without at least one parcel of leftovers. The Hollenbeck, named after a local East L.A. police division, seems like an old-style Mexican restaurant's entire No. 2 dinner — rice, beans, stewed meat, guacamole — wrapped into a tortilla the size of a pillowcase and garnished with red sauce made with green chiles, more meat and something like a half-pound of melted taco cheese. Manuel's Special is sort of like a Hollenbeck but three times the size — buy one and feed your family for a week — and an Oscar is a purist's burrito, all pork and green-chile sauce. I am extremely fond of the Okie burrito, which is more or less a Hollenbeck finished off like an enchilada; the intense, spicy, chorizo-and-egg burrito; and the salty machaca burrito made with onions, eggs and sautéed shreds of beef. 812 N. Evergreen Ave., East L.A.; (323) 267-8668. Open Wed.­Mon. for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Dinner for two, food only, $7­$10. No alcohol. Takeout. Lot parking. Cash only.

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