China Islamic Restaurant
Almost as soon as you walk into the restaurant, you’ll be asked if you want sesame bread (you do), a thick disk of flatbread made to order, the size of a Chicago-style pizza, crust baked to a shattering crispness that encloses a dozen layers of steamy, scallion-flecked bread. Like other Muslim restaurants, China Islamic has a minor specialty in lamb, sliced thin and quickly fried with green onions, garlic and crunchy bits of fresh ginger; fried with the thick, resilient homemade noodles called ”dough slice chow mein“; served in a cloying ”sa cha“ sauce. Lamb stew warm pot is an enormous thing, served seething in a clay vessel the diameter of a basketball hoop, with thick, murky broth, cellophane noodles, cabbage, and the most extraordinary lamb red-cooked on the bone, chopstick-tender and pungent with soy and star anise. 7727 E. Garvey Ave., Rosemead; (626) 288-4246. Open Thurs.–Tues. for lunch and dinner. Dinner for two, food only, $14–$22. No alcohol. Takeout. Lot parking. MC, V.
The most famous creation here is the eponymous Dog, a couple of frankfurters 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 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 building brick, bursting with fried pastrami, sauteed cabbage, onions and peppers, mustard and pickles, and a healthy dose of Oki chili, enough food to feed a medium-size family for a week. 5056 W. Pico Blvd.; (323) 938-4369. Open seven days 9 a.m.–10 p.m. Dinner for two, food only, $3.50–$7. Lot parking. Cash only.
Visualize an enormous oval restaurant plate, then imagine that plate blanketed with a golden, oval pancake half an inch thick. Sliding across the surface of the pancake, a robin‘s egg of melting butter leaves a salty trail. Next to the plate is a little bowl of fresh tomato salsa, juicy in the Central California manner rather than spicy, and another of chopped jalapeño peppers. The pancake, an occasional Pines special called a tortilla cake — the batter is enriched with masa, cornmeal and ground hominy — tastes the way you’ve always wanted a tortilla to taste, warm and soft and sweet as corn, fragrant, slightly burned around the edges. Or picture the same plate striped like the flag of some obscure African republic: yellow of a three-egg omelet, white of biscuits ‘n’ gravy, sandy brown of a half-pound or so of well-done fried potatoes, a weighty analogue to the nouvelle presentation of a Michael‘s or a Le Dome, but no less carefully done. 4343 Pearblossom Hwy., Palmdale; (661) 285-0455. Open daily 7 a.m.–2 p.m. Breakfast for two, food only, $8–$15. No alcohol. Cash only.
Sky‘s are not the tacos your mother used to make. Or rather, they probably are the tacos your mother used to make (unless you happened to grow up in a Mexican household): two thick corn tortillas molded into the bottom of a red plastic carhop basket, mounded with turkey or chicken, shrimp or beef, gilded with orange cheese, buried under shredded lettuce and doused with the sweet-hot house salsa. (If you want what you might ordinarily call a taco, ask for the smaller ”tacolitas“ instead.) The open-face ”burritos“ are more or less the tacos written in triplicate, huge masses of meat, lettuce and cheese layered onto bulletproof flour tortillas, luxuriating in pools of tasty orange grease and slicked with big clots of cool sour cream . . . a fork-and-knife burrito if you’ve ever seen one. 5408 W. Pico Blvd.; (323) 932-6253. Open Mon.–Sat. for lunch and dinner. Lunch or dinner for two, food only, $8–$12. No alcohol. Catering and ”corporate lunches.“ Street parking. Disc., MC, V.
Standard Sweets & Snacks
The crisp samosas here are stuffed with the inevitable potato. Channa, or curried whole chickpeas, comes with a deep-fried puff of yogurt bread fresh from the fryer and almost the size of a basketball — before it deflates into something that tastes like Navajo fry bread. You‘ll find most of the usual South Indian snacks — the steamed rice cakes called idli, the lentil pancake uttupam — and a sensational version of the Ping-Pong-ball-size breads pani poori. But everybody around you will be eating the masala dosa, a burnished crepe rolled around gently curried potatoes into something the size of a Louisville Slugger, served with a small bowl of vegetable curry. 18600 S. Pioneer Blvd., Artesia; (562) 860-6364. Open Tues.–Sun. for lunch and dinner. Lunch or dinner for two, food only, $7–$9. No alcohol. Takeout. Street parking. Disc., MC, V (over $10).
At El Tepeyac, few people ever manage to finish the enormous burritos, some of which approach the size of lap dogs, 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 and then . . . more meat! 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 chorizo-and-egg burrito; and the salty machaca burrito made with onions, eggs and sauteed 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, $15–$20. No alcohol. Takeout. Lot parking. Cash only.