Mongolian BBQ at Mongol King
For many people, Mongol King is not just a restaurant, it's a ritual. It rewards the self-gratifying element inherent to Mongolian barbecue — selecting your own ingredients before handing them off to machete-wielding men with woks — unlike any other. Mongol soup, essentially chicken broth with a few wontons and scallions thrown in for good measure, is far more flavorful than it has any right to be. The frozen yogurt used to be labeled “ice cream” and is especially good when paired with a complimentary fortune cookie. On the weekend, it's all-you-can-eat or nothing — no single servings allowed. All of this is as endearing as it is delicious, and unchanging as well: Mongol King has remained essentially the same for more than a decade. It crafts a distinct and exceptionally delicious experience out of familiar ingredients, both edible and experiential, and the South Bay might actually be a culinary destination if more people were aware of it. And since practice makes perfect, Mongol King only gets better with each visit. —Michael Nordine
24012 Vista Montana, Torrance; (310) 375-1513.
Whole Roasted Animal at Logmeh
If you're looking to stoke your primordial senses, Logmeh (morsel in Farsi), a pop-up by duo Alex Jermasek, head butcher of Curtis Stone's Gwen, and Belcampo's Debbie Michail, is the perfect dining experience. Each dinner is dedicated to one animal, from succulent game birds to an entire goat, cooked in a myriad of ways on a crackling open fire, seasoned with Middle Eastern spice and cooking techniques. The meal is paired with wine and cocktails and served family-style on long communal tables (most recently at Hollywood's gorgeous event space the Lombardi House). Guests bring wine to share with their tablemates and enjoy a culinary experience inspired by Michail's time spent with Bedouins in the Negev desert and her Iranian heritage. Dinner may include dishes such as naan sangaak, a large seeded flatbread cooked over pebbles, to scoop up kask o' bademjan, eggplant cooked over almond wood and finished with whey, burnt garlic and bright mint; or a pleasantly smoky grilled quail feysenjoon to be eaten with your hands. Dinners take place every few months. Guests can keep up with the upcoming dates and purchase tickets (which tend to go quickly) for this one-of-a-kind experience on Facebook or Instagram. —Hillary Eaton
Best Brisket at Maple Block Meat Co.
My main beef with most barbecue joints outside of the South is their failure to recognize the benefits of regionality and instead try to do too much, to be all barbecue to all people. Maple Block Meat Co. is just such a place — but it works. Chef Adam Cole moved around the South as a kid, living in Texas, Georgia and North Carolina, and he developed a taste for quite a few different barbecue styles. His restaurant, unsurprisingly, pays homage to all kinds of traditions. He spent some time training with a competition barbecuer, and at Maple Block he's smoking whole animals in J&R wood smokers that are built in Texas. Cole is not adhering to any particular style or region; what he does do very well is smoke meat — brisket in particular. The tender slices of beef are intensely smoky, the ratio of fat to lean meat is just right, and the peppery crust on the outside delivers just enough prickly flavor. I wasn't the first to notice the superiority of Maple Block's brisket; Daniel Vaughn, barbecue editor for Texas Monthly and perhaps the most respected barbecue writer in the game, penned an essay in Los Angeles Magazine late last year declaring his admiration for Cole's efforts. After quipping that “California has sunshine and great wine — they're not supposed to have great brisket, too,” Vaughn declared Maple Block's brisket the best in California. I must concur — and would suggest that its superiority extends even beyond the Golden State. This brisket is as good as any I've had outside of Texas and far better than 90 percent of what the other 49 states have to offer. —Besha Rodell
3973 Sepulveda Blvd., Culver City; (310) 313-6328, mapleblockmeat.com/
Best Burger Worth Driving 30 Miles for at Bergie's
Perched cliff-top at Santa Clarita's eastern extreme, between Interstate 14 and the Santa Clara River, Bergie's serves namesake burgers (actually named after a previous owner) worth setting the sat nav for. If its strip-mall exterior, padded vinyl bar and sports channel–tuned TVs suggest a stereotypical suburban dive, the menu is defiantly, if subtly, different. Twenty-three patty-based creations are presented with almost disarming friendliness here, including the bracing jalapeño burger topper, chili-smothered Texas red burger and a bacon-laced Cowboy burger. Apparently incapable of doing anything bland with a half-pound puck of ground beef, Bergie's kitchen neglects neither flavor nor texture in crafting its toasted-bun beauties. Reinvigorated last year by new owner (and former LAPD officer) Renee McAlonis, Bergie's caters mostly to regulars from suburban Canyon Country and the adjacent equestrian community of Sand Canyon. Expect at least one dually truck outside and many a workboot within. The bar can get loud, especially on karaoke and live music nights, and, despite its dedicated dining room and mountain-view patio, Bergie's isn't classically romantic. Yet sinking into one of its lived-in booths with a loved one for hearty, heavenly hamburgers remains an incongruously intimate indulgence. —Paul Rogers
16404 Delone St., Canyon Country; (661) 251-3133, bergiesbar.com.