Downtown L.A./Chinatown/Westlake

E3rd Steakhouse Someday, when each of us is forced by redevelopment-agency storm troopers to eat supper in atmospheric Coldplay-soaked downtown fusion restaurants at 1 a.m., we may grow a little nostalgic for the days when late-night dining downtown meant the Pantry or nothing, when the party after a show at Al’s Bar or the Smell inevitably migrated to Suehiro, the TV Café or Canter’s. But at the moment, it is still almost novel to stumble through a maze of massive construction sites into a place like E3rd Steakhouse, which looks exactly like what Midwestern teenagers must imagine Los Angeles restaurants look like before they migrate to one of the local art schools, and whose great specialty is a few grams of grilled albacore held captive inside the core of a sliced and reassembled avocado. An Alba-Cado! Just imagine! E3rd, which looks as if it were assembled by Michael Mann’s art director, is nominally a steak house, a designy, halogen-intensive joint from the guys who run the loungy Korean-cum-Japanese Zip Fusion Sushi restaurants, but their signature beef and pork cuts are marinated to a candylike density, the mashed potatoes are enriched with spicy kimchi, and the jalapeño peppers come stuffed with tuna and glopped with sticky eel sauce — it’s a modern izakaya with training wheels, a user-friendly cocktail lounge with sleek cross-cultural eats. 734 E. Third St., dwntwn., (213) 680-3003. Lunch Mon.-Fri. 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Dinner Sun.-Wed. 5 p.m.-mid., Thurs.-Sat. 5 p.m.-2 a.m. Full bar. Valet parking. All major CC. Asian Steak House. JG INK

Silver Lake/Los Feliz/Echo Park

Agra Balti, in theory at least, is a kind of Kashmiri curry with roots in the Islamic cuisine of northern Pakistan, cooked and served in handled metal pots that resemble miniature woks. In practice, the word balti has come to mean almost any fiercely hot curry served to the overwhelmingly English clientele of the baltihouses of Birmingham — food tailored, as a friend says, to the alcohol-deadened palates of drunken football hooligans. Like a Tommyburger, a balti worthy of the name can still be tasted when one is in the clutches of the next morning’s hangover. Agra, an Indian restaurant in Silver Lake, certainly serves cuisine more subtle than that, but there is a considerable list of baltis on the menu, and they are overwhelmingly, punishingly hot, with all the refinement of last week’s 50 Cent remix played at earth-thumping volume from the back of a Scion. “Do you want that American hot or English hot?” sneers the waiter. “I will be warning you: American hot is a little milder than what the English are calling medium.” 4325 Sunset Blvd., Silver Lake, (323) 665-7818. Open daily for lunch and dinner 11 a.m.–11 p.m. No alcohol. Parking lot. AE, DC, MC, V. JG $b?

Hollywood/Melrose/La Brea/Fairfax

Celadon Tuna tartare? Yep. Sweet braised short ribs? You bet. Hamachi carpaccio? Of course, with ponzu gelée and citrus dust. On paper, as well as in the sleek fire-and-water motif of its design, its extreme feng shui and its Thai-basil mojitos, Celadon, which occupies the fusion-happy space once colonized by Tahiti and Yi Cuisine, is just the latest in a long line of Los Angeles small-plates restaurants — albeit one where half the dishes seem to be impaled on bamboo skewers: tuna-crunchy rice “lollipops,” Japanese tonkatsu rolled around mozzarella, hamachi wrapped around avocado. Throw in the individual ceramic spoons filled with crab and smoked salmon, and you’ve got an amusing restaurant built around a solid sake list and a full line of passed hors d’oeuvres. But the chef, Danny Elmaleh, is a solid classical-French cook grounded in both Japanese and Middle Eastern cultures — he helped reinvent the office-building canteen at Lemon Moon — and his dishes are more likely to ring changes on an Asian standard than to play in the key of sweet-hot-crunchy snicky-snacky-sticky that characterizes so much rote fusion cuisine. Celadon isn’t Matsuhisa or Chinois — it is, in fact, a cocktail lounge with decent food — but you can see the heights from here. 7910 W. Third St., L.A., (323) 658-8028. Sun., Tues.-Thurs. 6-10 p.m., Fri. 6:30-11 p.m., Sat. 5:30-11 p.m. Full bar. Valet parking. All major CC. Euro-Asian. JG IN

ADC?Hatfield’s In restaurants as in actresses, quirkiness can be an unforgivable flaw. But Hatfield’s, a comfortable, modern bistro near Hollywood, can’t help itself any more than Parker Posey can. Instead of merlot and Chianti, there is a weirdly wonderful list of old Loire whites, stern reds from Austria and the Italian Alps, and German “champagne.” The croque madame sandwich is made with yellowtail and prosciutto instead of Gruyère cheese and pale ham, and tentacles of Japanese octopus just happen to curl around pillars of vanilla-braised hearts of palm. Even the steak and potatoes are quirky — the rare onglet is predictable enough, and the garnish of horseradish-crusted short ribs is nothing we haven’t seen before, but the smokiness of the dish comes not from the meat but from the mashed potatoes. From most chefs, this style might come across as affected, but from Quinn and Karen Hatfield, whose cooking at small-plates restaurant Cortez in San Francisco sometimes seemed like Mediterranean cuisine reflected in a fun-house mirror, one would expect nothing less. 7458 Beverly Blvd., L.A., (323) 935-2977. Mon.–Sat. 6–10 p.m. Full bar. AE, MC, V. California French. JG IM


Palms Thai There may be more chaotic restaurants on a Saturday night, but Palms Thai is as loud as they come, a tall box of a dining room, the approximate shape and resonance of a speaker cabinet, lined with ranks of long, straight tables, packed shoulder to shoulder with Singha beer connoisseurs receding into the distance. The food is first-rate. Crisp-skinned Thai sour sausages are served with fried peanuts and raw cabbage; beef jerky is fried to a tooth-wrenching chaw. And Palms Thai prepares the best version in town of suea rong hai, Northeastern-style barbecued beef. You can request a second menu, which includes most of Palms Thai’s best dishes: fiery salads, Isaan-style bar snacks and elaborate soups. But much of the restaurant’s exotica is confined to a third, untranslated menu tucked inside the second one. Keening onstage at the front of the room on weekends is Kavee Thongprecha, the Thai Elvis, who reproduces every moan and hiccup of his idol at respectful but nonetheless ear-stretching volume. Thai Elvis and deep-fried fish maw? What more could you ask from a Saturday night? 5900 Hollywood Blvd., Hlywd., (323) 462-5073. Lunch and dinner seven days 11 a.m.–mid. (until 1:30 a.m. Fri.–Sat.). Beer and wine. Lot parking. MC, V. Dinner for two, food only, $18–$40. Thai. JG Hb?

Mid-Wilshire/Koreatown/Central Los Angeles

El Cholo Even in the ’20s, Angelenos vaguely remembered that the area used to belong to Mexico, and there have always been Mexican restaurants here that catered to American taste. The emblematic cuisine of these restaurants is embodied in the Number Two Dinner, the eternal combination platter of chile relleno, enchilada, rice and beans bound together with cinctures of orange cheese. And El Cholo’s green-corn tamales have been a rite of spring in Los Angeles since the days when Bob Hope was actually funny. 1121 S. Western Ave., L.A., (323) 734-2773. Mon.–Thurs. 11 a.m.–10 p.m., Fri.–Sat. to 11 p.m., Sun. to 9 p.m. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, D, MC, V. Entrées $6.95–$13.50. Mexican. JG HN

West Hollywood/La Cienega

Arnie Morton’s of Chicago You may have heard about Morton’s “menu”: a wooden cart bearing about 100 pounds of raw animal flesh and sea creatures. We could have sworn that the 5-pound lobster waved at us, but he was probably just trying to escape the malevolent gaze of a veal chop. Arnie Morton’s is a Robb Report sort of place catering to people who probably have a little too much money on their hands and not enough time to spend it all. The wine list is stuffed with the kind of mainstream reds that get high scores in the Wine Spectator, and the humidor bursts with Cohibas. Martinis come in glasses as large as seagoing yachts. The 48-ounce porterhouse is the price of a sports car, but it may be the dullest piece of prime beef that ever saw fire and smoke — correct in every way, but with none of the dimensions of texture or flavor that make steak a more compelling entrée than, say, sautéed chicken breast. 435 S. La Cienega Blvd., L.A., (310) 246-1501. Dinner only. Dinner: Mon.–Sat. 5:30 p.m.–10:30 p.m., Sun. 5 p.m.–10 p.m. Lounge: 4:45–11 p.m. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, DC, MC, V. American. Also at 735 S. Figueroa St., downtown, (213) 553-4566; and 3400 W. Olive Ave., Burbank, (818) 238-0424. JG JN

ACB?Lucques The California-Mediterranean cooking of Suzanne Goin, which is feminine in all the best ways, is profoundly beautiful in its simplicity, and there is satori to be found in every bite of grilled fish, every herb salad. When she’s on, Goin teases out the flavor from a tomato with the precision of a sushi master, makes textural contrasts dance, plays with bursts of acidity, deep, fleshy resonance and the resinous flavors of fresh herbs. Lucques, which is named for a vivid-green variety of French olive, is located in Harold Lloyd’s old carriage house, boasts an ultrasleek Barbara Barry design and is home to one of the nicest patios in West Hollywood; but on loud weekend nights, the restaurant can sometimes seem as if it is about 90 percent bar. 8474 Melrose Ave., W. Hlywd., (323) 655-6277. Sunday nights feature three-course prix fixe dinners. Lunch Tues.–Sat. noon–2:30 p.m., dinner Tues.-Sat. 6–11 p.m., Sun. 5:30–10 p.m. Limited bar menu available 10 p.m.–mid. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, MC, V. Entrées $21–$30. French. JG I


Westwood/West L.A./Century City

Aroma Café Pljeskavica is a thin, Balkan hamburger, as big and round as a phonograph record, flavored with salt and onions and peppers and briefly cooked over a hot charcoal fire, a chewy meat patty that still has all its juice. In Los Angeles, pljeskavica is served more or less exclusively at this Westside coffeehouse that offers probably the only Bosnian cooking in town. Tucked into its sturdy, focaccia-style bun, a steroidal construction that bears the same relationship to a supermarket roll that Barry Bonds’ right arm does to the musculature of a ballerina, Aroma’s pljeskavica is as daunting in its appearance as it is difficult to pronounce. The feta cheese roasted with herbs in tinfoil is goopy, salty, grand, like a great grilled cheese sandwich without the bread. 2530 Overland Ave., W.L.A., (310) 836-2919. Open Thurs.–Tues. 11 a.m.–10 p.m. BYOB. Lot and street parking. MC, V. Eastern European. JG $

Café Toros Brazilian cooking is incredibly diverse, ranging from the jungly cassava-based cooking of Minas Gerais and the spicy tropical seafood dishes of Bahia to the cosmopolitan restaurants in skyscraper-choked São Paulo. Still, if you were to take a survey of Brazilian restaurants in Los Angeles, you would be challenged to find a single restaurant that specialized in something other than sizzling portions of sausage, rib-eye and rump. Café Toros, then, may be the most unassuming Brazilian restaurant in town, a bare storefront in a Westside mini-mall. The kingdom of Jose E.F. Salgado, it is a bastion of Brazilian home cooking, a center of homey stews, garlicky beans and baked pork ribs. Especially good is the moqueca, a Bahian-style fish stew with coconut milk; the house roast chicken, cooked with tomatoes and onions; and a strange, bittersweet roast chicken made with dark Brazilian beer. Café Toros is as far from the grand, carnivorous excesses of Green Field or Fogo de Chao as it is possible to get. But to the young Brazilians who crowd into the place on weekends, Salgado’s place tastes like home. 3300 Overland Ave., W.L.A, (310) 838-8586. Open daily 10 a.m.–6 p.m. No alcohol. Lot parking. Cash only. Lunch for two, food only, $12–$20.JGHL

Fu Rai Bo Fu Rai Bo doesn’t just specialize in chicken, but in spicy skewered teba sake chicken wings; not a whole wing, but that spindly middle segment of wing in which a couple of bones form sort of a frame protecting a sweet, if minuscule, oblate ellipse of meat. They’re made for deep-frying the way a chicken breast is for grilling, deeply absorbing Fu Rai Bo’s tart, spicy marinade, greaseless and practically all brittle, crunchy skin. After the chef has dusted them with various white powders and heaped them on plates alongside scoops of shredded cabbage and mayo-intensive chicken salad, you could gnaw through a million of these wings, sucking out the meat, while your teeth seek out hidden crunchy bits. 2068 Sawtelle Blvd., W.L.A., (310) 444-1432. Lunch daily 11:30 a.m.–2 p.m. Dinner Mon.–Thurs. 5:30 p.m.-11 p.m., Fri.–Sun. 5:30 p.m.–11 :45 p.m. Lot parking. Take-out. Beer and wine. MC, V. JG $$b

Beverly Hills and vicinity

AB?Enoteca Drago In New York City, Italian wine bars are multiplying like mosquitoes. In Los Angeles, the most serious Italian wine bar is probably the posh Enoteca Drago, an outpost of Celestino Drago’s pasta-driven empire, where you can chase a plate of prosciutto, a mess of baby octopods, or even the elusive lardo — cured pig fat in the style of northwestern Tuscany, melted onto a slab of fried bread — with a glass of crisp Verdicchiofrom the Marches. Some of the wines are served in flights — sets of small pours arranged by grape or by region. Enoteca Drago does function as a full restaurant, although it is occasionally hard to remember this when you’re floating in the middle of a Brunello reverie, but you will also find great pasta with pesto and one of the few proper versions of spaghetti carbonara in town. 410 N. Canon Drive, Beverly Hills, (310) 786-8236. Open Mon.–Sat. 11:30 a.m.–11 p.m., Sun. 11:30 a.m.–10 p.m. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, DC, MC, V. Entrées. $13.50–$18. Italian. JG ILN

Mariposa Not to be confused with the bar on the fourth floor of Neiman-Marcus or the tiny crowded café next to the ladies’ ready-to-wear, Mariposa is an actual sit-down restaurant in the basement, tucked in a cove off Housewares, filled with grand dames and queens of every gender. The showstopper at this pricey cave is the glorious popover, nearly the size of a cabbage, crunchy and buttery on the outside, moist, eggy, even custardy within. Only slightly upstaged, the $24 lobster cobb salad turns in a fine performance, the lobster sweet, tender and heaped on in profusion. 9700 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills, (310) 550-5900. Closed Sunday. Mon.–Sat. 11 a.m.–4:30 p.m. Extended lunch menu ends at 3 p.m. AE, MC, V. MH I


Santa Monica/Brentwood

Bay Cities The Italian deli Bay Cities makes a decent turkey sandwich, a loud, greasy meatball sandwich and a very respectable hero, but the sandwich of choice here is a monster sub, straight outta Brooklyn, called “The Godmother,” which includes a slice of every Italian cold cut on Earth. Fully dressed with lettuce, tomato, mayonnaise, mustard and a few squirts of a garlicky vinaigrette, a Godmother feeds a couple of people at least; the guys behind the counter will look at you quizzically if they suspect you’re planning to eat a whole one yourself. 1517 Lincoln Blvd., Santa Monica, (310) 395-8279. Tues.–Sat. 9 a.m.–7 p.m., Sun. till 6 p.m. Beer, wine and liquor for takeout only. Lot parking. MC, V. Sandwiches $2–$15. Italian Deli. JG GL

Violet A pleasant, mainstream bistro, Violet has all the appropriate buzzwords on its menu: the harissa aioli, the braised veal cheeks, the rare ahi tuna with wasabi mashed potatoes, but it is also possible to drop in after a show at McCabe’s up the block for a caesar salad, a decent pepper steak, or a dish of very nice macaroni and cheese made with Gruyère, slivered leeks and chunked-up Serrano ham; or to stop by at lunchtime for a cheeseburger or a sandwich of that same Spanish ham turbocharged with sliced manchego cheese and breathtaking amounts of fresh garlic. Violet is a little restaurant that cares. 3221 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica, (310) 453-9113 or www.­ Lunch Tues.–Fri. 11:30 a.m.–2 p.m., dinner Tues.–Fri. 6–10 p.m., Sat.–Sun. 5:30–10 p.m. Beer and wine. Valet parking. AE, MC, V. Dinner for two, food only, $44–$66. California cuisine. JG I

Culver City/Venice and vicinity

Stroh’s Gourmet Since its inception, Stroh’s (a small corner shop on Abbot Kinney) has had a following. In addition to the cheese case, a cold case of drinks (including large glass bottles of Badoit water, which are rare here and price-controlled in France) and a small selection of high-priced, premium groceries (chestnut honey, organic coffee, rustic pasta, anchovy paste, that sort of thing), there’s a third refrigerated case, displaying a large array of big, shaggy sandwiches, all freshly made and wantonly stacked in preparation for the hungry hordes — who do indeed come. 1239 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Venice, (310) 450-5119. Breakfast, lunch and dinner Mon.–Sat. 7:30 a.m.–7 p.m., Sun. 9 a.m.–6 p.m. Sandwiches $6.44 each. No alcohol. Lot parking. AE, MC, V. Sandwiches. MH HL

Wilson foodbarcafe The new breed of Culver City restaurant has connections at the Farmers Market, the serious-casual vibe of a Prada sweater and a birth announcement on Daily Candy. Beer lists are as long and as carefully curated as wine cards. The chefs have usually escaped from well-regarded but mainstream restaurants, and their dining rooms are temples of personal expression. This high-design restaurant from Michael Wilson, set into the bottom level of the new Museum of Design Art & Architecture building, is a Culver City place right down to the eel on the BLT, the La Española chorizo flavoring the mussels, and the organic Sémillon on the wine list. Wilson’s appetizers tend to be small-plate modern-tapas things designed to be nibbled at the bar with a glass of sauvignon blanc. A smoky, slow-cooked pork shoulder does double duty as pulled pork at lunch and as an entrée-size roast at night; tea-smoked whitefish is a dinner appetizer and the basis of a mayonnaisey whitefish-salad sandwich at noon. 8631 Washington Blvd., Culver City, (310) 287-2093 or Lunch Mon.-Fri. 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.; dinner Mon.-Thurs. 5:30-10 p.m., Fri.-Sat. 5:30-11 p.m. Full bar. Street parking. AE, MC, V. (JG) I

San Fernando Valley

Green Cottage This Iranian-American family restaurant, a converted pie shop, has the long tables, and the bilingual multigenerational families, and the sassy waitresses, and the twinkly lights, and the lounge singer who knows all the verses to both “That’s Amore” and “Volare.” The massive plates hold more than any one person could possibly consume. It is all so very American, as American as apple pie. Except that the food that everybody is overeating happens to be lamb kebabs and koobideh and the sticky pomegranate-chicken stew called fesenjan; sweet rosewater ices spiked with noodles; saffron-pistachio ice cream for dessert. You can have your Old Country nostalgia; I’ll take mine — with an Alka-Seltzer chaser, please. 20022 Ventura Blvd., Woodland Hills, (818) 888-8815. Closed Mondays. Tues.–Sun. noon–10 p.m. AE, D, MC, V. Iranian. JG GL

Spark Woodfire Cooking What happens when a sophisticated ­regional-Italian restaurant like Alto Palato marries a mass market Cal-Ital coffee shop like Louise’s? Well, Spark — a cheerful Cal-Ital Valley girl with corporate polish and flickerings of soul. Thin-crust Roman pizzas and pressed Italian sandwiches share a menu with creamy coleslaw, and rotisserie meats, including porchetta, a fabulous herb- and pepper-encrusted pork leg. Spark’s second, larger, more thoroughly Italian incarnation is seaside, at the Pierside Pavillion in Huntington Beach. 11801 Ventura Blvd., Studio City, (818) 623-8883. Lunch Mon.–Fri.; dinner seven nights. 300 Pacific Coast Hwy., Huntington Beach, (714) 960-0996. Lunch Sat.–Sun.; dinner seven nights. Full bar. Valet parking. Entrées $8.95–$22.95. California Italian. MH H


South Los Angeles

Badiraguato This converted hamburger stand, named for a patch of Mexico notorious from narcocorrido ballads, traffics in the coastal cuisine of Sinaloa — tacos stuffed with marlin and salty cheese, chicken gorditas fried to a delicate crunchiness, and a great, crisp version of the roast-beef hash called asado estilo Sinaloa that would probably be as popular in Nebraska as in Culiacan. And, of course, there’s the famous machaca — all salt and smoke and heat — smashed into powder with a stone pestle, and fried to a frizzle with bits of onion. 3070 Firestone Blvd., South Gate, (323) 563-3450. Open daily, 9 a.m.–8 p.m. No alcohol. Lot parking. Cash only. Lunch or dinner for two, $12–$25. Mexican. JG GL

South Bay/LAX

El Pollo Inka Beyond the roasted chicken that earned the chain its reputation, El Pollo Inka’s menu is filled with the seafood dishes typical of Lima’s industrial port suburb, Callao: hotly spiced ceviche; crisply fried catfish fillets garnished with a sort of Peruvian pico de gallo; and noodles tossed with various tentacles. The fish soup parihuela is close to the classic version, dark and pepper-hot as a superior Louisiana gumbo. 15400 Hawthorne Blvd., Lawndale, (310) 676-6665. 1425 W. Artesia Blvd., Gardena, (310) 516-7378. 23705 Hawthorne Blvd., Torrance, (310) 373-0062. 11000 Pacific Coast Hwy., Hermosa Beach, (310) 372-1433. Lunch and dinner daily (some locations close late on Fri. and Sat.). Beer and wine. Lot parking. AE, CB, DC, MC, V. Entrées $5–$17. Peruvian. JG GL

ADCB?Phillips’ Barbecue Crusted with black and deeply smoky, the spareribs at Phillips’ Barbecue are rich and crisp and juicy, not too lean. Beef ribs, almost as big around as beer cans, are beefy as rib roasts beneath their coat of char, tasty even without the sauce. They are the best ribs in Los Angeles, perhaps the only ribs that can compete on equal terms with the best from Kansas City or Tuscaloosa. And the extra-hot sauce, so crowded with whole dried chiles that the ribs occasionally look as if they have been embellished with Byzantine mosaics, can be pretty exhilarating. Tucked into a mini-mall between a liquor store and the local chapter of Alcoholics Anonymous, the original Phillips’ might be a little hard to find, although if you keep your window open, you should be able to sniff it out from half a mile away. But the newest location, in the well-scrubbed chalet-style Crenshaw building that until recently housed the well-regarded Leo’s Bar-B-Q, is only a couple of blocks south of the 10 freeway. 4307 Leimert Blvd., L.A., (323) 292-7613. Mon. 11 a.m.–8 p.m., Tues.–Thurs. 11 a.m.–10 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 11 a.m.–mid., Sun. 11 a.m.–6 p.m. 2619 S. Crenshaw Blvd., L.A., (323) 731-4772. Tues.–Thurs. 11 a.m.–10 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 11 a.m.–11 p.m., Sun. 11 a.m.–6 p.m. 1517 Centinela Ave., L.A., (310) 412-7135. No alcohol. Lot parking. Cash only. Barbecue. JG Hb?

Burbank/Glendale/Eagle Rock

Blue Hen Vietnamese food tends to be low in fat, high in antioxidant vegetables, exotic but accessible, nutritionally correct. If you’ve spent any time in L.A.’s excellent Vietnamese noodle shops, Blue Hen’s tasty but underdeveloped chicken pho, the bland chicken curry and the house version of bun cha gio, a kind of noodle salad with fresh herbs and crunchy imperial rolls stuffed with chicken and various fungi, may leave you yearning for San Gabriel’s Golden Deli. Occasionally the table salad will have slightly fewer herbs than it might — organic holy basil is not easy to find, I imagine — and sometimes you will find the slightly jarring bite of fresh peppermint in a spring roll when you might be expecting something more like opal basil or rau ram. But while you will probably not experience anything akin to culinary epiphany at Blue Hen, it is an unusually pleasant place to linger, listening to old soul tunes on the sound system and jacking yourself up on glasses of super-strong Vietnamese filtered coffee with condensed milk. There are fresh spring rolls to snack on, arranged prettily around geometric smears of sweet bean sauce, and turmeric-garlic fries that turn your fingers yellow as a chain smoker’s. Big bowls of chicken porridge seem custom designed to soothe mornings-after, and delicious Vietnamese sandwiches of turmeric-glazed chicken and herbs are a sweet, spicy variant on the banh mi you can get on any corner in Westminster. 1743 Colorado Blvd., Eagle Rock, (323) 982-9900 or Open Mon., Wed.–Fri. 11:30 a.m.–3 p.m. & 6:30–9 p.m., Sat. 11:30 a.m.–10 p.m., Sun. 4–9 p.m. No alcohol. Lot parking. MC, V. Dinner for two, $15–20, food only. JG $ [


AB?Chili John’s From a series of stainless-steel vats in the center of the room, the counterman at Chili John’s scoops out pinkish beans, mounding them high in a yellow plastic bowl, then he carefully spoons thick, brick-red chili over the beans until the bowl nearly brims over onto the counter. With a flourish, he tops off the chili with a splash of bean water. He cocks an eyebrow, which means: “Would you like an extra little drizzle of orange grease with that?” Of course you do. 2018 W. Burbank Blvd., Burbank, (818) 846-3611. Lunch and dinner Tues.–Fri. 11 a.m.–7 p.m., Sat. till 4 p.m. Closed July and August. No alcohol. Lot parking. Cash only. Lunch for two, food only, $9–$12. Chili. JG GL

Porto’s Bakery Want to throw a shindig, but don’t have the time (or the skills) to whip together an impressive feast? The classic Cuban party trays from Porto’s Bakery in Glendale may save your life. The ham croquettes, beef pastels, chorizo-filled empanadas and terrific meat-stuffed deep-fried potato balls have been staples at Cuban fiestas for years. Don’t miss the pastries, especially the refugiados — impossibly flaky guava-cream cheese pies. 315 N. Brand Blvd., Glendale, (818) 956-5996. Mon.–Sat. 7 a.m.–6 p.m., Sun. 7 a.m.–2 p.m. No alcohol. Lot parking. MC, V. JG ¢b

Pasadena and vicinity

Chang’s Garden The spareribs steamed in lotus leaves at Chang’s Garden — with pounded-rice flour and a little rice wine — are magnificent things, little essays on the virtues of long-cooked pork. There is a very nice simmered beef and tripe in chile oil, and splendid fresh Chinese bacon with garlic and chile. Vegetable dishes tend to be pretty good too. Try the pudding-like slabs of Japanese eggplant cooked down with garlic and chile or the cubes of tofu dusted with flour and fried until the inside becomes molten. 627 W. Duarte Road, Arcadia, (626) 445-0606. Open daily, 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. MC, V. Beer and wine. Lot parking. Dinner for two, food only, $24–$38. Chinese. JGHL

AD?Noodle House It is always fried bao time at this Taiwanese breakfast specialist, fluffy, steamed pork buns sizzled until their bottoms crisp up like eggs fried in oil and the jellied juices of the pork heat and melt until they are pressurized enough to rocket across the table the moment that your teeth breach the substance of the dough. The buns, a lucky eight of them, are served browned-side up, arranged into a bao fairy ring connected by a gauzy scrim of batter. You detach a bun and dunk it into a bowl of spicy garlic-infused soy sauce. The sauce-saturated pastry assumes a soft, mousseline texture; the soy mingles with hot porky essence; the buns seem to hop into your mouth one after another as if propelled by an alien force. When you are done, there are is delicious soy milk and Tianjin pancakes to contemplate, which is to say northern-Chinese-style burritos stuffed with freshly fried crullers. 46 W. Las Tunas Dr., Arcadia, (626) 821-2088. Daily Tues.–Sun. 7 a.m.–9 p.m. No alcohol. Cash only. Taiwanese. JG G

Monterey Park/?San Gabriel and vicinity

Indo Kitchen This small, crowded restaurant on an Alhambra side street serves a sharp, spicy brand of Padang-style cooking — meltingly tender slabs of beef rendang bathed in a dense sauce of coconut milk and spices, boiled eggs fried in a fire-breathing coating of belado, whole catfish fried to the crispness of potato chips and served with a mound of sweet, powerful fermented-shrimp sambal. When you’re in the mood for a proper nasi Padang, there is nothing like it in Los Angeles. 5 N. Fourth St., Alhambra, (626) 282-1676. Open Tues.–Sun., 11 a.m.–9 p.m. D, MC, V. No alcohol. Lot parking. Dinner for two, food only, $11–$20. JGGL

AD?Elite Some restaurants are rocks of stability, operating on more or less the same level until they go out of business. But the quality of fancy Hong Kong–style seafood palaces in Los Angeles is as volatile as the NASDAQ average, bursting forth into brilliance, only to have chefs and headwaiters poached by competitors, recruited by wealthy Las Vegas kitchens, or lured back to China. So forget what the Weekly told you last month: The sharpest Chinese seafood house in town at the moment is Elite. It is certainly the most expensive Chinese restaurant in the San Gabriel Valley — its banquet menu includes options costing up to $2,288 for a table of 10. The customers tend to drink big red wine instead of beer, and there are enough unsustainable species on the seafood menu to make a Heal the Bay member weep salty, salty tears. Yet the frog stir-fried with fresh chiles and the dried-shellfish concoction known as XO sauce is formidable, with an exquisite low-tide pungency punching through with every bite. The roast squab has skin as delicately crunchy as any Beijing duck. The Shunde-style soup of seafood with minced ham and bits of bitter melon is as tautly balanced as the exhaust note of a Lamborghini. And the morning dim sum breakfasts, ordered from menus instead of carts, are divine. 700 S. Atlantic Blvd., Monterey Park, (626) 282-9998. Dim sum Mon.–Fri. 10:30 a.m.–3 p.m., Sat.–Sun. 10 a.m.–3 p.m.; dinner nightly 5–11 p.m. Beer and wine. Street parking. AE, MC, V. Chinese. JG JMK

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