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Downtown L.A./Chinatown/WestlakeKim Chuy The basic deal at this noodle shop is, of course, the noodles: slippery rice noodles or firmer, square-cut egg noodles, submerged in broth, garnished with things like boiled duck legs and sliced pork. At Kim Chuy, the special noodles include duck and shrimp, squid and cuttlefish, and four kinds of fish cake; also floppy, herb-spiked won ton. The Chiu Chow beef-stew noodles come with melting shanks of tendon and hunks of long-simmered chuck. Chiu Chow spiced beef noodles come in a gritty, spicy demicurry, almost crunchy with ground nuts (another missing link between Chiu Chow cooking and Thai). 727 N. Broadway, No. 103, Chinatown; (213) 687-7215. Breakfast, lunch and dinner daily, 8 a.m.–8 p.m. No alcohol. Lot parking. Food for two, $8–$10. Cash or AE, MC, V. JG

Pete’s Café and Bar Pete’s has classic bar-’n’-grill good looks. There’s also a hint of contemporary clubbiness. The food is a functional, midpriced take on New American cooking: mac and cheese, a gilded burger (fontina, tomato aioli), steaks, bread pudding. Highlights include the martini glass heaped with shrimp, yellow and orange baby heirloom tomatoes, and green guacamole, all doused in citrus salsa. A house specialty, blue-cheese fries, is sinful, potatoes tossed hot with the sharp salty cheese so they’re limp yet crisp and chewy. 400 S. Main St., downtown, (213) 617-1000. Lunch and dinner Sun.–Wed. 11:30 a.m.–mid., Thurs.–Sat. 11:30 a.m.–2 a.m., breakfast Sat.–Sun. from 11:30 a.m. Entrées $10–$24. Full bar. Lot parking. AE, D, DC, MC, V. American. MH

Silver Lake/Los Feliz/Echo Park

Canelé In Bordelaise dialect, a canele is a dense, fluted cylinder of pudding edged with crisp beeswax. In Atwater Village, Canele can feel a lot like an ongoing dinner party that just happens to tolerate strangers at its tables, with oddly minimalist décor, menus illegibly scrawled onto chalkboards, and friendly but puzzled waitresses who aren’t quite sure why you’ve stumbled into their domain. The chef/owner is Corina Weibel, a Nancy Silverton protégée who also cooked for a while at Lucques, and she works the farmers-market-driven urban rustic side of new Los Angeles cooking: the Provençal onion tart ­pissaladière and an austere green salad with crème fraîche; rare roast lamb with Israeli couscous and beef bourguignon with noodles; steak with potatoes Anna; and an honest flan. This is cooking worthy of the good china. 3219 Glendale Blvd., Atwater Village, (323) 666-7133. Tues.–Sat. 5:30–10:30 p.m., Sun. 5–10 p.m. Beer and wine. Street parking. AE, MC, V. French. JGIndia Sweets & Spices The specialty at IS&S is probably the lentil-cheap dinner combination, a segmented foam tray laden with basmati rice, dahl, tart raita, pickles and a vegetable dish of some kind, ladled out cafeteria style. But while the steam-table food (unless you catch it just right) is basically steam-table food, not especially different from what you’d find on any local Indian buffet, the made-to-order dishes are delicious: freshly fried bhaturas, balloon-shaped breads, served with curried chickpeas; the thin pancakes called parathas, stuffed with highly spiced cauliflower or homemade cheese; the South Indian lentil doughnuts called vada, served with a thin curried vegetable broth. 3126 Los Feliz Blvd., L.A., (323) 345-0360. Lunch and dinner daily, 9:30 a.m.–9:30 p.m. No alcohol. Lot parking. Cash only. Food for two, $8–$12. Also at 1810 Parthenia, Northridge, (818) 407-1498; 9409 Venice Blvd., Culver City, (310) 837-5286; 2201 Sherman Way, Canoga Park, (818) 887-0868. Indian. JG

Hollywood/Melrose/La Brea/Fairfax

Carlitos Gardel The most famous dish here must be the baked-garlic appetizer, a naked halved bulb on a plate, ready to pulp onto the house’s quite decent bread. As with most Argentine restaurants, Gardel revolves around its parrillada, a cavalcade of grilled meats — sweetbreads, blood sausage, skirt steak, short ribs, Italian sausage — served on a smoking iron grill, accompanied only by a small bowl of well-garlicked chimichurri and a large plate of mashed potatoes. 7963 Melrose Ave., L.A., (323) 655-0891. Open for lunch, Mon.–Fri. 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. & for dinner, Mon.-Sat. 6-11 p.m. Sun. 5 p.m.-10 p.m. Dinner for two, food only, $25–$45. Beer and wine. Live music. AE, DC, MC, V. Argentine. JG

Hungry Cat To aficionados, Hungry Cat’s Crab Day is an annual event up there with Christmas and the Fourth of July, a chance to take a mallet to as many spicy boiled crustaceans as they can hold. Somebody call the mayor: It is an occasion worthy of a city holiday. But even on the other 364 days, The Hungry Cat is a civic treasure, a place to drop into for a dozen oysters or a bowl of shrimp, a crab cake or a bowl of chowder. The primary object of desire here is the lobster roll, an abstracted rendition of the New England beach-shack standard transformed into a split, crisp object about the size of a Twinkie. In Maine, the $20-plus it costs would buy you a lobster the size of a small pony. But we are in Hollywood, where the next ­acceptable lobster roll may be 2,800 miles away. 1535 N. Vine St., Hlywd., (323) 462-2155 or Mon.–Sat. 11:30 a.m.–3 p.m. & 5:30–11 p.m., Sun. 11:30 a.m.–3 p.m. & 5–9:30 p.m. Full bar. Validated parking. AE, MC, V. Seafood. JG


Social Hollywood The first local effort from Manhattan/South Beach restaurant czar Jeffery Chodorow is pretty velvet-rope-intensive even for Hollywood. By the time you make it through the gauntlet, you may have the definite sensation of having joined an exclusive club. Service seems to revolve around a loving recitation of the special cocktail menu — Rob Roys and Rusty Nails reimagined for a generation that has probably never tasted Drambuie, and may be all the better for it. Cooking, while often accomplished, is usually beside the point at a Chodorow restaurant, even the ones involving superchef Alain Ducasse, and Social Hollywood is no exception. The appetizers tend toward well-executed American creative — sweetbreads with bacon and black-eyed peas, nicely seared scallops — and the main courses toward an overcreative interpretation of Moroccan cuisine: a tagine, Moroccan stew of short ribs and Puebla-style short ribs for example, or a fairly standard roast chicken breast with a tiny b’stilla, the flaky, sugar-dusted pastry of poultry, eggs and almonds that is the glory of the Moroccan table, tossed on the side like a plop of mashed potatoes. If you’ve had enough of the splendid white-peach Bellinis, you may not even notice. 6525 Sunset Blvd., Hlywd., (323) 462-5222 or Sun.–Wed. 6–11 p.m., Thurs.–Sat. 6 p.m.–1 a.m. (bar open till 2 a.m. nightly). Full bar. Valet parking. AE, MC, V. Entrees $31–$50. JG

Mid-Wilshire/Koreatown/Central Los Angeles

Bu San Korean-style raw sea cucumber at this venerable Korean sushi bar is like nothing you’ve ever tasted before, and Korean-style sashimi, which you wrap in a lettuce leaf with raw garlic, sliced chiles and bean paste, is a revelation. The chefs are fond of converting live fish from the tanks into a meal’s worth of demonstrably fresh sashimi. Raw squid, luxuriously creamy, with a small bit of crunch at the center, only tastes alive. Although almost alarmingly so. 201 N. Western Ave., L.A., (323) 871-0703. Open daily for lunch and dinner. Beer and wine. Lot parking. MC, V. Entrées $25–$30. Korean. JG

West Hollywood/La Cienega

Sona What we know as California cuisine may be dedicated to revealing produce at its best, but David and Michelle Myers go after nature with blowtorches and microtomes and dynamite, determined to bend the old woman to their will. A sliver of watermelon may be less a sliver of watermelon than a wisp in a chilled soup, a salted crunch tracing the shape of a curl of marinated yellowtail, a glistening cellophane window into the soul of a pistachio, a texture in a sorbet, a jelly exposing its cucumberlike soul. The morning after nine courses at Sona (this is one restaurant where only the tasting menu will do), it will already seem like a half-forgotten dream. 401 N. La Cienega Blvd., W. Hlywd., (310) 659-7708. Tues.–Fri. 6–10 p.m., Sat. 5:30–11 p.m. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, D, DC, MC, V. Modern French. JG

Westwood/West L.A./Century City

Ambala Dhaba On a stretch of Westwood Boulevard thick with student coffeehouses and Iranian hair salons, Ambala Dhaba is an outpost of the Punjab, a branch of a restaurant noted on Artesia’s Little India strip for its fiery goat curries and the boiled-milk ice cream called kulfi. It’s probably the only thing resembling traditional Indian food on the Westside. Ambala Dhaba exemplifies the time-honored side of meaty northern Indian cooking: basic, direct food almost Islamic in attitude, Pakistani in intensity of flavor, but wholly Indian in its attention to fresh vegetables, crunchy snacks, and breads. But my favorite part of a meal at Ambala Dhaba may be dessert, several flavors of house-made kulfi-on-a-stick available by the piece and by the bag, kulfi shakes made with pistachio, almond and mango, and even a mysterious dish known as kulfi-cut-in-bowl. 1781 Westwood Blvd., Westwood, (310) 966-1772. Open daily 11 a.m.–3 p.m.; 5–11 p.m. No alcohol. Lot parking. Food for two, $12–$20. MC, V. Indian. JG

Canary Canary is an Iranian sandwich shop on Westwood’s Iranian strip, a house of kebabs in the most kebab-intensive neighborhood in California. Also notable are Iranian-style sandwiches made with a split-and-grilled Hebrew National frank, a hollowed-out length of toasted French bread and condiments similar to those you might expect to find on a Chicago-style hot dog, only inflected with more garlic. 1942 Westwood Blvd., Westwood, (310) 470-1312. Open daily 11 a.m.–mid. No alcohol. Parking lot. MC, V. Lunch for two, food only, $12–$14. Iranian. JG


Santa Monica/Brentwood

Mélisse When Mélisse opened a few years ago, it seemed as if Josiah Citrin was trying to create a Michelin-worthy restaurant by force of will alone, imposing luxury ingredients and luxury prices on a local public that seemed happy enough to eat its seared venison without the benefit of Christofle silver, velvet purse stools or airy sauces inflected with fresh black truffle. The cooking was always good enough, but the effect was faintly ridiculous, like a teenager trying on his father’s best sports jacket when he thinks nobody is looking. (What I remember best from my first several visits is not a particular dish, but the sight of Don Rickles and Bob Newhart at the next table insulting the waiters with material that would have killed at a Friars Club roast.) And the prices, $95 for an all-but-mandatory four-course menu, would be high even in Paris. But Citrin has grown into Mélisse. And his cuisine, which uses the most modern techniques without calling attention to itself, has shed most of its baby fat – the cassoulet of white asparagus with morels, the melting salmon and the butter-soft duck breast at a recent dinner all brought out the soulful essence of the ingredients in the least showy way imaginable. 1104 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica, (310) 395-0881. Dinner Tues.–Thurs. 6–9:30 p.m., Fri. 6–10 p.m., Sat. 5:45–10 p.m. Closed Sun.–Mon. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, D, DC, MC, V. JG

Culver City/Venice and vicinity

Joe’s Everybody loves an underdog, and at Joe’s, which has been an institution since it was the size of a rent-controlled studio beach apartment, half of Venice has a crush on Joe Miller’s uncomplicated cuisine. You may not have a transcendent experience at Joe’s, and you’ll spend more than you think you should, but there is this to be said for the restaurant: The kitchen never, ever screws up the fish. 1023 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Venice, (310) 399-5811. Lunch Tues.–Fri. noon–2:30 p.m., dinner Tues.–Fri. 6–11 p.m., Sat.–Sun. 6–11 p.m., brunch Sat.-Sun. 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, MC, V. Entrées $10–$25, plus $38–$45 prix fixe dinner. California. JG

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

San Fernando Valley

Asanebo For a while, Asanebo was famous as the No-Sushi Bar, and all of Hollywood rushed to its Studio City mini-mall, eager to visit a restaurant that had come up with an entirely new way to deny satisfaction to its customers. These days, there is plenty of sushi at Asanebo, home to some of the best ­omakase dinners in town, although you will almost certainly be happier with the sashimi of steel-bright Spanish mackerel, the slabs of Japanese kanpache, and the peerless monkfish liver. Because the only displeasure to be found at Asanebo (unless you happen to be a prawn) comes with the expensive bill. 11941 Ventura Blvd., Studio City, (818) 760-3348. Lunch Tues.–Fri. noon–2 p.m.; dinner Tues.–Thurs. 6–10:30 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 6–11:30 p.m., Sun. 6–10 p.m. Beer and wine. Street parking. AE, MC, V. Japanese. JG

Woodlands Broad as knotted carpets or the infield at Dodger Stadium, dosas are the only snack that might as reasonably be sold by yardage as by weight. And these days, the biggest dosas in town may be found at this south Indian vegetarian restaurant. The butter dosa, a half acre of crunchy brownness jutting off both ends of a rather long platter, is rolled around a slug of gently curried potatoes that you may not run across until you’ve been eating the thing for 15 minutes. This is dosa heaven. They serve the usual south Indian starches too — iddly, uttupam, pesarat — served with the usual complements of sambar and chutney. In the afternoons the buffet tends to have the most exotic array of vegetarian Indian food in town. 9840 Topanga Canyon Blvd., Chatsworth, (818) 998-3031. Tues.–Sun. 11:30 a.m.–3 p.m. and 5–10 p.m. $7.95 lunch buffet Tues.–Fri., $9.95 brunch buffet Sat.–Sun. Beer and wine. Lot parking. AE, MC, V. Also at 11833 Artesia Blvd., Artesia, (562) 860-6500. JG

South Bay/LAX

Chip’s Is the coffee-shop cooking at Chip’s as artfully updated as the menu at nearby Pann’s? Not quite. Do the eggs Benedict merit a long drive? Perhaps not. Is the full-on late-’50s exterior as museum-worthy as the Wich Stand, where a teenage Brian Wilson used to go for hamburgers? Not really, even if that old drive-in is a health-food joint now. But real, over-the-top Googie-style restaurants are getting to be as rare as condors here in their birthplace, and you could do worse than a Chip’s meal of patty melts and strawberry shakes. 11908 S. Hawthorne Blvd., Hawthorne, (310) 679-2947. Open 7 days 6 a.m.–8 p.m. Beer and wine. Lot parking. AE, MC, V. American. JG


South Los Angeles

Caribbean Treehouse Caribbean Treehouse is perhaps the only local restaurant that currently dishes up the spicy food of Trinidad and Tobago. Service is casual to the extreme — if you want another bottle of pop, you walk over to the cooler and take one out yourself. Roti, sort of a Trinidadian burrito made of chicken-potato stew or a handful of curried beef wrapped up in a grilled Trinidadian flatbread, can come pumped up with the restaurant’s fiery homemade sauce. On Saturdays, there’s the “sparrow special,” an enormous plate of food that involves jerkylike strips of salt cod, boiled cassava, sautéed onion, tomato and a certain quantity of dense, chewy dumplings. 1226 Centinela Ave., Inglewood, (310) 330-1170. Lunch and dinner Tues.–Sun. 11 a.m.–8 p.m. Beer and wine. Lot parking. MC, V. Dinner for two, food only, $8–$18. Caribbean. JG

East Los Angeles/Highland Park

Birriera Chalio Goat: The other, other, other white meat. If you’re in the mood for a lot of goat, practically goat by the yard, it might be difficult to do better than a long, goaty lunch among the mounted animal heads at the original Birriera Chalio on Calle Primero, where the waitresses will bring plate after plate of the restaurant’s signature Zacatecas-style birria — chewy riblets and soft chunks of shoulder and muscley knots of leg meat — until you practically have to beg them to stop. Hair of the dog? No, hair of the goat. Birriera Chalio on Calle Primero, 3580 E. First St., L.A., (323) 268–5349. Mon.–Fri. 7 a.m.–8 p.m., Sat.–Sun. 7 a.m.–9 p.m. Beer and wine. Lot parking. Latin. JGTacos el Michoacano This is a modest Michoacán-style takeout restaurant with a photo menu by the register and worn vinyl booths along the walls. The state is famous throughout Mexico for its take on fried pork, and El Michoacano’s is first-rate: crunchy, oozing and slightly gamy. The kitchen makes its own corn tortillas on weekends. And on each table is a molcajete half-filled with the majestic house salsa, dried chiles toasted black, ground into a fine paste and finished simply with oil and salt. Some days, I think I could live on that chile paste and El Michoacano’s great strawberry licuados alone. 5933 York Blvd., Highland Park, (323) 258-0794. Open daily 7 a.m.–8 p.m. No alcohol. Dinner for two, food only, $2–$6. Regional Mexican. JG

Burbank/Glendale/Eagle Rock

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

Pasadena and vicinity

Trattoria Tre Venezie Tre Venezie, a tiny Italian restaurant in Pasadena’s Old Town, could easily pass for one of the better trattorias in Udine — the cooking, mostly in the Slavic-influenced style of Friuli, northeast of Venice, is superb. True, the careful authenticity of the food must be balanced against the fact that dinner with a nice wine can cost not much less than a roundtrip ticket to Venice itself, and the wine list is egregiously overpriced. But I love the orzotto, a soothing Friulian stew of tripe and grain that emphasizes the gentle muskiness, the slippery contours of the meat, without an offending chile in sight. 119 W. Green St., Pasadena, (626) 795-4455. Lunch Fri. 11:30 a.m.–2:30 p.m.; dinner Tues.–Sun. 5:30–10 p.m. Full bar. Valet and street parking. AE, DC, MC, V. $25–$32. Italian. JG

Vertical Wine Bistro Probably the swankest wine bar in Old Town Pasadena, this high-design joint juts from a hidden courtyard on Raymond’s restaurant row, all subdued lighting and gleaming surfaces and hidden corners. You will never, never feel out of place in an LBD or a pinstriped Thom Browne suit here, or lack for well-heeled admirers. But Vertical is more ambitious than that: It aspires to be nothing less than the Pasadena equivalent of A.O.C. Sara Levine, who opened the foodie-beloved Opus, is the chef here, and beyond the wine, Vertical is a showcase of artisanal cheeses and cured meats, Serrano-ham-wrapped fig poppers and meaty, grape-friendly small dishes like pulled pork with prunes and polenta, and duck confit with chestnuts. If you would rather look into the depths of a Barolo-braised brisket than into the eyes of an attractive stranger, at Vertical it can always be arranged. 70 N. Raymond Ave., upstairs, Pasadena, (626) 795-3999, Sun. 4–11 p.m., Tues.–Thurs. 5–11 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 4 p.m.–1 a.m. Beer, wine. Valet parking. AE, MC, V. Entrees $10–$18. JG


Monterey Park/San Gabriel and vicinity

Golden Deli There is a line outside Golden Deli most of the time, a clutch of stragglers willing to brave the hot midday sun rather than walk across the street to uncrowded Vietnam House. Because most of us stubbornly cling to a belief in the sticky-table Golden Deli mojo, which may or may not flavor the exemplary pho, the Saigon-style hu tieu noodles, or especially the crusty golden spring rolls, four inches long and as thick as a fat man’s thumb, crudely rolled in a manner suggesting rustic abundance rather than clumsiness. Golden Deli has a long and complicated menu of delicious and ultra specialized noodle combinations, but it is difficult to contemplate a meal without an order of these spring rolls. 815 W. Las Tunas Dr., San Gabriel, (626) 308-0803. Mon.–Tues. & Thurs. 9:30 a.m.–9 p.m., Fri. 9:30 a.m.–10 p.m., Sat. 9 a.m.–10 p.m., Sun. 9 a.m.–9:30 p.m. Closed August. No alcohol. Lot parking. Cash only. Vietnamese/Thai. JG

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. JG

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