Downtown Los Angeles Hoan Kiem After gallery openings on nearby Chung King Road, a certain percentage of the art crowd drifts down to this one-dish restaurant, a specialist in pho ga, Vietnamese chicken-noodle soup. When you order, or rather nod, the massive bowl of soup is on your table in about 15 seconds, yellow and chickeny, seasoned with nothing more elaborate than a sprig or two of cilantro and a handful of chopped scallions, with soft rice noodles cooked about a hundred steps past al dente into near gelatinousness, soup that makes the meager offerings of Junior’s or Nate ’n’ Al’s seem like so many bouillon cubes dissolved in tepid tap water. 727 N. Broadway, Suite 130, Chinatown, (213) 617-3650. Open for lunch and dinner daily. No alcohol. Validated lot parking. Cash only. Lunch or dinner for two, food only, $10. Vietnamese. JG ¢

Noé In a bland, ultrahotel setting like Noe’s, you might expect the food to be as blandly generic as the nondescript art on the walls. But Robert Gadsby nurtures this sense of dislocation, playing with the inside of your skull in ways that Gerhard Richter or Thomas Pynchon might recognize. Noe is a strange place for a talent to flower, but in this rocky soil, perhaps Gadsby’s food has found its home. 251 S. Olive St. (inside the Omni Hotel), downtown, (213) 356-4100. Sun.–Thurs. 5–10 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 5–11 p.m. Full bar. Takeout. Valet parking. AE, MC, V. Entrées $18–$32. Progressive American With Japanese Aesthetics. JG $$

Silver Lake / Los Feliz / Echo Park Blair’s Blair’s is an adult restaurant for people who don’t really consider themselves to be grown-ups even into their late 40s, a civilized refuge of caesar salads and crab cakes and shrimp cocktails that are served with a side of deviled eggs, a sort of roadhouse where the pepper steak comes with oodles of farmers-market vegetables, the salmon comes with lentils, and the roster of artisanal beers is nearly as long as the wine list. I would be surprised if anybody’s parents ate this well at Rotary Club meetings. 2903 Rowena Ave., Silver Lake, (323) 660-1882. Sun.–Thurs. 5–10 p.m., Fri. 6–11 p.m., Sat. 5–11 p.m. Full bar. Takeout. Street parking. AE, D, MC, V. $16–$32. New American. JG $$

Tiger Lily Is it a restaurant? Is it a lounge? Is it a place to pose by the bar in a pair of artfully ripped Rogans, nursing a glass of Viognier and a skewer of vegetable shashlik while you wait for prime time at Shag? Will you ever find the actual squid for all the fried batter in the Mangalore calamari? Tiger Lily is the latest in a long, long series of Hollywood small-plates restaurants whose dramatic design perhaps outweighs the cuisine. In this case, a dramatic cavern, lit like a seraglio scene at the L.A. Opera, where it is possible to dine on the amusing snack foods of all Asian nations, from Indian samosas to Sri Lankan vegetarian curry plates; the sleek, approachable, oversweet dishes are what Californians have grown to expect from pan-Asian cuisine. 1739 N. Vermont Ave., Los Feliz, (323) 661-5900. Open daily 5 p.m.–2 a.m. Full bar. Valet parking. All major CC. Asian. JG $$

Hollywood/Melrose/La Brea/FairfaxEl Coyote Many restaurants resemble this place — from the cheap margaritas, to the “Mexican pizza” available in the ever-crowded bar, to the walls decorated with broken mirrors, to the wire-mesh-enclosed patio with its plastic smog-dusted foliage and visiting local sparrows, to the guacamole dinners, to the ersatz tostadas — but I could pick an El Coyote combination plate blindfolded out of 100 others, and most of the regulars could, too. 7312 Beverly Blvd., L.A., (323) 939-2255. Lunch and dinner Sun.–Thurs. 11 a.m.–10 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 11 a.m.–11 p.m. Full bar. Valet parking. Dinner for two, food only, $18–$25. MC, V. Mexican. JG $

 Magnolia Magnolia is the very model of a useful restaurant, open ­after the clubs close but prepared to make you eggs ­Benedict for brunch the next day, suitable both for a first date and an impromptu burger after a movie at the ArcLight, with an outdoor dining room suited to long conversations and an indoor one so loud that conversation is moot. The wine list is short and pleasant. The menu of big salads, hearty pastas, hummus with pita, and pan-seared halibut is probably the sort of thing you could assemble yourself out of ingredients bought from Trader Joe’s, but the kitchen does a pretty good job — and the point is to be out, with music, cocktails and your friends. 6266 1/2 W. Sunset Blvd., Hlywd., (323) 467-0660. Open daily 11 a.m.–2 a.m. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, MC, V. California Contemporary. JG $$

Mid-Wilshire/Koreatown/Central Los Angeles Dino’s Burgers If you are looking for a proper representation of hellfire, the grill at Dino’s Burgers may be as close as you will get, a smoke-belching landscape of fire and ashes, with stacks of chickens ready to be flipped into the blaze like so many unrepentant sinners. A burger stand in the Byzantine-Latino Quarter still owned by founder Demetrios Pantazis, Dino’s is as perpetually crowded as Pink’s after the bars close. The half-chicken plates cost only $4.50 a pop, including fries and tortillas; steak platters with rice, beans and salad run maybe a buck more. There are hamburgers, of course, thin, charred, peppery patties tucked into big, damp buns, cushioned with lettuce and thick tomato slices. The Mexican plate is the kind of Mexican food you would expect to find in a small North Dakota town that doesn’t see many Mexicans, although I am perversely fond of the carne asada. Still, you are going to order the chicken. And the best part of the meal may be the dense stratum of French fries that lies under the chicken like the hot rock beneath the earth’s crust, saturated with the greasy, capsaicin-rich juices of the bird. It may take a week to scrape the residue out from under your fingernails, but it will be worth the crimson shame. 2575 W. Pico Blvd., L.A., (213) 380-3554. Sun. 7 a.m.–11 p.m., Mon.–Thurs. 6 a.m.–11 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 6 a.m.–mid. No alcohol. Takeout. Limited lot parking. Cash only. Dinner for two, food only, $8–$11. JG ¢


Jinju Gomtang In Seoul, there is reputedly a Hangover Alley, a narrow downtown street lined on both sides with restaurants dedicated to the art of the curative tonics known collectively as gomtang. In Koreatown, this 24-hour café is devoted to pale-bone broths garnished with oxtail or sliced brisket, as bland as oatmeal and twice as soothing. But the real specialty of the place, a soup you might consider having for lunch even if you weren’t on the wrong side of a bottle of soju, is the spicy haejanguk, a pottage of cabbage, chiles, scallions, garlic in a funky-fresh cow-part broth, garnished with little clots of blood and ready to come alive with the addition of a little sea salt and a lot of the restaurant’s house-made chile paste. 3377 Wilshire Blvd., No. 100, L.A., (213) 383–6789. Open daily, 24 hours. Full bar. Lot parking. AE, MC, V. Korean. JG $

West Hollywood/La Cienega  Bridge Restaurant & Lounge Bridge is the newest restaurant from the group that owns Koi, which means that the music is banging, the guy at the next table really is Ludacris, and the food, pan-peninsular Italian in this case, tends to be light, based on impeccable ingredients, and lovely to behold: thin petals of vitello tonnato arranged like fugu sashimi; delicate asparagus ravioli with butter and sage; a truly lovely, Koi-quality tuna tartare. The quality of the Italian cooking here will never quite measure up to that of the glorious prime of Alto Palato, which used to occupy this space, but the cuisine can be almost as sparkling as the crowd. 755 N. La Cienega Blvd., W. Hlywd., (310) 659-3535 or Restaurant: Mon.–Sat. 6–11 p.m. Lounge: 8 p.m.–2 a.m. Full bar. Street and valet parking. AE, MC, V. Italian. JG $$$

Yatai Asian Tapas Bar The similarity between the Spanish tapas bar and the Japanese izakaya has been long noted — both are places where the cooking is subsidiary to the drinking, where immoderate consumption is both encouraged and facilitated, and where the portions are just big enough to get you through to the next glass. Yatai, a pleasantly sleek patio restaurant tucked away off the Sunset Strip, is a Japanese izakaya pretending to be an American joint pretending to be an izakaya, if you know what I mean, although the putative concept is Asian street food. (The only “street foods” you’ll find here are the sticks of satay and the deep-fried Japanese potato balls stuffed with bits of octopus tentacle.) The customers, most of whom seem to be Japanese-speaking hipsters, groove on the Indonesian gado-gado, the chicken dumplings with Thai curry, the samosas and the gooey, apple-spiked “Korean-style” sashimi as much as they do on the soy-paper sushi rolls and tempura. Yatai has the usual shortlist of soju cocktails and Pacific Rim wines, but there is also a nicely edited selection of cold sakes. I liked the Tomoju, which had a faint but distinct aftertaste of the wax lips you probably used to chew on as a kid. 8535 W. Sunset Blvd., W. Hlywd., (310) 289-0030. Tues.–Thurs. noon–3 p.m. & 5:30–11 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 5:30–mid., Sun. 5:30–10:30 p.m. Full bar. Parking lot. AE, MC, V. Asian. Entrees $12–$30. JG $$

Westwood/West L.A./Century City John o’ Groats The restaurant is named after a town at the northernmost point in Scotland, but give or take an order of fish ’n’ chips or two, the menu is pretty much all-American, with baking-powder biscuits, fluffy omelets, smoked pork chops and stretchy buckwheat pancakes. And although there seem to be no actual groats on the menu — which is kind of a relief — the steel-cut Irish oatmeal with bananas and heavy cream is fine. The best breakfasts on the Westside. 10516 W. Pico Blvd., W.L.A., (310) 204-0692. Breakfast and lunch daily 7 a.m.–3 p.m. Beer and wine. Street parking. MC, V. Entrées $9–$14. American. JG ¢


Nook Sometimes you get the feeling that the owners of Nook are running less an American bistro than a joke about an American bistro. As faithfully as they reproduce the fundamentals of the kinds of fancily unfancy restaurants that pepper every urban neighborhood from San Diego to Augusta, Maine, they are also poking fun at them with every dried-cranberry garnish and each day-boat scallop, each obscure Belgian beer and each boutique Oregon Pinot Noir, each crusty roast chicken and dish of iconic macaroni and cheese. Almost every aspect of the restaurant, from its double-height communal table to the admonition on the menu that cell-phone use interferes with the controls on the deep fryer, is as ironically pitch-perfect as the Neil Diamond songs on a Silver Lake DJ’s iPod. 11628 Santa Monica Blvd., No. 9, W.L.A., (310) 207-5160 or Lunch Mon.–Fri. 11:30 a.m.–3 p.m.; dinner Mon.–Sat. 5–10 p.m. Beer and wine. Lot parking. AE, MC, V. Dinner for two, food only, $30–$60.American Bistro. JG $$

Beverly Hills and vicinity  Fogo de Chao Churrascarias, southern Brazilian steak houses, are not new in Los Angeles. But Fogo de Chao is less a restaurant than a sizzling theme park of meat, a quarter-acre of sword-wielding gauchos, smoldering logs, and soaring walls perforated with bottles of the heartier red wines. It is a land of razor-sharp knives and double-weight forks, A-1 sauce and chimichurri, and all the dripping, smoking flesh you can eat carved off swords at your table: $48.50, cash on the barrelhead. 133 N. La Cienega Blvd., Beverly Hills, (310) 289-7755. Lunch Mon.–Fri. 11:30 a.m.–2 p.m.; dinner Mon.–Thurs. 5–10 p.m., Fri. 5–10:30 p.m., Sat. 4:30–10:30 p.m., Sun. 4–9:30 p.m. Full bar. Valet parking. All major credit cards accepted. Prix fixe, food only, dinner $48.50 per person. Southern Brazilian. JG $$$

Talesai The owners of Talesai on Sunset Boulevard brought all their experience and many of their best dishes to this chic, glassed-in fishbowl of a café situated at one end of a Beverly Hills mini-mall. Friendly service and beautiful Asian statuary mitigate the industrial spareness of the room, but nothing tempers the boomeranging noise during dinner. Through it all, the refined Thai cooking sings with freshness, quality and flavor — try crisp corncakes, chicken curry, rib-eye salad, all the desserts. 9198 Olympic Blvd., Beverly Hills, (310) 271-9345. Lunch Mon.–Fri. 11:30 a.m.–2:30 p.m.; dinner daily 5–10 p.m. Beer and wine. Takeout. Lot parking. AE, D, DC, MC, V. Entrées $7.95–$12.95. Thai. MH $

Santa Monica/BrentwoodThe Counter The “Build Your Own Burger” idea behind the Counter, a fashionable dive in Ocean Park, makes it a universe of possibilities centering around the hamburger and its matrix of 40-odd fixings, a restaurant where a thick, rare, organic-beef hamburger with herbed goat cheese, dried cranberries and roasted chiles seems not just the fancy of a celebrity used to flexing his whim of iron but almost an imperative. Ranch dressing on the side? Done! There is a wine-bar aspect to the place (very decent, if obscure, vintages from California), a selection of microbrews, and waitresses who do not, to put it mildly, look as if they are part of the regular hamburger-eating demographic. 2901 Ocean Park Blvd., Santa Monica, (310) 399-8383. Open Mon.–Thurs. 11 a.m.–10 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 11 a.m.–11 p.m., Sun. noon–9 p.m. Beer and wine. Takeout. Lot parking. MC, V. Food for two: $13–$22. American. JG $

Reddi-Chick In the exalted reaches north of Montana Avenue, the Brentwood Country Mart is synonymous with Reddi-Chick, whose roaring fire and golden-skinned roasting fowl exude an aroma almost powerful enough to smell at the beach. The basic item here is the chicken basket, half a roast chicken buried beneath a high mound of fries. It is probably not the best chicken you’ve ever had, but it’s real good, like the best conceivable version of the chickens that spin in supermarkets. 225 26th St., Santa Monica, (310) 393-5238. Mon.–Sat. 9 a.m.–7:30 p.m. No alcohol. Street parking. Cash only. Sandwiches and dinners $4.10–$15.75. American. JG $

Culver City/Venice and vicinity El Rincon Criollo This family-owned café serves hearty, classic Cuban fare minus the grease or frills. Start off with a little fried yuca ($3), lightly salted, with a potato-like consistency. The Cuban roast pork ($7.50) is hard to beat, delicately seasoned and bursting with flavor, served alongside a hefty portion of white rice and black beans. Be sure and complement your meal with a fresh cup of Cuban coffee ($1.50). 4361 Sepulveda Blvd., Culver City, (310) 391-4478. Lunch and dinner daily, 11 a.m.– 10 p.m. Beer and wine. Takeout; catering. MC, V. Cuban. JG ¢Tender Greens A line outside a restaurant in downtown Culver City is nothing new these days. But the line outside Tender Greens, the salad café opened by veterans of Shutters and Casa del Mar, is unusual in its velocity, the utter speed with which you find yourself facing down a counterperson who wants to know whether you want to trick out your big, stainless-steel bowl of organic Scarborough Farms greens as an ahi-tuna niçoise, a grilled-chicken Caesar, a mesquite-grilled flat iron steak salad or a Mediterranean-style grilled Oxnard vegetable salad. Tender Greens may be the very first place in Los Angeles where it is possible to get a delicious meal made with locally grown, sustainable, Earth-friendly ingredients with less hassle (and not much more expense) than it would take to pick up a double scoop with Heath Bar bits. Don’t miss the chocolate cupcake sprinkled with toffee. 9523 Culver Blvd., Culver City, (310) 842-8300 or Open daily 11:30 a.m.–9 p.m. Beer, wine. City lot parking around corner. AE, MC, V. Main dishes $9–$10. Salad bar. JG $


San Fernando Valley El Parron Chilean Grill A Chilean restaurant in Van Nuys, El Parron is a funny kind of place, a compact dining room that somehow converts into a nightclub a few times a week. The waitresses are such cheerleaders for the cuisine that you half expect them to break into a song praising the empanadas or the puffingly huge parrillada combinations. The house pebre, a Chilean relish made with tomatoes, onions and oregano, is suitable for dressing up almost everything at the restaurant but ice cream. El Parron fancies itself a seafood house, but the Chilean seafood available here is pretty limited — a few dishes involving congrio, a delicate fish that is tastier deep fried than grilled or stewed; a salad of the (canned) Chilean abalone locos, and another salad of curly sea snails piled high on a mayonnaise-drenched avocado. In South America, the best-known Chilean dish is probably bistec a lo pobre, a grilled steak topped with onions and a couple of gooey-yolked fried eggs, but this may not be the best dish to get at El Parron — instead go for the stews or the pastel de choclo. The lovely beef cazuela, the vegetable-rich Chilean equivalent of a Mexican cocido, is a perfect light lunch on a chilly afternoon. 6620 Van Nuys Blvd., Van Nuys, (818) 988-1226. Tues.–Fri. & Sun. 11 a.m.–10 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 11 a.m.–11 p.m. Entertainment on weekends. Beer, wine. Lot parking in rear. MC, V. Dinner for two, food only, $25–$45. JG $$

La Fondue Bourguignonne La Fondue is the ’70s on a stick, a Three’s Company restaurant set come to living, breathing life: dark wood and gleaming copper; jugs of California “burgundy” siphoned into carafes; tape loops of classical music that repeat so often, you begin to suspect they are recorded on 8-track. If you have ever eaten fondue, you probably know the drill. A waiter brings out a chafing dish filled with bubbling melted Gruyère, and you dunk stale hunks of baguette into the stuff, inhaling sweetly alcoholic fumes from the cherry brandy and white wine that are always incorporated into the mixture, occasionally pausing to munch on a pickle or to take a swig of wine. For dessert? Chocolate fondue, of course. 13359 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks, (818) 788-8680. Dinner nightly 5:30–10 p.m. Valet parking. AE, MC, V. Fondue. JG $$

South Bay/LAX Al-Noor Nehari is more or less the Pakistani national dish, an intense, mahogany concoction of lamb shanks flavored with garlic, chiles, and an immoderate amount of shredded fresh ginger. Nehari can sometimes be as genteel as a country French ragout, but the nehari at Al-Noor — also a respectable venue for Pakistani breads, spicy stews and smoky, tandoor-cooked meats — is simmered down to a steaming, creamy mass with the density of a dwarf star, bubbling and glistening with red-tinted oil, a stew substantial enough to fortify three hungry men after a day of hard labor. 15112 Inglewood Ave., Lawndale, (310) 675-4700. Tues.–Sun. 11 a.m.–9:30 p.m. No alcohol. Takeout. Valet parking. D, MC, V. $12–$25. Indian. $

 Al-Watan A bare, smoky dining room adjacent to a Muslim butcher shop, Al-Watan is the summit of basic Pakistani cooking in Los Angeles, spicy, meaty, and deeply inflected by the flavors of ginger, cardamom and chiles, with some of the most vividly smoky tandoor-cooked meats you will ever taste. First among the stews is haleem, beef braised with shredded wheat until it breaks down into a thick gravy with the flavor of well-browned roast-beef drippings, but as meaty as Al-Watan may be, even vegetarians can be happy here: Navratan korma, a mixture of cauliflower, green beans and carrots stir-fried with chile and plenty of spices, is like a wonderful Muslim ratatouille, the flavors of each vegetable fresh and distinct while contributing to the cumulative effect of the cumin-scented whole. 13611 Inglewood Ave., Hawthorne, (310) 644-6395. Open daily 11 a.m.–10 p.m. No alcohol. Takeout. Street parking. MC, V. Indian. JG $


East Los Angeles/Highland Park Antojitos Guerrero Bathed in the deafening roar of a jukebox and the Atlántico game playing simultaneously at top volume, Antojitos Guerrero is a small family restaurant specializing in the dishes of central Mexico’s Guerrero state, which is to say barbacoa, beef steamed with chiles in maguey leaves until it is tender as an Usher ballad, heaps of it with thick, homemade tortillas and extra chile if you happen to be into excess. 5623 York Blvd., Highland Park, (323) 254-6118. Open daily 8 a.m.–7 p.m. No alcohol. Takeout. Street parking. Dinner for two, food only, $5.50–$6.99. Mexican. JG ¢

Mariscos Sinaloa Think simple, beachy seafood. Mariscos Sinaloa, in a converted Taco Bell, serves competent ceviches, basic tostadas topped with sliced avocado and things like octopus or shrimp, and straightforward seafood botanas, which are the Mexican equivalent of tapas more or less. It’s a pleasant place to spend an afternoon, out on the patio, watching the world pass by. 5633 York Blvd., Highland Park, (323) 258-6823. Open daily 9 a.m.–8:30 p.m. No alcohol. Takeout. Parking in rear. Dinner for two, food only, $4–$22. Regional Mexican. JG ¢

Burbank/Glendale/Eagle Rock The Oinkster If you approach Colorado Boulevard just right, on the blocks west of Eagle Rock Boulevard, you will be hit with the smell of wood smoke, a formidable, fragrant blast. The Oinkster is the newest child of André Guerrero — chef of Max and Señor Fred and a lot of long-gone places that you’d recognize if you’ve been following the Los Angeles restaurant scene for a while — and it appears to be his stab at fame and fortune in the franchisable-fast-food division. Where Leonard “Zeke’s” Schwartz threw his hard-won reputation behind barbecue and Wolfgang Puck behind pizza, Guerrero places his behind pork. He apprenticed himself to the masters at Langer’s, and now he cures and smokes his own pastrami. There are smoky Carolina-style pulled-pork sandwiches on hamburger buns, caesar-esque salads with chicken, garlic mayonnaise and homemade catsup, Angus-beef burgers, and rotisserie chickens when they haven’t run out of them. The Belgian fries turn out better if you ask for them well done than if you leave the matter to chance. 2005 Colorado Blvd., Eagle Rock, (323) 255-OINK. Mon.–Thurs. 11 a.m.–10 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 11 a.m.–11 p.m., Sun. 11 a.m.–9 p.m. Beer, wine. Parking lot. All major CC. Entrees $4.75–$8.75. American. JG

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. Takeout. Lot parking. MC, V. JG ¢

Pasadena and vicinity

Porto Alegre The upper-west level of Pasadena’s Paseo Colorado complex is a catalog of mild modern sins, a promenade of cigar stores, wine bars and tea shops, crystal-laden boutiques and holistic-massage parlors, overlaid by a thin film of hot suburban lust. Fitting right in is the new Brazilian churrascaria Porto Alegre, a yawningly huge palace of the basest carnal appetites. Here, dripping rump roasts carved to order from superheated metal swords, fennel-laced sausages and plump chicken legs, crisp-skinned quail and fat prime rib, bacon-wrapped filets and an incongruous side of baked salmon are slipped onto your plate until you grab a waiter’s lapels and shriek “Stop!” Porto Alegre is neither L.A.’s best churrascaria (that would be Fogo de Chão), its sexiest (By Brazil in Torrance), nor its sleekest (probably Burbank’s Picanha). Its sisters, the massive Green Field restaurants in Covina, Long Beach and Queens, far surpass it in grandeur. Gaucho’s Village in Glendale is homier. But in a mall whose other choices run to Tokyo Wako, Islands and P.F. Chang’s, Porto Alegre might as well be the greatest restaurant in the world. 260 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena, (626) 744-0555. Open daily 11 a.m.–10 p.m. Full bar. Parking lot. All major CC. Entrees $18.50–$35. Brazilian. JG $$Mike & Anne’s Restaurant There is a certain kind of medium-priced grown-up restaurant that is spreading over the landscape like kudzu: urban, comfortable dining rooms, often with outdoor terraces, lubricated with recorded bebop and reasonably priced Spanish reds, understated architecture and conversation. Mike & Anne’s, a few steps from the South Pasadena Gold Line station, has learned the formula by heart. Is there a cheeseburger with blue cheese and a sweet-onion relish? Beet salad with arugula and walnuts? Mussels cooked with some form of Spanish chorizo? Check, check and check. The flat iron steak is garnished with an entire farmers-market’s worth of fingerling potatoes and artisanal royal green apples (where were all the flat iron steaks just three years ago?), and the pan-crisped chicken breast shares a plate with vaguely curried couscous and a scattering of rather oversteamed broccoflower buds. Is this cuisine? No, it is cooking, the kind of stuff you might make yourself for small dinner parties if you had a farmers-market habit and a subscription to Bon Appétit. But it is good enough, and the banana bread with peanut cream is an inspiration. 1040 Mission St., S. Pasadena, (626) 799-7199. Tues.–Sun. 11 a.m.–2:30 p.m. & 3:30–9:30 p.m. Beer, wine. Street parking. Dinner entrees $15–$24. AE, D, MC, V. American. JG $$


Monterey Park/San Gabriel and vicinity Oriental Pearl Oriental Pearl may only be the fifth- or sixth-best Sichuan restaurant in the area. The fried chicken cubes with hot pepper don’t sing quite like the same dish at Chung King, where it is prepared with at least triple the amount of dried chiles, and the octopus with pickled pepper is pleasing in a direct, funky way but is somehow one-dimensional. The fried spareribs with prickly ash are far less numbing than one might wish. The spicy fried fish tai-an-style is on the mushy side. The array of cold dishes doesn’t even include fried peanuts, which some of us consider essential. But still — one of the great things about the San Gabriel restaurant scene is that the fifth-best Sichuan restaurant in the area is really pretty good, and after a meal of wonton in chile broth, Chinese bacon with leeks, and water-boiled fish, by which the Sichuanese mean fish boiled in almost pure chile oil, you will probably be very happy. 727 E. Valley Blvd., No. 128C, San Gabriel, (626) 281-1898. Open daily for lunch and dinner. Takeout. AE, MC, V. JG $Satay Fong The Hong Kong Plaza Food Court may not seem a likely site for a culinary epiphany ­— but if you were to get your hands on an order of mie, a dripping, ink-black skewer of grilled pork at Satay Fong, you might be inclined to disagree. Like any Indonesian fast-food joint worth its kecap, Satay Fong’s menu revolves around variations on the basic nasi rames combination platter, foam plates containing dabs of three or four dishes, a mound of simmered rice, and a plastic cup or two of one chile sambal or another – maybe the mysterious but powerfully delicious roasted green-chile sauce hot enough to make the reputation of any Mexican restaurant in Los Angeles. Hong Kong Plaza Food Court, 989 S. Glendora Ave., No. 18, West Covina, (626) 337-1111. Open Tues.–Sun. noon–8 p.m. Cash only. No alcohol. Takeout. JG $

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