All India Café This place is at its best when you bring the fewest preconceptions to the table, when the food least resembles its regional roots. The restaurant’s signature dish is probably the “frankie,” a Bombay street snack that the Westside Bombay Cafe brought to Cal i fornia and perfected, sort of a thick flour tortilla with an egg sizzled onto it, wrapped around a filling of sweet, tamarind-laced lamb, stewed chicken or fried cauliflower. A frankie and a bottle of beer — you couldn’t ask for a better lunch. I also like the Bombay chicken, which could break through as an Indian-spiced analogue to, say, kung-pao chicken (without the nuts). Tikka masala, boneless bits of chicken drowned in fenugreek-flavored cream, is the sort of thing a Chasen’s chef might have come up with on a good day in 1956. 39 S. Fair Oaks Ave., Pasadena; (818) 440-0309. Open daily for lunch and dinner. Lunch for two, food only, $10–$11; dinner for two, food only, $18–$30. Beer and wine. Street parking only. AE, MC, V.
The first thing you should know about Caribbean Treehouse is that it’s usually out of just about everything on its bill of fare. Still, roti are usually on hand, sort of Trinidadian burritos containing chicken-potato stew or a handful of curried beef wrapped up in a griddled Trinidadian flatbread — order them spicy, pumped up with the restaurant’s fiery habañero-pepper sauce. There are different kinds of pelau, variations on the famous West Indian rice dish, cooked with pigeon peas or earthy, delicious black-eyed peas, served with heaps of curried meat. Sometimes there is a Trinidadian version of Jamaican jerk chicken, all back yard–barbecue smokiness and sweet, peppery sauce. On Saturdays, there is 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 that seem rooted less in the Caribbean than in Mitteleuropa. 1226 Centinela Ave., Inglewood; (310) 330-1170. Open Tues.–Thurs. 11 a.m.–8 p.m., Fri.–Sat. till 10 p.m., Sun. noon–7 p.m. Dinner for two, food only, $9–$15. Beer and wine. Lot parking. MC, V.
Eat ’n Park
At Eat ’n Park, there are nicely grilled Polish and Italian sausages and scalloped hash browns with onions upon request that are among the best in town. A big sign painted on the side of the building says, “Best Omelets in Burbank.” Though my knowledge of omelets in Burbank is far from definitive, I suspect you’ll find the best ones somewhere else. Still, putting aside any and all hypothetical comparisons, at Eat ’n Park a thin, three-egg mat wraps huge portions of decent-enough fillings: Italian sausage with mounds of sautéed onions and green pepper; something like a Denver with those vegetables and minced ham; an odd thing involving hot dogs and cheese; and 15 or so others. If you want, you can get these giant omelets even gianter for two. 2517 W. Victory Blvd., Burbank; (818) 843-9301. Open daily 6 a.m.–2 p.m. Breakfast for two $6–$10. No alcohol. Lot parking. Cash only.
El Gran Burrito
Like most great L.A. taco places, this one is less notable for the food served inside the restaurant than for the food served out back on weekends and evenings, when the big grill is set up under the awning, amid picnic tables in the parking lot. What’s on the menu? Carne asada, grilled beef, snatched from the fire, chopped — thwack! — into gristly nubs with a big cleaver, swept into a gray pile of glistening meat before being wrapped, in portions, into thick, oily corn tortillas, splashed with tart green tomatillo salsa, dusted with chopped onions and a little cilantro, and slid onto a thin paper plate in less time than it takes you to fish a dollar from your jeans. This is the crack cocaine of the food world! There’s other stuff on the menu — those gran burritos, say — but really, why bother? 4716 Santa Monica Blvd.; (213) 665-8720. Open daily for lunch and dinner, nightly and weekends only for tacos al fresco. Lunch or dinner for two, food only, $4–$8. No alcohol. Small parking lot. Cash only.
Kruang Tedd is basically the land of the bar snack, with a menu that lists mostly salads (which are mostly excellent) and the Thai equivalent of nachos and buffalo wings: chile-fried peanuts, grilled Thai sausage pungent with lemon grass, curls of deep-fried chicken skin. The best food in the house may be the banana-leaf chicken, thumb-size bits of dark meat marinated in something that must include mashed bananas, then loosely tamale-wrapped in banana leaves and served with a dram of vinegar for dipping. A southern-Thai-style bamboo-shoot curry, blazing hot, has an intriguingly complex flavor if you can get past the horse-barn bouquet. You’ll find all the standards here, too — chicken-coconut soup, pork with string beans, pad Thai noodles and an unusually good version of minty beef, notable for deep-fried leaves of minty Thai basil and a mellow, pervasive flavor of toasted garlic. 5151 Hollywood Blvd.; (213) 663-9988. Open daily 11:30 a.m.–2 a.m. Dinner for two, food only, $14–$25. Beer and wine. Valet parking. MC, V.
Roscoe’s House of Chicken and Waffles
Piling chicken on waffles (or vice versa) may be a time-honored custom in Amer ican cooking — Thomas Jefferson brought a waffle iron back from France in the 1790s, and the combination popped up in cookbooks not long after that — but as far as I know, nobody has cleared up the mystery of exactly how you’re supposed to eat chicken and waffles together. Do you wrap the waffle around a chicken leg and chomp on the thing, watching carefully for bones, as if it were a pig-in-a-blanket? (They do at Roscoe’s!) Or should the waffle assume the essentially ornamental nature of the fried tortilla at the base of a tostada, or the more fundamental role of the bread supporting an open-face hot turkey sandwich? We may never know. 1514 N. Gower St., Hollywood; (213) 466-7453. Open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Other locations in L.A. and Pasadena. Lunch or dinner for two, food only, $9–$15. Beer and wine. Takeout. AE, D, MC, V.
Tay Ho serves the Stradivari of banh cuon, transparent, almost membranous noodles, with the slight, stretchy resilience of caul and a faint fine-cloth nubbiness that catches bits of the thin sauce you ladle from a dog-faced (Goofy, to be precise) carafe. Here you can get the banh cuon wrapped around ground, dried shrimp, or wrapped around a filling of crumbled pork sautéed with black pepper and tree-ear mushrooms. The combination plate includes both kinds of buon cuon, heaps of cucumber and bean sprouts, a shrimp-topped sweet-potato fritter and a shrimp cruller spiked with green beans. Order the banh cuon with thit nuong, and you’ll get sort of noodle burritos stuffed with sweet Vietnamese barbecued pork; order them with bi, and there’ll be a gritty julienne of stewed pork skin. Get it how you like it — but do get the banh cuon! 1039 E. Valley Blvd., San Gabriel; (818) 280-5207. Other location in Westminster. Open Tues.–Sun. 9 a.m.–9 p.m. Lunch for two, $7–$9. No alcohol. Takeout. Lot parking. Cash only.
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