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Tuesday, July 11, 2006

99 Essential L.A. Restaurants

Written by Jonathan Gold

Summer Restaurants '06

What does the Weekly mean by “99 Essential L.A. Restaurants”? It isn’t necessarily a list of the very best restaurants in Los Angeles; that would almost certainly include L’Orangerie, which has been the most rigorously French restaurant on the West Coast for decades, as well as Belvedere at the Peninsula Hotel, Noe at the Omni, and too many high-end sushi bars to count, Mori, Shibucho and Wa among them. Nor is it a roster of the most influential restaurants: Valentino, Chinois and Patina are conspicuously absent. It certainly isn’t an inventory of the most popular places to eat — we do include Casa Bianca and Pink’s, but Langer’s Delicatessen is included instead of Junior’s and Brent’s, and you will find the quirky Mexican cooking of Babita instead of the throng-pleasing cuisine of El Coyote, Marix or Mexico City.


An essential restaurant is a restaurant that reflects Los Angeles in a startling and unusual way, that uses fresh local ingredients in a fashion that respects the land in which they were grown, that showcases cooking echoing both foreign-trained chefs’ region of origin and the hypercharged mosaic of the Los Angeles dining scene. An essential restaurant moves people, inspires them to think about food in a new way, inspires them to think about Southern California as a great agricultural region, a great port, a builder of the shiny symbolism that is a large factor in how the rest of the world thinks of itself. And it’s also a damned good place to eat.


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Alcazar

A fragrant slice of coastal Lebanon, Alcazar is a shaded terrace of music, grilled mullet and waiters who transfer bright coals of apple-flavored tobacco to brass hookahs. Enormous kebab plates are rushed to tables — and the shish towook, grilled kebabs of extravagantly marinated chicken breast, is as good as a kebab ever gets. On weekends, ultrathin sajj bread is baked on the patio in a vast heated pan, wrapped around grilled meat or made into the thin, crisp, thyme-scented Arab quesadillas called kl’leg. Lebanon is famous for its red wine, but Alcazar, in the gentle levant of Encino, also serves oceans of arak, an anise-scented Lebanese liquor that turns milky when you stir it with ice and cool water. 17239 Ventura Blvd., Encino, (818) 789-0991. Tues.–Fri. 11:30 a.m.–2:30 p.m. and 5:30–10:30 p.m., Sat. 11:30 a.m.–­mid., Sun. noon–9 p.m. Full bar. Hookah and cigar lounge. Takeout. Lot parking in rear. AE, MC, V. Lebanese. $


Alegria

Alegria is the kind of Mexican bohemian hangout you may have suspected must exist somewhere in Los Angeles, an art-infused Silver Lake café where the talk always seems to be of music, gallery shows and the depredations of City Hall. The usual taco plates and vegetarian burritos are well-represented, but the best food here revolves around the extraordinary mole sauce: sharp, thick, sweetly complex, with top notes of smoke, clove and citrus, lashed with dried-chile heat, black enough to darken the brightest Pepsodent smile. (It takes two days to make, a million steps, and has something like 20 ingredients.) If you insist, you can get a side of mole sauce to put on your burrito. 3510 Sunset Blvd., Silver Lake, (323) 913-1422, www.alegriaonsunset.com. Mon.–Thurs. 10 a.m.–10 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 10 a.m.–11 p.m. No alcohol. Takeout. Lot parking. Cash only. Mexican. $


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. MC, V. Indian. $$


Angeli Caffe

Before Angeli, Angelenos had no idea how much they loved casual Italian cooking — not four-cheese lasagna or cognac-flamed veal fillets, but the spaghetti alla checca, roast chicken and minimally garnished pizza that a Sienese teenager might eat for dinner at the trattoria down the block on the nights his mother didn’t feel like turning on the stove. Angeli’s popularity may have inspired hundreds of restaurants featuring salads dressed with balsamic vinegar, but Angeli’s rustic simplicity is still the benchmark. The pastas of chef Evan Kleiman, KCRW radio host and the local standard-bearer for the Slow Food movement, are beyond remarkable. And if you live within a few miles of the restaurant, they even deliver. The Thursday-night dinners, multicourse prix fixe extravaganzas based around a different cuisine each week, are legend. 7274 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles, (323) 936-9086, www.angelicaffe.com. Lunch Tues.–Fri. 11:30 a.m.–2:30 p.m.; dinner Tues.–Thurs., Sun. 5–10 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 5–11 p.m. Beer and wine. Takeout. Valet parking. AE, D, MC, V. Rustic regional Italian. $$


Angelini Osteria

A loud Italian trattoria with reasonable versions of Roman trattoria classics like saltimbocca, spaghetti and pollo alla diavola, Angelini Osteria is the place to go for a decent scottadito, a glass of Chianti or a crisp, sparely dressed pizza. The more formal La Terza seems closer to chef Gino Angelini’s sensibilities, but sometimes you crave the challenging textural complexities of smoked sea bass smeared with bottarga, and sometimes you just want a quick plate of spaghetti carbonara. If the nightly specials include Angelini’s braised oxtails, do not hesitate. 7313 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 297-0070. Lunch Tues.–Fri. noon–2:30 p.m.; dinner Tues.–Sun. 5:30–10:30 p.m. Beer and wine. Valet parking. AE, JCB, MC, V. Italian. $$


Antequera de Oaxaca

The place specializes in botanas — bar munchies, more or less, served in a restaurant without alcohol. The botanas are assembled into a big combination plate for one, two or four people: crunchy balls of chorizo, dried beef, professional-strength slabs of fried pork rind, a tangle of shredded string cheese, Oaxacan chile relleno stuffed with a sweet-sour chicken stew, and chunky, rustic guacamole. The pace is just right. The dining room is pleasant. And the plate is enough for two or three hungry people. 5200 Melrose Ave., Hollywood, (323) 466-1101. Open daily 9 a.m.–8:30 p.m. No alcohol. Takeout. Street parking. MC, V. Oaxacan. $


A.O.C.

If Suzanne Goin’s wine bar weren’t quite so popular, it would be the kind of place you dropped into for a glass of vino and maybe a bit of octopus, then a glass of Sancerre and a few grilled sardines, then a glass of Friulian Tocai and a plate of sliced prosciutto, then a glass of Corbières and the tiniest plate of skewered grilled lamb with mint. Unless you were in the mood for the bacon-wrapped dates with Parmesan on the bar menu, which would go so nicely with one of those big southern Italian reds, or a ripe Crozier blue with a late-bottled port, or whatever creature comes with a bit of Goin’s romesco sauce. You could drink and eat like this all night if you remembered to make a reservation — and if A.O.C. didn’t unreasonably stop serving at 11. 8022 W. Third St., Los Angeles, (323) 653-6359. Mon.–Fri. 6–11 p.m., Sat. 5:30–11 p.m., Sun. 5:30–10 p.m. Wine bar. Valet parking. AE, DC, MC, V. French-Mediterranean-­influenced small plates. $$


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. Takeout. Street parking. AE, MC, V. Japanese. $$


Attari

If you grew up in pre-revolution Tehran, this leafy patio is probably the café of your dreams, a pleasant place where the sandwiches are made with Iranian vegetable cutlets or extravagantly dressed hot dogs, and the clientele is as well-dressed as the lunch crowd at Spago. On Fridays, ab-goosht is the closest thing there is in the restaurant world to an automatic order, an intricate lamb stew mashed into a thick, homogeneous paste with the texture of refried beans, and an expressed liquid, the soul of the dish, served separately as soup. 1388 Westwood Blvd., Westwood (entrance on Wilkins), (310) 441-5488. Tues.–Sun. 11 a.m.–6 p.m. No alcohol. Street parking, plus validated lot parking at Borders. Cash only. Iranian. $


Babita

Babita may be the platonic ideal of a Southern California Mexican restaurant, a comfortable place that just happens to have great food, a rough-edged Eastside joint whose service is burnished to a white-tablecloth sheen. Chef Roberto Berrelleza, who spent decades as a maitre d’ before he ever picked up a pan, is a modern master of Mexican cuisine; and his fish-stuffed yellow chiles, his seared fish with huitlacoche vinaigrette and his oozy, porky chiles en nogada are worth the drive across town. (The latter is seasonal, September to January.) His best dishes tend to be those closest to the seafood preparations inspired by his coastal Sinaloan hometown. His shrimp Topolobampo may still be the single fieriest invention in the history of Los Angeles cuisine, a citrusy sauté of white wine, tomatoes and diced habanero peppers that takes over its victims’ bodies like an Ebola infection. The sensation isn’t anguish, exactly — the endorphin rush tends to kick in before the pain receptors realize something has gone terribly, terribly wrong — as much as it is a total, irrevocable loss of control. 1823 S. San Gabriel Blvd., San Gabriel, (626) 288-7265. Lunch Tues.–Fri. 11:30 a.m.–3:30 p.m.; dinner Sun. and Tues.–Thurs. 5:30–9 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 5:30–10 p.m. Beer and wine. Takeout. Street parking. AE, D, DC, MC, V. Mexican. $


Beacon: An Asian Cafe

Beacon marks the triumphant return to form of Kazuto Matsusaka, who was chef for almost a decade at Wolfgang Puck’s Chinois in the ’80s. His current versions of miso-marinated cod, vegetable nabemono and grilled shisito peppers are all fine. Grilled-chicken skewers are powerfully flavored with the herb shiso and the tiny Japanese plum called ume. You’d probably never find anything like Matsusaka’s salad of perfectly ripe avocado dressed with toasted sesame seeds and minced scallions in Tokyo, but the salad follows classical principles, and it is luscious. The hanger steak with wasabi is so successful, the searing tang of the horseradish doing something wonderful to the tart, carbonized flavor of grilled meat, that you might wonder why nobody thought of the combination until now. 3280 Helms Ave., Los Angeles, (310) 838-7500. Lunch Mon.–Sat. 11:30 a.m.–2 p.m.; dinner Tues.–Wed. and Sun. 5:30–8:15 p.m., Thurs.–Sat. 5:30–9:15 p.m. Beer and wine. Lot parking. AE, MC, V. Asian Fusion. $$$


Beechwood

Only in the 21st century could you find a restaurant quite so midcentury modern, with sleek love-seat sofas and machine-polished wood and a quantity of prefabricated design that probably would have amused Ray and Charles Eames back in the days when their aesthetic was found more in your kindergarten classroom than in fashionable cafés. Chefs Brooke Williamson and Nick Roberts, a kitchen team who have been the Next Big Thing in Los Angeles since their late pubescence, seem to have settled into variations on the theme of bar snacks here, the farmers-market-inflected rib-eye ­burgers, sticky pork ribs and burrata-tomato salads you may remember from their last venture, Amuse, plus a slightly more formal New American menu for the serene back dining room that includes things like duck confit with dandelion greens and sautéed catfish with collards and black-eyed peas. But the restaurant is open until 1 a.m. And if you are so inclined, the fire pit in the patio may be even cozier than the one at Johnny’s French Dip Pastrami. If you ask nicely, the waitress may even bring you a plate of fried smelt to go with your Amstel Light. 822 Washington Blvd., Venice, (310) 448-8884. Dinner menu Tues.–Sat. 6–11 p.m.; bar menu served late into the evening and also Sun.–Mon. Full bar. Valet parking. New American. $$


Bistro K

To put it plainly, Bistro K is a restaurant out of a foodie’s daydream, a kitchen that may rank among the dozen best in town, run by gifted and accomplished French chef Laurent Quenioux with a bring-your-own-wine policy and no corkage, where a fine, intimate dinner costs rather less than a quick meal of cheeseburgers and drinks down the road. You will find neither steak frites nor roast chicken, but there are plenty of oddities like braised snips of veal tendon garnishing medallions of rare venison, ant eggs in season and such seasonally appropriate things as oeufs en meurette, a wintry harvest dish of eggs poached in a red-wine reduction with meaty slivers of bacon. A warm salad of duck gizzards sautéed with cèpes, chanterelle mushrooms and hot chiles, one of the most satisfying appetizers I have ever eaten in Los Angeles, costs only $7. The cassoulet of duck hearts, tender nuggets of meat braised with turnips and slippery bits of poached duck’s tongue, served in a cardamom-scented mushroom sauce on a sort of footed cake plate, is worthy of a multistarred Michelin laureate. 1000 S. Fremont Ave., South Pasadena, (626) 799-5052. Wed.–Sat. 5:30–9 p.m. Free corkage. Lot parking. AE, MC, V. French Bistro. $$$


Bluebird Cafe

Let Beacon and Ford’s hog the credit: A few blocks from downtown Culver City, in a freshly painted diner that looks as if it has been languishing since the ’50s, Vincent Trevino and Chris Marble’s breakfast-lunch café is the real soul of the new Media District, a center of muscular omelets, big salads and thick hamburgers, BLTs with avocado, real iced tea, and a tuna melt for the ages. His pressed sandwiches of cold cuts and cheeses actually taste like their inspirations, the panini served at the Autogrills that dot every superhighway in Italy, more than the fancier uptown versions do, and Trevino’s pretty iced cupcakes are renowned. 8572 National Blvd., Culver City, (310) 841-0939, www.bluebirdcafela.com. Mon.–Fri. 8 a.m.–5 p.m., Sat. 8 a.m.–3 p.m. Free lot parking. AE, MC, V. American. $$


Border Grill

Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger don’t redefine Mexican food; they just prepare it well, transforming the taco, the tostada, the homely chile relleno — here a freshly roasted poblano crammed with Mexican cheese and fried in an egg batter crisp and lacy as the coating on tempura shrimp — into creatures almost unrecognizable if you’re used to their Cal-Mex equivalents. The long, black dining room, delineated by a crazily skewed ceiling painted with rocket ships and wrestling-masked batmen, looks even better now than it did when the place first opened. Border Grill is the rare mainstream restaurant whose tacos don’t make you yearn for a truck parked by an auto-parts junkyard somewhere in East L.A. 1445 Fourth St., Santa Monica, (310) 451-1655. Sun.–Thurs. 11:30 a.m.–10 p.m., Fri.–Sat. till 11 p.m. Full bar open till mid. Takeout. Street and valet parking. AE, D, MC, V. Modern Mexican. $$



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 created by Dolce alum Mirko Paderno and Giorgio’s veteran Santos MacDonal can be almost as sparkling as the crowd. 755 N. La Cienega Blvd., West Hollywood, (310) 659-3535, www.bridgela.com. Restaurant Mon.–Sat. 6–11 p.m. Lounge 8 p.m.–2 a.m. Full bar. Street and valet parking. AE, MC, V. Italian. $$$


Caioti Pizza Cafe´

When the secret history of California pizza is finally written, a greasy volume inscribed in arugula, goat cheese and white truffle oil, former Spago pizza chef Ed LaDou’s name will be known across the land. If a pizza in Denmark or Ohio has smoked Gouda and pine nuts on it, it is in no small part due to LaDou. And Caioti Pizza Café is a shrine to LaDou’s creations. The barbecue chicken pizza, with slivered red onion, smoked Gouda and barbecue sauce instead of tomato, is definitive nostalgia, a taste of multiculti post-Olympics Los Angeles. 4346 Tujunga Ave., Studio City, (818) 761-3588. Sun.–Thurs. 11 a.m.–10 p.m., Fri.–Sat. till 11 p.m.; brunch Sat. 9–11 a.m., Sun. 9 a.m.–3 p.m. No alcohol. Takeout. Street parking. MC, V. Contemporary California. $


Campanile

If it’s been a while since you visited Campanile, the home of big grilled-vegetable plates, giant blocks of seared protein and artfully homey desserts, its menu, which has evolved into a relatively refined document of Italian-influenced cooking, may come as a bit of a surprise. These days, Campanile feels like a cosmopolitan Tuscan restaurant that has just received its second Michelin star. The basic premise of Mark Peel’s cuisine is the perfection of Mediterranean peasant dishes, often in ways that may be incomprehensible to the Mediterranean peasants in question: the best farmers-market ingredients, assembled with chefly skill, and illuminating the spirit of each dish as if from within. 624 S. La Brea Ave., Los Angeles, (323) 938-1447, www.­campanilerestaurant.com. Lunch Mon.–Fri. 11:30 a.m.–2:30 p.m.; dinner Mon.–Wed. 6–10 p.m., Thurs.–Sat. 5:30–11 p.m.; brunch Sat.–Sun. 9:30 a.m.–1:30 p.m. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, DC, MC, V. California/Mediterranean. $$$


Casa Bianca

Of all the neighborhood pizza parlors in Los Angeles touted as the best this side of New Haven, one of them actually has to be the best. And my vote goes to Casa Bianca, especially if the pizza happens to include the fried eggplant, the sweetly spiced homemade sausage — or preferably both. The lines are extremely long, but the crust is chewy, and speckled with enough carbony, bubbly, burnt bits to make each bite slightly different from the last. Remarkable. And there’s freshly filled cannoli for dessert. 1650 Colorado Blvd., Eagle Rock, (323) 256-9617. Dinner Tues.–Thurs. 4 p.m.–mid., Fri.–Sat. 4 p.m.–1 a.m. Beer and wine. Street parking. Cash only. Italian. $


Chameau

Chameau may describe itself as French-Moroccan, but the food is quite different from both the plain cooking you’ll find at the fashionable couscous cafés in Paris’ Marais and the new-style cuisine you’ll find in Mediterranean restaurants that happen to feature a tagine or two on their menus. Chef Adel Chagar’s flavors may be modern, lightened and fresh, but his techniques, many of them, come from the traditional Moroccan kitchen, whose methods tend to be fairly languid: chicken-stuffed b’stilla made with incredibly time-consuming warka, couscous made by hand and lamb-shoulder tagines cooked until the meat almost dissolves into a lamb-scented cloud. 339 N. Fairfax Ave., Los Angeles, (323) 951-0039. Dinner Tues.–Sat. 6–10 p.m. Beer and wine. Street parking. AE, D, DC, MC, V. French Moroccan. $$$


Chiche´n Itza´

The community-run market La Paloma is everything a shopping center should be in Los Angeles, a collection of shops selling art and artisanal products, a bakery, and a food court representing the gamut of Mexican regional cooking in Los Angeles: a Oaxacan juice bar, a Michoacán-style taqueria — and Chichén Itzá, which may have the most serious Yucatecan cooking in town, its menu a living, chile-intensive thesaurus of the panuchos and codzitos, sopa de lima and papadzules, banana-leaf tamales and shark casseroles that make up one of Mexico’s most thrilling cuisines. From the delicious banana leaf–baked pork called cochinito pibil to the cinnamon-scented bread pudding called caballeros pobres, Chichén Itzá, named for the vast temple complex north of Cancún, is as fresh as a marketplace restaurant in Mérida. In Mercado La Paloma, 3655 S. Grand Ave., Los Angeles, (213) 741-1075. Sun.–Wed. 8 a.m.–6:30 p.m., Thurs.–Sat. 8 a.m.–8 p.m. No alcohol. Takeout. Lot parking. AE, MC, V. Yucatecan. $$


Chosun Galbi

For decades, Woo Lae Oak on Western was the favorite Korean restaurant of people who didn’t like Korean food all that much, a fancy place where they could convince themselves that galbi wasn’t too different from an ordinary steak dinner. Now that the Koreatown Woo Lae Oak is on hiatus, the conservative Koreatown choice is probably Chosun Galbi, a pleasant restaurant with the patio-side glamour of a Beverly Hills garden party: granite tables, gorgeous waitresses and expensive, well-marbled meat that glows as pinkly as a Tintoretto cherub. Don’t miss the chewy cold buckwheat noodles with marinated stingray. And make sure to throw some shrimp on the barbie, too — the pricey little beasties crisp up like a dream. 3330 W. Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 734-3330. Open daily 11 a.m.–11 p.m. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, D, MC, V. Korean barbecue. $$


Citizen Smith

Your opinion of Citizen Smith probably has a lot to do with whether you think it’s amusing or insulting to be offered a bottle of Mickey’s Big Mouth with your fried chicken, whether you’d enjoy a live DJ with a fondness for Foghat and ELO, and whether you’d be comfortable in a restaurant whose ­specialty is probably giant onion rings, stacked on a plate like so many snow tires in a garage — the dining room feels like a lavish backstage party after a Strokes concert, although probably with less vegan food. 1600 N. Cahuenga Blvd., Hollywood, (323) 461-5001. Lunch Mon.-Fri. 11 a.m.-3 p.m.; dinner nightly 6 p.m.-2 a.m. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, MC, V. American. $


Ciudad

Cuchifritos at happy hour. Fatally strong mojitos. Peruvian-style ceviches and Bolivian-style tamales, Caribbean paella and a classic pescado Veracruzana, Bahia-style moqueqas and a fritanga that would knock them silly in Managua. Ciudad, the Pan-Latin downtown outpost of Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger, may be all things to all people, but especially to all people whose pleasures include bending an elbow every now and then. Daytime is for office workers; at night, two-thirds of the customers are dressed in black. 445 S. Figueroa St., downtown, (213) 486-5171. Mon.–Tues. 11:30 a.m.–9 p.m., Wed.–Thurs. 11:30 a.m.–10 p.m., Fri. 11:30 a.m.–11 p.m., Sat. 5–11 p.m., Sun. 5–9 p.m. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, D, MC, V. Pan-Latino. $


Clementine

At lunchtime, there may be no happier place in Los Angeles than Annie Miler’s cheerful takeout café across from Century City, home to Southern-ham biscuits, a showcaseful of carefully composed roast-vegetable salads, and an anthology’s worth of grilled cheese sandwiches crisped in an Italian sandwich press. The hot chocolate, made in the style of the Parisian tearoom Angelina, is a local legend. 1751 Ensley Ave., Los Angeles, (310) 552-1080, www.clementineonline.com. Mon.–Fri. 7 a.m.–7:30 p.m., Sat. 8 a.m.–5 p.m. No alcohol. Parking in rear lot and on street. AE, DC, MC, V. American. ¢


Cobras & Matadors

Steven Arroyo is the Bill Graham of tapas in Los Angeles, the impresario who made the concept of Spanish drinks ’n’ snacks as popular as sushi platters after dozens of others had tried and failed. And his dark, buzzy tapas parlors are teeming dens of olive oil and garlic, octopus and cured pig, grilled meats and pungent concoctions of seafood and paprika and beans rushed to the table still crackling in unglazed crocks. The Los Feliz restaurant has a nicely curated list of Spanish and South American wines; at the Hollywood restaurant, you buy your wines from the shop conveniently located next door. When you bring your prize back to the table, don’t be surprised if the counter guy is standing right there, corkscrew in hand. 7615 W. Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 932-6178. 4655 Hollywood Blvd., Los Feliz, (323) 669-3922. Dinner Sun.–Thurs. 6–11 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 6 p.m.–mid. BYOB. Valet parking. MC, V. Spanish. $


Cora’s Coffee Shoppe

An artfully rusted pergola, a patio shaded with crimson bougainvillea, a burbling Tuscan fountain, the low rumble of the nearby sea — Cora’s is to grungy beach cafés what a James Perse T-shirt is to something out of a Hanes three-pack: ­superficially similar, but perfected, made luxurious, and vastly more expensive. But sometimes you want a chef’s salad, and sometimes you want an insalata caprese made with farmers-market tomatoes and oozingly creamy ­burrata cheese; sometimes ham ’n’ eggs, and sometimes San Daniele prosciutto. Cora’s hamburgers are magnificent, drippy creatures made of coarsely chopped, beyond-prime Wagyu cow, and for dessert, there is an intense homemade burnt-caramel ice cream bitter enough to make a 10-year-old child weep. 1802 Ocean Ave., Santa Monica, (310) 451-9562. Tues.–Sat. 7 a.m.–9 p.m. Closed Sun.–Mon. No alcohol. Takeout. Lot parking. AE, MC, V. Continental, Italian-based. $


Cut

Have you ever tasted Kobe beef — not the admittedly decent American wagyu from the same breed of cow, but the real stuff, the $200-a-pound steaks imported from Japan? It’s like something Willy Wonka might make if he were into steak instead of chocolate, a single mouthful of which pumps out flavor after flavor after flavor, every possible sensation of smoke and char and tang and animal richness you can imagine until your teeth have extracted all the juices and the remaining fibers lie limply on your tongue. If you happen to be at Wolfgang Puck’s new steak house, Cut, which at the moment is probably the best steakhouse in the world that doesn’t happen to be in either Tokyo or Buenos Aires, and you happen to have in front of you what would ordinarily be a perfectly splendid corn-fed Nebraska strip steak, aged 35 days, seared at 1,200 degrees then finished over oak to a ruddy, juicy medium rare, and garnished, perhaps with bone marrow, you would take one bite of your neighbor’s Kobe steak and look around for rocks to throw at your own hunk of meat. If you have $120 million to spend on a painting, you might as well buy yourself a Klimt. If you have $120 to spend on a steak, you might want to consider visiting Cut — and splitting the Kobe strip three or four ways, because there is no way you can finish even a small example by yourself. Inserted into a new Richard Meier–designed space in the Regent Beverly Wilshire, in a semicircular all-white room whose angles make you feel as if you’re dining in a mid-’60s Frank Stella painting, Cut is to the other steak houses in town at the moment what Spago was to the pizza parlors back in 1981. Lee Hefter’s warm veal tongue with salsa verde, succulent maple-glazed pork belly, crisp-skinned potato “tart tatin” and pan-roasted Maine lobster with truffle sabayon are quite unlike anything before served in Los Angeles. 9500 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills, (310) 275-5200. Dinner Mon.–Sat. Full bar. Valet parking a half-block south of Wilshire Blvd. on Rodeo Drive. AE, D, MC, V. California Contemporary. $$$


Daikokuya

Sooner or later, all ramen lovers end up at Daikokuya, a loud, steamy noodle shop just a few blocks from the Music Center. Most ramen shops offer an endless list of possibilities; at Daikokuya, the choice is taken out of the equation — you will have the thin, curly noodles in pork broth, or you will have them kotteri-style, in even stronger pork broth, a formidable liquid, opaque and calcium-intensive, almost as rich as milk. Floating with the noodles are plump slabs of simmered pork, slices of seasoned bamboo shoots and a dusky, soy-simmered egg. When you’re in the mood, you can improve on the kitchen’s excesses by spooning in minced garlic from a tabletop jar. 327 E. First St., downtown, (213) 626-1680. Lunch Mon.–Sat. 11 a.m.–2:20 p.m.; dinner Mon.–Thurs. 5 p.m.–mid., Fri.–Sat. 5 p.m.–1 a.m., Sun. noon–7 p.m. Beer and wine. Takeout. Street parking. AE, MC, V. Japanese. $


Europane

A good croissant is a joy forever, crisp, airy and saturated with butter, large enough to take the sting off a double cappuccino but not so large that you’d be tempted to use it for anything so vulgar as a “croissandwich.” On a good day, Europane’s magnificent croissants could be mistaken for France’s best in a police lineup — the crisp, buttery chocolate croissant could make you swoon. Toss in the homemade granola, the epochal bread pudding and the gooiest egg-salad sandwich in town, and it’s no wonder that Europane’s regulars treat the bakery more as a permanent residence than as a café. 950 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena, (626) 577-1828. Mon.–Sat. 7 a.m.–5:30 p.m., Sun. till 3 p.m. No alcohol. Street parking. MC, V. California Bakery. ¢


Father’s Office

Creator of the most-imitated Los Angeles dish since Nancy Silverton reinvented an obscure Piedmontese dessert called panna cotta, Sang Yoon is the baron of the new-style cheeseburger: dry-aged beef cooked exceptionally rare, dressed with onions cooked down to the sweetness of maple syrup, Gruyère and Maytag blue cheeses, smoky bacon, arugula, and a tomato compote, all on a French roll. I don’t know if it’s a new health-department regulation, but I’m not sure that a restaurant opened in Los Angeles County this year without some kind of variation on Yoon’s burger. I expect to see a ciabatta-based version at Jack in the Box any day now. Still, at Yoon’s adults-only microbrew fiefdom, dining is a full-contact sport. If you want one of the few tables in the bar, you will have to circle the room until somebody gets ready to leave, then plunge into a scrum. 1018 Montana Ave., Santa Monica, (310) 393-BEER, www.fathersoffice.com. Food served Mon.–Wed. 5–10 p.m., Thurs. 5–11 p.m., Fri. 4–11 p.m., Sat. 3–11 p.m., Sun. 3–10 p.m. 21 and over only. Beer and wine. Takeout. Difficult street parking. AE, M, V. California Contemporary. $


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. Southern Brazilian. $$$


Ford’s Filling Station

Ford’s, whose chef-owner is Benjamin Ford, formerly of the restaurant Chadwick, is a bar that happens to have ambitious, organic food as opposed to a restaurant that happens to have a bar attached, a gastropub where you can enjoy pretty decent cooking while being bounced around like a pachinko ball. If you manage to power your way to a barstool or to an actual table, you will find most of the usual Los Angeles gastropub classics. If you like the fried Ipswich clams at Jar, you will probably like Ford’s rudely indelicate version. There is a hamburger tricked out with blue cheese and an onion compote, the requisite butter-lettuce salad with bacon, and a decent selection of cheeses and meats, some of them procured from Armandino Batali in Seattle, to help down the wine. And there’s butterscotch pudding for dessert. 9531 Culver Blvd., Culver City, (310) 202-1470. Mon.–Fri. 11 a.m.–11 p.m., Sat. 5–11 p.m. Full bar. Parking at city lot around the corner. AE, MC, V. California Contemporary. $


Geisha House

Geisha House is a monument of conspicuous consumption, bottles of champagne and expensive sake ornamenting the tables, the most exquisite tuna tartare, the vast, two-story post–Blade Runner space teeming with light, color and horny 25-year-olds with corporate American Express cards. You have never seen so many people at one time focused on getting fed, tipsy and laid — Geisha House is like a giant orgone box fueled by strong drink and sea-urchin roe, and lewd, happy vibrations seem to radiate in concentric circles throughout the restaurant. Have you seen this menu before? Of course you have, at Koi. 6633 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood, (323) 460-6300. Sun.–Wed. 6–10:30 p.m., Thurs. 6–11:30 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 6 p.m.–1 a.m. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, MC, V. Japanese. $$


Golden Triangle

Possibly the most compelling culinary reason to visit Whittier, the suburb that gave us Richard Nixon, MFK Fisher and conceptual artist Mark Kostabi, Golden Triangle may be the best Burmese restaurant in California. The place specializes in the garbanzo-flour-thickened fish chowder called moh hin gha, the biryani-style rice dish called dun buk htaminh, and lap pad thoke, a salad made with pickled tea leaves that have the consistency of stewed collard greens and the caffeine kick of a double espresso. Then there’s the incredible ginger salad, biting shreds of the spice tossed with coconut, fried garlic, fried yellow peas, peanuts and sesame seeds. If the world ever gave it a chance, ginger salad might have the universal appeal of a Big Mac. 7011 S. Greenleaf Ave., Whittier, (562) 945-6778. Mon.–Sat. 11 a.m.–10 p.m., Sun. 11 a.m.–9 p.m. Beer and wine. Takeout. AE, D, MC, V. Thai-Burmese. $


Grace

If Los Angeles restaurants are like rock bands, Neal Fraser is the glamorous indie-rock hero, a chef with a wobbly, idiosyncratic style that couldn’t be further from the finish-fetish crowd pleasers, a detailed, market-oriented sort of New American cuisine, heavy on French technique and inspired by the strong flavors and intricate presentations of New York chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten. The cooking can still be a little rough around the edges at Grace, but Fraser is clearly aspiring to greatness here — this is tremendously ambitious food. And there are freshly fried jelly doughnuts for dessert. What more could you want? 7360 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 934-4400. Tues.–Thurs. 6–10:30 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 6–11 p.m., Sun. 6–10 p.m. Full bar. Valet parking; difficult street parking. AE, MC, V. American. $$


The Griddle

The Griddle is an instant Hollywood institution, an alternate universe of unshaven, bed-headed young actors in muscle shirts and those who would ogle them, of guys from the craft unions, gangs of pretty script readers, and middle-aged men preening in Robert Evans shades. The Griddle is probably the best place in Los Angeles to take an out-of-town niece intent on spotting a Fox network star. Coffee comes to the table in squat plunger pots, and the enormous pancakes are available blanketed in cinnamon streusel, or spiked with Kahlua and Bailey’s, or smothered under an improbable mass of whipped cream and crumbled Oreos, and they are not the best pancakes in Los Angeles, but they’re good enough. 7916 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood, (323) 874-0377. Breakfast and lunch Mon.–Fri. 7 a.m.–4 p.m., Sat.–Sun. 8 a.m.–4 p.m. Beer. Lot parking in rear. AE, D, MC, V. American. $


The Grill on the Alley

Yes, the steaks are good; yes, the martinis are perfect; yes, the corned-beef hash (well-done, thank you very much) is sublime. But within the decidedly nonsoothing confines of the Grill, where show-business moguls still pack into the booths in the front dining room as thickly as commuters on a rush-hour MTA bus, you will also find this town’s essential rice pudding: touched with cinnamon, drizzled with heavy cream, coaxing the nutty, rounded essence out of every grain of rice. If Musso’s rice pudding is a lullaby, the Grill’s is a lullaby as sung by Renée Fleming. 9560 Dayton Way, Beverly Hills, (310) 276-0615. Mon.–Thurs. 11:30 a.m.–10:30 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 11:30 a.m.–11 p.m., Sun. 5–9 p.m. Full bar. Takeout. Valet parking after 6 p.m.; free street parking before that. AE, D, DC, MC, V. Traditional American Steak House. $$


Guelaguetza

Are you in the mood for fried grasshoppers with chile and lime? Even if you aren’t, at Guelaguetza, the best of the Oaxacan-style restaurants by far, you’ll find dishes you may have only read about in cookbooks or glossy magazines. At the original Koreatown location of Guelaguetza, not far from the biggest concentration of Oaxacan restaurants and bakeries this side of Oaxaca itself, you’ll find tortilla-like tlayudas the size of manhole covers, delicate beverages made from squash, and delicious, mole-drenched tamales. The black mole, based on ingredients the restaurant brings up from Oaxaca, is rich with chopped chocolate and burnt grain, toasted chile, and wave upon wave of textured spice — it’s as simple yet as nuanced as a great, old Côte Rôtie. 3337½ W. Eighth St., Los Angeles, (213) 427-0779. Open daily 8 a.m.–10 p.m. No alcohol. Street parking. AE, MC, V. Oaxacan. $


Haru Ulala

Los Angeles is in the middle of an izakaya renaissance, an explosion of intimate, beer-soaked taverns flipping out beakers of sake, small plates of tofu and braised seaweed, and small, oily grilled fish of every description. Haru Ulala, a neighborhood izakaya affiliated with the nearby Go-55 sushi bar, may have neither the encyclopedic sake list nor the fancy seafood selection of some other restaurants, but the steamed cow tongue, yellowtail with daikon radish, and simmered Kurobuta pork belly are delicious, the green-tea noodles are soothing, and the restaurant is open very late on weekends. If you grew up in Japan, the crayon-scrawled menu may well remind you of home. 368 E. Second St., downtown, (213) 620-0977. Mon.–Thurs. 6 p.m.–mid., Fri.–Sat. 6 p.m.–2 a.m. Street parking. AE, MC, V. Japanese. $$


Hatfield’s

In restaurants as in actresses, forced quirkiness can be an unforgivable flaw. But some restaurants, like the comfortable, modern Hatfield’s near Hollywood, can’t help themselves. 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. The warm summer salad could be mistaken for an appetizer of tiny, corn-stuffed ravioli, and the rare leaves of roasted squab breast are garnished not with the usual squab-leg confit, but with the leg meat smashed flat, breaded, and fried into a kind of tiny schnitzel, served with red cabbage. Even the steak and potatoes are odd — 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, I would expect nothing less. 7458 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 935-2977. Mon.–Sat. 6–10 p.m. Beer and wine. AE, MC, V. California Contemporary. $$


Hungry Cat

The best hamburger in Los Angeles? It may be the pug ­burger at Hungry Cat, an oozingly juicy patty of beef dressed with onions and full-fat blue cheese on a crusty La Brea Bakery roll, a $14 hamburger that leaves Hollywood’s other high-end hamburgers dog-paddling in the relish. And Hungry Cat doesn’t even specialize in burgers — it is Suzanne Goin’s answer to Swan Oyster Depot in San Francisco, a place to drop into for a dozen oysters or a bowl of shrimp, a boiled crab or a bowl of chowder. The wine list is tiny, but includes a ton of obscure seafood-friendly wines, and everything is available by the glass. 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, rectangular object about the size of a Twinkie. In Cape Porpoise, the $22 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., Hollywood, (323) 462-2155, www.thehungrycat.com. Lunch Tues.–Fri. 11:30 a.m.–2:30 p.m.; brunch Sun. 11 a.m.–3 p.m.; dinner Mon.–Sat. 5:30 p.m.–mid., Sun. 5–11 p.m. Beer and wine. Validated parking. AE, MC, V. Seafood. $$


Jar

Any place in town can serve you a grilled T-bone, but Suzanne Tracht’s snazzy steak house is strictly postmodernsville, man, chefly riffs on the strip steak and the porterhouse, the hash brown and the French fry that may or may not incorporate every last pea tendril and star-anise infusion in the Asian-fusion playbook, if that happens to be your desire. Some people we know have never even tried the steak here — the braised pork belly, the glorious pot roast, and the various and sundry wonders of Nancy Silverton’s Mozzarella Monday are just too compelling. But the steak is about as good as it gets. The décor is straight off the set of a Cary Grant movie. And there’s banana cream pie. 8225 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 655-6566. Dinner Mon.–Thurs. 5:30–10 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 5:30–11 p.m.; brunch Sun. 10 a.m.–2 p.m. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, D, MC, V. California American. $$


JiRaffe

JiRaffe is a pleasant space in a bright corner of Santa Monica, all neo-Palladian windows, white tablecloths and the kind of minimal Gallic décor you see in the restored farmhouses they feature in Elle Decor. Raphael Lunetta’s food tends to be elegant, almost ladylike, with the sort of seasonality you might expect from a serious restaurant located a few hundred yards from the best farmers' market in Southern California, and careful, restrained presentations. JiRaffe is a real California bistro, the kind of casual yet slightly formal place the Ivy only pretends to be, and with much better food. In restaurants as in architecture, sometimes less is more. 502 Santa Monica Blvd., Santa Monica, (310) 917-6671. Mon. 6–9 p.m., Tues.–Thurs. 6-10 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 6–10:30 p.m., Sun. 5:30–9 p.m. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, MC, V. California Bistro. $$


Josie

Josie LeBalch, who spent her 20s as the chef of an Italian restaurant but grew up the daughter of one of L.A.’s most famous French chefs, is known for her game dishes but may be as deft with a composition of baby squid and lentils as she is with all-American preparations of duck, wild boar and elk. She is large. She contains multitudes. She makes chocolate bread pudding for dessert. 2424 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica, (310) 581-9888. Dinner Mon.–Thurs. 6–10 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 6-11 p.m., Sun. 5:30–9 p.m. Full bar. Takeout. Valet parking. AE, MC, V. Progressive American with French and Italian. $$


Kagaya

Shabu shabu is pretty basic: a slice of prime meat swished through bubbling broth for a second or two, just until the pink becomes frosted with white. If you’ve done it right — and if the quality of the ingredients is as high as it is at Little Tokyo’s superb (and expensive) Kagaya — the texture is extraordinary, almost liquid, and the concentrated, sourish flavor of really good beef becomes vivid. 418 E. Second St., downtown, (213) 617-1016. Tues.–Sat. 6–10:30 p.m., Sun. 6–10 p.m. Wine, beer, sake. Lot parking. DC, MC, V. Japanese. $


Kiriko

Kiriko may be the great undiscovered sushi bar in Los Angeles, and Ken Namba’s traditional yet creative sashimi surpasses most of what is sold at three times the price. Namba smokes his salmon over smoldering cherry wood, slices it thick and wraps it around spears of ripe mango: The sashimi is soft and luscious, salty and sweet, penetratingly smoky yet delicate — one of the most magnificent mouthfuls of food imaginable. There is Spanish mackerel dressed with grated ginger and ponzu, and mackerel as rich as ripe Brie. The sea bream pulled out of Japan’s Inland Sea is almost gooey in its extreme freshness, dusted with the zest of a tiny yuzu, served with a tiny dish of salt grated to order from a pink, quartzlike stone. One of the gifts of a great sushi chef is the ability to appear casual, unhurried, processing the food for an entire restaurant while looking as serene and unbothered as a flirting Fred Astaire. 11301 Olympic Blvd., No. 102, West Los Angeles, (310) 478-7769. Lunch Tues.–Fri. noon–2:15 p.m.; dinner Tues.–Sun. 6–10 p.m. Beer and wine. Parking lot. AE, MC, V. Japanese. $$


Koi

Koi’s warren of intimate patios and forested corners is a hookup nirvana, a dining room whose seating chart seems ripped straight from the pages of Us Weekly, and the lighting, a grid of dim spotlights more intricate than anything Robert Wilson ever devised for an opera production, makes even modestly attractive people look like extras on The O.C. Its matrix of sushi, celebrity and sex bumped up the paradigm. It is widely believed, however, that the post-Matsuhisa-style cuisine at Koi is an afterthought, that the avocado-laden tuna tartare on crispy won tons, the tuna sashimi with jalapeño, and the albacore Italiano are secondary to the rush, the scene, even the steak. But somebody has been paying attention behind the sushi bar lately. And if you’re going to eat something like a baked-crab hand roll, you might as well have a good one. It’ll give you something to do while you eavesdrop on Lindsay Lohan or the Black Eyed Peas. 730 N. La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles, (310) 659-9449. Dinner Mon.–Wed. 6–11 p.m., Thurs. 6–11:30 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 6–mid., Sun. 6–10 p.m. Full bar. Valet parking. All major credit cards. California Contemporary. $$


Krua Thai

Like any respectable Thai joint in this part of Los Angeles, Krua Thai features a sign outside boasting of serving the Best Noodles in Town, but unlike the rest of them, Krua Thai has a pretty fair title to the claim. In a city where great Thai noodle shops are all that keeps some of us going some days, when the anguish of the Dodgers’ annual collapse can be eased, at least a little, by the knowledge of a great bowl of boat noodles, Krua Thai’s pad Thai and pad kee mao and rad na and pad see ew may be the very best of all. In its way, Krua Thai could be the Thai equivalent of a delicatessen like Canter’s: cheerful, fast, popular across ethnic lines, and open very, very late. 13130 Sherman Way, North Hollywood, (818) 759-7998. Open daily 11 a.m.–3:30 a.m. No alcohol. Takeout. Lot parking. All major credit cards accepted. Also at 935 S. Glendora Ave., West Covina, (626) 480-0116. Thai. $


Langer’s

A short subway ride away from practically anywhere in Los Angeles, the best pastrami sandwiches in America are kitty-corner from the tamale vendors of MacArthur Park, slapped together by the venerable countermen at Langer’s Delicatessen. The rye bread, double-baked, has a hard, crunchy crust. The meat, dense, hand-sliced, nowhere near lean, has the firm, chewy consistency of Parma prosciutto, a gentle flavor of garlic, and a clean edge of smokiness that can remind you of the kinship between pastrami and Texas barbecue. 704 S. Alvarado St., Los Angeles, (213) 483-8050. Mon.–Sat. 8 a.m.–4 p.m. Beer and wine. Curbside service (call ahead). Validated lot parking (on corner of Westlake Ave. and Seventh St.). MC, V. Jewish Deli. ¢


La Terza

There is an entire school of cooking sometimes called Cal-Italian, but this isn’t that — although dishes like cool, sliced veal tongue slicked with puréed herbs, thick, smoky grilled rib steaks served with Umbrian rice beans, and farro salad with pecorino cheese may well qualify as such. What chef Gino Angelini is attempting at La Terza may be no less than re-imagining California food through the prism of his advanced Italian technique, re-imagining California as an Italian province that happens to have a few agricultural virtues of its own. La Terza is a modern Italian restaurant, perfumed by a wood-fired rotisserie, powered by Angelini’s earthy sauces thickened with vegetable purées, and lubricated by a sharp wine list put together by Claudio Blotta. 8384 W. Third St., Los Angeles, (323) 782-8384. Breakfast 7–11 a.m. Lunch 11:30 a.m.–2 p.m.; dinner 5:30–11 p.m. Full bar. Takeout. Valet parking. AE, D, MC, V. Italian. $$


Lawry’s the Prime Rib

When Italian gourmets hit Los Angeles, do they pine for Valentino? When Japanese aesthetes blow into town, do they exercise their credit cards at Nishimura? Do famous French chefs hang out at L’Orangerie? Of course not — like everybody else, they head straight for Lawry’s, which would be the all-American house of beef if it weren’t conceived 70 years ago as an homage to a British institution its owner had never seen: the London restaurant Simpson’s in the Strand. Lawry’s is actually better than the original: vast barons of good American beef cut to order tableside on enormous silver carts, and served with horseradish and Yorkshire pudding. Relocated across the street a few years ago and restored to what it must have looked like in the ’30s, Lawry’s is that perfect Los Angeles thing, a simulacrum of a simulacrum of a simulacrum. Calling Jean Baudrillard . . . 100 N. La Cienega Blvd., Beverly Hills, (310) 652-2827. Mon.–Thurs. 5–10 p.m., Fri. 5–11 p.m., Sat. 4:30–11 p.m., Sun. 4–10 p.m. Full bar. Takeout. Valet and street parking. All major credit cards. American. $$


Literati II

This is the other kind of California restaurant, a place just as happy to serve you a really good pork chop as an exquisite organic salad, a stiff drink as a bottle of Viognier, and it seems as if some of the customers practically live here: setting up camp beneath the framed pencils and the circa-1964 photographs of Santa Monica, borrowing novels from the dining-room bookcase to read over lunch — like Literati Café next door, from which it spawned, Literati II is popular with screenwriters and others eager for a second home. Chef Chris Kidder and pastry chef Kimberly Sklar are both veterans of Campanile in the very best way, in love with woodsmoke and seasonal farmers’ market produce, generous portions and plenty of herbs; tapping old Mediterranean traditions and making them their own — don’t miss the pasta with arugula pesto or the hot churros with bitter chocolate. This is one of the most appealing new Westside restaurants in years. 12081 Wilshire Blvd., West Los Angeles, (310) 479-3400. Lunch Mon.–Fri. 11:30 a.m.–2:30 p.m.; dinner Mon.-Thurs. 6–10 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 5:30–10 p.m.; brunch Sat.–Sun. 10 a.m.–2 p.m. Full bar. $2 valet parking in rear. AE, MC, V. California Contemporary. $$


Lodge

A waitress will try to sell you a third or fourth martini. The $75 porterhouse-for-two starts to seem not only possible but desirable in the heat of The Lodge moment, and if you do the math, it is one of the least costly items on the menu. But, for example, while every steak house in town has the au courant wedge-of-iceberg salad, The Lodge ups the ante by pairing its wedge with another wedge. The potatoes are not just baked, but salt-baked, crunchy-skinned, accompanied by enough condiments to crank the vibe from Ornish all the way up to Atkins with just a few dips of the fork. 14 N. La Cienega Blvd., Beverly Hills, (310) 854-0024. Open nightly 5 p.m.–1 a.m. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, MC, V. California Steak House. $$


Los Balcones del Peru

A scant block below the glowing Sunset + Vine complex, so close to the ArcLight Theater that it shares its parking lot, Los Balcones del Peru lies at the precise border of redeveloped Hollywood and its shadow, a breath of authenticity a few steps south from the overamped velvet-rope district, and home to camarones a la piedra, a warm shrimp preparation from the tropical northern coast of Peru that is one of the most formidable ceviches in town. Los Balcones also may be the only Peruvian restaurant in town without tapes of Andean panpipe music, which is almost a miracle, at least if you ignore the occasional charanga version of “Feelings.” It is easy to spend hours here after a movie at the ArcLight, eating fried fish, fried-chicken “chicharrones,” and scallops broiled with Parmesan cheese, drinking Peruvian beer from the Inca city of Cuzco. 1360 N. Vine St., Hollywood, (323) 871-9600. Sun.–Thurs. 11 a.m.–9 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 11 a.m.–10 p.m. Beer and wine. Validated parking at ArcLight Cinema. AE, MC, V. Peruvian. $$


Lou

If pigs had their way, pig candy would be made out of chocolate — better yet, out of chocolate that made its way into their troughs. But for better or worse, pig candy is the vernacular name for a snack made out of smoky, thick-cut bacon baked with lots and lots of brown sugar until it transforms itself into demonically fragrant slabs that bear more than a passing resemblance to pork-belly terrine. You want some of this stuff. Really you do. Lou, a tiny, wonderful wine bar on the south end of Vine, serves a pretty decent range of artisanal cheeses, the garlic-laced salamis of Seattle’s Armandino Batali, and slivers of Kentucky ham. The wine list is pleasantly oddball, thick with rustic bottles of obscure country wines. Lou has a minor specialty in both long-braised meats and tasty vegetarian soups. Still, on cool nights there may be nothing better than a plateful of pig candy, a bowlful of olives and a glass of organic Côtes du Luberon. 724 N. Vine St., Hollywood, (323) 962-6369. Mon.–Thurs. 5–11 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 5 p.m.–mid. Wine. Lot parking. MC, V. California Contemporary. $$


Lucques delicious: Harissa-marinated chicken with baked ricotta
Lucques delicious: Harissa-marinated chicken with baked ricotta
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., West Hollywood, (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. Full bar (limited bar menu available 10 p.m.–mid.). Valet parking. AE, MC, V. French. $$


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., Hollywood, (323) 467-0660. Open daily 11 a.m.–2 a.m. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, MC, V. California Contemporary. $$


Mama’s Hot Tamales Cafe´

On weekends, a line of wooden tamale carts runs along the eastern edge of MacArthur Park, each run by a vendor from a different part of Latin America selling his or her particular kind of tamale: banana-leaf-wrapped Oaxacan tamales oozing black mole sauce, wet chicken tamales from Honduras, green-chile tamales from Acapulco, densely sweet little torpedoes from El Salvador and grainy tamales from Michoacán. The driving force behind the vending district is Mama’s Hot Tamales Café, a sprawling, brightly painted complex across the street from the park that provides the kinds of curatorial services and logistical support to the district’s tamale masters that in a better world MOCA would be providing to Los Angeles artists, and also happens to sell a rotating selection of the handmade tamales in the restaurant itself. 2124 W. Seventh St., Los Angeles, (213) 487-7474. Open daily 9:30 a.m.–3:30 p.m. No alcohol. Coffee bar. Takeout. Validated parking around the corner on Lake Street in the Unified parking lot. AE, MC, V. Mexican. $


Mama Voula’s

Mama Voula, who commands her namesake kitchen as if she were commanding a nuclear submarine, is an overwhelming presence in this family-owned Greek restaurant. Expect the sharp funk of garlic and charring meat, decent seafood, and a killer gyro that combines the virtues of extreme lambiness with a delicate, carbonized crunchiness. 11923 Santa Monica Blvd., West Los Angeles, (310) 478-9464. Mon. 11 a.m.–9 p.m., Tues.–Thurs. 11 a.m.–9:30 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 11 a.m.–10 p.m., Sun. 1–9 p.m. BYOB. Lot parking. AE, MC, V. Mediterranean/Greek. $


Marouch

If you wanted to imagine you were in Beirut, you could stop by this place a few times a day, easy — midmornings for a piece of baklava and a thimbleful of Turkish coffee, lunch for a kebab and a bottle of Lebanese beer, late afternoons for a bowl of dense lentil soup. At dinner, it’s a splendid, wild-thyme-dusted version of the toasted-bread salad fattoush, unsurpassed makanek sausages dressed with lemon and oil, the fine hummus with pine nuts, the grilled quail, and the complicated Lebanese desserts. Year after year, Marouch becomes nothing but better. 4905 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 662-9325. Tues.–Sun. 11 a.m.–11 p.m. Beer and wine. Lot parking. All major credit cards. Middle Eastern/Lebanese/Armenian. $


Matsuhisa

Nobu Matsuhisa, the baron of a sushi empire that stretches from London to Peru and the inventor of a strange, new cuisine, is perhaps the only Japanese chef in Los Angeles whose influence is felt as strongly in Japan as it is in California. Whenever you taste chopped chiles on sashimi or warmed oil on a sliver of fluke, that’s Matsuhisa’s influence at work. His restaurant is the most influential in California since Spago. And if, when you visit, reserving far in advance and rubbing shoulders with both Robert De Niro and busloads of Japanese tourists, you notice that the famous omakase menu hasn’t changed in years, that you are still going to get new-style shrimp sashimi, sashimi salad, miso-marinated cod and (if you rate it) toro tartare with caviar, you may remember to sit at the sushi bar next time and pull the best out of the chefs. 129 N. La Cienega Blvd., Beverly Hills, (310) 659-9639. Lunch Mon.–Fri. 11:45 a.m.–2:15 p.m.; dinner Mon.–Sun. 5:45–10:15 p.m. Full bar. Valet parking. All major credit cards. Japanese. $$$


Max

Fusion chefs, even the best of them, tend to fall on one side of the spectrum or the other, either dressing up essentially Western techniques with Asian flavors and exotic ingredients or supercharging existing Asian dishes with professional French technique. Chef Andre Guerrero, who is Filipino-American, seems to split the difference about as adroitly as anyone in town. So where his “ahi towers” are nothing like traditional sushi, for example, the perfectly engineered cylinders of fried sticky-rice cake, seaweed, pickled ginger, wasabi-flavored flying-fish roe and raw fish have all the sensations of a great, trashy tuna roll. This is a midlevel restaurant, not a temple of cuisine. But Guerrero’s formidable chicken adobo is a remarkable, remarkable dish. 13355 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks, (818) 784-2915. Sun.–Thurs. 5:30–10 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 5:30–11 p.m. Full bar. Street parking. Takeout. California Asian. $$


Meals by Genet

At the heart of Fairfax Avenue’s Little Ethiopia, Meals by Genet is more or less an Ethiopian bistro, which is to say a homey, soft-lit dining room that looks at least as French as it does African. The menu is short: crisp-skinned fried trout, half a dozen stews, and Genet Agonafer’s delicious version of kitfo, a dish of minced raw beef tossed with warm, spiced butter. And her dorowot is jaw-droppingly good, vibrating with what must be ginger and black pepper and bishop’s weed and clove, but tasting of none of them, so formidably solid that the chicken, which is well-cooked, becomes just another ingredient in the sauce. Even an Ethiopian grandmother would approve. 1053 S. Fairfax Ave., Los Angeles, (323) 938-9304, www.mealsbygenet.com. Lunch and dinner Wed.–Fri. 5:30 p.m.–10 p.m., Sat.–Sun. 11:30 a.m.–10 p.m. Beer and wine. Catering. Street parking. MC, V. Ethiopian. $$


Member’s only: M Café de Chaya’s California Club
Member’s only: M Café de Chaya’s California Club
M Cafe´ de Chaya

We hope you will humor us when we admit that we really like the macrobiotic food at M Café de Chaya — a bright, cheerful diner in a Melrose mini-mall that probably feeds more actresses per square inch than anywhere this side of a craft-services truck — partly because almost anything tastes great when it is made with vegetables bought at a decent growers' market, but also because the kitchen lets flavor come first. As grisly as a macrobiotic club sandwich may sound, the ­triple-decker itself is pretty good — blackened strips of tempeh “bacon,” as crunchy and salty as well-done rashers of the real thing; lettuce and tomato, rather tart; and the sweetish goosh of soy mayonnaise is exactly right. 7119 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles, (323) 525-0588. www.mcafedechaya.com. Open daily 9 a.m.–9 p.m. No alcohol. Takeout. Limited lot parking. All major credit cards. California Contemporary. $


Metro Cafe´

At first glance, Metro Café might be one of the least-promising restaurants in Los Angeles, a faux-’50s diner attached to a stucco chain motel. But the strange, fragrant dishes everybody seems to be eating bear little resemblance to the food listed on the menu. Metro Café is basically an informal Serbian restaurant disguised as an American diner, or at least an American diner that sometimes serves a Serbian dish or two: white-bean soup, flavored with ham imported from a Santa Monica deli; spareribs grilled with lots of garlic; or a grilled trout, nothing fancy, plopped on a bed of garlicky greens. If the owners are feeling charitable, there may be crepes for dessert, special, secret crepes stuffed with Nutella and raspberry jam. 11188 Washington Place, Culver City, (310) 559-6821. Breakfast and lunch 7 a.m.–3 p.m.; dinner 6–10 p.m. Beer and wine. Parking in Travelodge lot. MC, V. Serbian. $$


Michael’s

Back in its Nouvelle Cuisine days, Michael’s may have been the first market-oriented restaurant in Southern California, a showcase not just of glorious art — Rauschenberg, Stella, Graham, Hockney — but of tiny vegetables, local meats, California wines, and luxury foodstuffs identified by port of origin. There still may be no better afternoons in Los Angeles than those spent on Michael’s garden patio, hefting Christofle silver, inhaling Dungeness crab salad, house-made gravlax, tweaked yellowtail sashimi and an oaky, buttery Napa Chardonnay with just enough bottle age. Michael’s still feels a little like an exclusive party that somebody forgot to invite us to. 1147 Third St., Santa Monica, (310) 451-0843. Mon.–Fri. noon–2:30 p.m. & 6–10:30 p.m., Sat. 6–10:30 p.m. Full bar. Nonsmoking, including patio. Takeout. Valet and street parking. All major credit cards. California. $$$


Mimosa

In an era when two splashy new restaurants out of three try to re-define cooking as we know it, there is a certain guilty pleasure in Jean-Pierre Bosc’s thoroughly unambitious restaurant: steak frites instead of wok-charred escolar; chicken-liver pâté instead of seared foie gras with honey and figs. Few Food Network scouts are likely to get excited about the “tarte tatin” of pungently herbed tomatoes on a buttery puff-pastry tart shell smeared with pesto, though it’s the sort of dish you’d like to eat every night; or the Alsatian-style tarte flambée, a thin, crisp pizza crusted with an eggy cheese custard and a few slivers of smoked ham; or the thick, proper Provençal fish soup; or the plate of French charcuterie. In fact, Mimosa resembles an ordinary restaurant in almost every way except one: The food is really good. 8009 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 655-8895. Dinner Mon.–Sat. 6–10:30 p.m. Beer and wine. Valet and street parking. AE, D, MC, V. Reservations recommended on weekends. French Bistro. $$


Mission 261

Mission 261 may be the most ambitious Chinese restaurant ever to open in the United States, a mammoth Cantonese banquet hall fitted into a sprawling adobe complex built 100 years ago as San Gabriel’s City Hall. The suckling pig, a house specialty, is made from an animal so young it is practically prenatal; the braised pork belly is the essence of melting fat; the fried whole chicken with fermented taro is almost a sacrament. The steamed rock cod is the standard by which all local Chinese kitchens should be measured, and if you’re into plundering the endangered-species list, Mission 261 does that too. And the dim sum is extraordinary, possibly the best in California at the moment — less a teeming mass-feed than a sort of aestheticized dim sum meal, where you sit with a pot of really great chrysanthemum tea and a few small plates of attractive, exquisitely prepared food, the clatter of plates replaced by the contemplative sounds of live Chinese music. 261 Mission Drive, San Gabriel, (626) 588-1666. Mon.–Fri. 10:30 a.m.–3 p.m. & 5:30–10 p.m., Sat.–Sun. 9 a.m.–3 p.m. & 5:30–10:30 p.m. Full bar. Takeout. Lot parking. AE, D, MC, V. Cantonese. $


Take a load off Manny: Musso & Frank’s cashier is all about the Benjamins
Take a load off Manny: Musso & Frank’s cashier is all about the Benjamins
Musso & Frank Grill

Before Musso & Frank Grill became a martini-fueled Hollywood clubhouse, the place where Faulkner blew out his liver and generations of character actors learned to show up on Wednesday for the chicken potpie, the restaurant was practically a showcase for what was then considered California cuisine, a genteel marriage of the local produce, abundant local fisheries and masculinized lunchroom cooking: avocado cocktails smeared with sweet, pink dressing and frigid bowls of chilled consommé; great, naked planks of boiled finnan haddie and dainty plates of crab Louie; creamy Welsh rabbit served over crustless triangles of toast and kidneys Turbigo. This is what the cosmopolitan life was like, before cosmopolitans. 6667 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood, (323) 467-7788. Tues.–Sat. 11 a.m.–11 p.m. Full bar. Validated parking in rear. AE, DC, MC, V. American. $$



New Concept: Asparagus tastes better with pork
New Concept: Asparagus tastes better with pork
New Concept

From the week it opened, New Concept was celebrated as a beacon of Chinese cuisine in Los Angeles, an elegant Monterey Park restaurant with actual mainland ownership, elaborate photo menus and a chef, Chen Chen Liang, who had reinvented the possibilities of Chinese cooking in America. The foodie community swooned over the coffee-flavored pork, the oatmeal prawns and the soda-pop chicken wings. But you’ll do better with more traditional Hong Kong–style dishes: succulent roast duck seasoned with cinnamon; Shunde-style fish soup; rich Macao-style roast pork; smoky clay-pot rice with barbecue; and steamed whole fish, which can be ruinously expensive if you forget to determine the price. The morning dim sum, ordered from menus instead of carts, yields the gooiest rice noodles in Monterey Park, crisp barbecued-pork pies, and luxuriously plump steamed chicken feet with chile. 700 S. Atlantic Blvd., Monterey Park, (626) 282-6800. 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. No alcohol. Street parking. MC, V. Chinese. $$$

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, West Los Angeles, (310) 207-5160, www.nookbistro.com. 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. American Bistro. $$


Norman’s

Norman Van Aken’s style of cooking, sometimes called Floribbean cuisine and developed at his Palm Beach restaurant, processes Caribbean recipes through the matrix of French technique, often inflecting a dish with an Asian flavor or two: the kind of French toast you’d hope to find in an $800-per-night Antigua resort, for example, piled with seared foie gras and gingered lime zest, or duck cracklings served with a loose polenta that can’t decide whether its flavors come from Valencia or the Yucatán. Sommelier Peter Birmingham, the public face of Norman’s, seems to have as much fun matching wines (and rums) with the restaurant’s crazy-quilt cuisine as his best customers do drinking them. If you remember to reserve, Friday night is Pig Night: suckling pig cooked on the patio and seafood paella, all for $19. 8570 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood, (310) 657-2400. Tues.–Thurs. 6–10 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 6–10:30 p.m. Lounge open Tues.–Sat. at 5:30 p.m. Full bar. Valet parking. Takeout. AE, MC, V. Caribbean. $$


O-Dae San

This is the grandest fish restaurant in Koreatown, a vast, sleek space with a Korean-style sushi bar running the length of the dining room. The private dining rooms are sumptuous. The valet parkers handle more $150,000 Mercedes sedans than anyone else this side of Stuttgart. There are massive live halibut in the sushi tanks and subtleties to O-Dae San’s long menu that we won’t even try to address, because we can rarely tear ourselves away from the ever-fascinating al bap, a big bowl of sushi rice frosted — frosted! — with a half-dozen different kinds of fish eggs, laid out in contrasting streaks radiating from a plop of creamy sea-urchin roe at the center of the bowl like rays from the sun. Nothing, though, goes better with a brimming glass of soju than something like O-Dae San’s hwe do bap, which is to say bits of impeccably fresh sashimi topped with vinegared slivers of cucumber, strips of toasted seaweed, black sesame seeds, tossed at the table with sweet bean sauce and a raw egg. 2889 W. Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles, (213) 383-9800. Open daily 11 a.m.–10 p.m. Beer and wine. Takeout. Lot parking. AE, MC, V. Korean. $$


101 Noodle Express

You could drive by this mini-mall café place a thousand times without easing up on the gas. But the restaurant is home to the Shandong-style beef roll, a splendid object of desire, a massive, bronzed construction of crisp Chinese pancakes, slivers of stewed beef and a sweet, house-made bean paste that bears the same relationship to ordinary hoisin sauce that a L’Orangerie’s demi-glacé might to a slug of canned brown gravy. It is a simple composition, and yet not; ordinary street food, but raised to the transcendent level of a great carne asada taco or a Modena housewife’s very best homemade tortellini. The actual house specialty of this Shandong-style café is dezhou chicken, a tan, tender bird that has been simmered with soy sauce and spices, served at room temperature in all of its plain, wrinkly splendor, but there is also a pretty extensive roster of dumplings at 101, distinctly handmade things that couldn’t be more different from their glossy cousins at the more famous Din Tai Fung. 1408 E. Valley Blvd., Alhambra, (626) 300-8654. Mon.–Fri. 10 a.m.–3 p.m. & 5–10 p.m. Sat.–Sun. 10 a.m.–11 p.m. No alcohol. Takeout. Lot parking. Cash only. Chinese. $


Orris

Is Orris in any sense a sushi bar? No. It is a great place to drop in for new-age sashimi like smoked scallops garnished with salmon roe, seared tuna with sweet onion marmalade, or even what amounts to lamb sashimi. Its location, convenient to the Nuart and the manga-intensive shopping strip anchored by the Giant Robot complex, couldn’t be better, and the small sake selection is swell. 2006 Sawtelle Blvd., West Los Angeles, (310) 268-2212. Dinner Mon.–Fri. 6–10 p.m., Sat. 5:30–10:30 p.m., Sun. 5:30–9:30 p.m. Beer, wine and sake. Lot parking (valet Wed.–Sat.). AE, D, MC, V. Small-plate cuisine. $$


Ortolan

While L’Orangerie is straggling, Bastide is closed for remodeling, and half the émigré chefs in California are putting their knowledge of Escoffier to work cooking pasta, Ortolan, which reflects Christophe Emé’s Loire-trained palate, may be the most serious French restaurant in Los Angeles. If you are a fan of intimate, dungeonlike restaurant spaces, dining rooms so dark that diners are issued little flashlights along with their menus, and presentations that extend to mushroom soup served in test tubes and fish seared on hot river rocks, then Ortolan may be the restaurant for you. Actually, Ortolan’s basic premise — high-level French cooking served in a supper-club setting — is an attractive one. And Emé, who co-owns the restaurant with his paramour Jeri Ryan, is remarkably skilled: The squab, served as a roasted breast paired with a leg confit, is exceptional, as are the crisp langoustines, and the complex tasting menus are among the most accomplished in town. 8338 W. Third St., Los Angeles, (323) 653-3300. Tues.–Sat. 6–10 p.m. (Closed Sun.–Mon. in summer.) Full bar. Valet parking. AE, MC, V. French. $$$


Philippe the Original

The place is so much a part of old Los Angeles that sometimes it feels as if it isn’t really a part of Los Angeles, as if it belongs to an older city without chrome. The French-dipped sandwiches of lamb or beef are wet and rich, with something of the gamy animal pungency of old-fashioned roast meat. And if you enjoy the sight of eyes bulging and nostrils flaring as people encounter depth charges of ultrahot mustard in their sandwiches, there’s even something of a floor show. 1001 N. Alameda St., Los Angeles, (213) 628-3781. Open daily 6 a.m.–10 p.m. Beer and wine. For takeout, must call ahead, and order must be over $40. Lot parking. Cash only. American. ¢


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., Los Angeles, (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., Los Angeles, (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. Also at 1517 Centinela Ave., Los Angeles, (310) 412-7135. No alcohol. Takeout. Lot parking. Cash only. Barbecue. $


Pie ’n Burger

Even in Los Angeles . . . where it is possible to eat not only wood-fired goat-cheese pizza with duck sausage and sun-dried fennel, but also reasonably authentic Merida-style cochinito pibil and properly made Cambodian catfish amok, hand-ground, of course, steamed to a fine fluffiness and garnished — why not! — with a single, perfect banana blossom, sometimes only a hamburger will do. Pie ’n Burger is an essential address at these times. Like all good hamburgers, paper-jacketed Pie ’n Burgers are all about texture, the crunchy sheaf of lettuce, the carbonized surface of the meat, the outer rim of the bun crisped to almost the consistency of toast, plus pink dressing and soft, sweet grilled onions. The fries are good too. 913 E. California Blvd., Pasadena, (626) 795-1123. Mon.–Fri. 6 a.m.–10 p.m., Sat. 7 a.m.–10 p.m., Sun,. 7 a.m.–9 p.m. Beer and wine. Takeout. Lot parking. Cash or check. American. $


Pink’s

Consider the Pink’s dog, uncouth and garlicky, skin thick and taut, so that when you sink your teeth into it, the sausage . . . pops . . . into a mouthful of juice. The bun is soft enough to achieve a oneness with the thick chili that is ladled over the dog, but firm enough to resist dissolving altogether, unless you order it with sauerkraut. And why wouldn’t you? Avoid the fries. 709 N. La Brea Ave., Hollywood, (323) 931-4223. Sun.–Thurs. 9:30 a.m.–2 a.m., Fri.–Sat. 9:30 a.m.–3 a.m. No alcohol. Takeout. Lot parking. Cash only. American. ¢


Pollo a la Brasa

If you are anywhere near Koreatown when the need for takeout chicken strikes, follow your nose to Pollo a la Brasa, a Peruvian chicken joint all but concealed behind a fortress of hardwood logs. The smoky, crisp-skinned chicken here, sizzled over a hot wood fire and served with the incendiary Peruvian herb sauce aji, is what happens when you cross a chicken with a smoldering log. 764 S. Western Ave., Los Angeles, (213) 382-4090. Lunch and dinner Wed.–Mon. 11 a.m.–10 p.m. No alcohol. Takeout. Lot parking. MC, V. Peruvian. ¢


Rub-a-dub dinner: Michael Cimarusti of Providence
Rub-a-dub dinner: Michael Cimarusti of Providence
Providence

Ever since Michael Cimarusti left the stoves at Water Grill, well-heeled Los Angeles fish lovers have been waiting expectantly for his new restaurant in the old Patina space, which was widely rumored to become the Los Angeles equivalent of fish palaces like Le Bernardin and Oceana in New York. At this glowing new restaurant, he managed to fulfill even those super-high expectations — this is among the best restaurants ever to hit Los Angeles. It just doesn’t get better than Cimarusti’s tartare of live spot prawns served with buttery leaves of brik pastry, sautéed squid with piquillo peppers and meltingly soft slivers of stewed pig’s ear, or a terrine of foie gras with muscat gelée that may be the best foie gras preparation in this foie gras–happy town. 5955 Melrose Ave., Hancock Park, (323) 460-4170. Mon.–Fri. 6–10 p.m., Sat. 5:30–10 p.m., Sun. 5:30–9 p.m. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, D, MC, V. Modern American Seafood. $$$


Red Corner Asia

The signature attraction at Red Corner Asia is a phenomenon known as Volcano Chicken, a rotisserie-cooked creation brought to the table trailing liquid streamers of fire, rising from the flames like a phoenix, whole and reborn and new as the day. Red Corner Asia describes itself as a Thai grill, and although you will find all the usual Thai curries, pan-fried noodles and crocks of chicken-coconut soup, the emphasis is on the gentler products of Thai live-fire cooking: candy-coated grilled pork ribs; crosshatched bits of grilled squid served with a tart green dipping sauce; and all the traditional satays. You can’t go wrong with the grilled-meat salads — a delicious num tok of dripping-rare grilled beef tossed with mint leaves and citrus; grilled calamari salad; a spicy salad of grilled pork. And after the meal, if you aren’t in the mood for coconut soup spiked with taro balls, know that, as George Clinton once said, “fried ice cream is a reality.” Flaming fried ice cream, with chocolate sauce and sliced mango. 5267 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood, (323) 466-6722, www.redcornerasia.com. Open daily 11 a.m.–2 a.m. No alcohol (liquor license pending). Takeout. Valet parking on weekends. AE, MC, V. Asian Fusion. $$$


Sapp Coffee Shop

Sapp may be the best lunchroom in Hollywood, a bright Thai restaurant, unrelentingly yellow inside, sharing a small mini-mall with a video shop and a place to get griddled Thai desserts; crowded at noon not with revelers, but with people who have come to Thai Town to shop and eat spicy, stinky boat noodles, remarkable grilled chicken, and bright-green “jade” noodles tossed with Chinese barbecue. Sapp is the Thai equivalent of Pie ’n Burger, a lunchroom where the virtues of homeliness become extraordinary when put in context with the shiny, glittery surfaces against which it might compete. 5183 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood, (323) 665-1035. Lunch and dinner 7 a.m.–8:30 p.m. Closed Wed. No alcohol. Takeout. Lot parking. Cash only. Thai. $


Sona

What we know as California cuisine may be dedicated to revealing produce at its best, but David Myers goes 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., West Hollywood, (310) 659-7708. Dinner Tues.–Thurs. 6–10 p.m., Fri. 6–11 p.m., Sat. 5:30–11 p.m. Closed Sun.–Mon. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, D, DC, MC, V. Modern French (with global influences). $$$


Spago

Wolfgang Puck long ago re-defined Americans’ idea of what a great restaurant might be. His cooking always had a deceptive air of simplicity about it, like the culinary equivalent of a caprice by Yo-Yo Ma on the Today show. In the past several years, bolstered by imaginative executive chef Lee Hefter and pastry chef Sherry Yard, he’s re-defining our idea of what Spago might be — and the roasted-beet cake with goat cheese, the turbot with Chino Ranch vegetables, and the roast duck perfumed with star anise are good enough to make you forget the duck-sausage pizza and the chopped-vegetable salad that originally made Spago famous. Is a tasting menu within your budget? Don’t think twice. 176 N. Canon Drive, Beverly Hills, (310) 385-0880. Lunch Mon.–Fri. 11:30 a.m.–2:15 p.m., Sat. noon–2:15 p.m.; dinner Mon.–Thurs. 5:30–10 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 5:30–11 p.m., Sun. 5:30–10:30 p.m. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, D, MC, V. California with Asia and Europe. $$$


Susina Bakery and Cafe´

Crackling croissants, ultrarich café au lait and tiny fruit tarts are the signature attractions of Susina, along with a carefully curated collection of artisanal chocolates and an incredible buttery puff-pastry turnover stuffed with spinach and garlic that always sells out way too early in the afternoon. There are coffeehouses in Hollywood that stay open somewhat later, and others equipped with multiple electrical outlets and three kinds of WiFi access, but it is hard to imagine a more civilized setting in which to spend quality time with your laptop, fueled with hot pressed sandwiches and lubricated with fresh-pressed citrus in a fairly impressive replica of a Belle Epoque Parisian café. And the kitchen has started experimenting with American pies. 7122 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 934-7900. Mon.–Fri. 7 a.m.–11 p.m., Sat. 8 a.m.–11 p.m., Sun. 8 a.m.–11 p.m. No alcohol. Takeout. Street parking. AE, MC, V. European Bakery. ¢


Table 8

At this painfully hip, house-music-blasting restaurant, Govind Armstrong has finally found his groove, which is to say beachy, vaguely Mediterranean California cuisine with impeccably sourced meat and fish, plenty of organic farmers'-market vegetables, and a rather generous notion of the places where bacon might be appropriate. (Jonathan Waxman’s cooking comes to mind, as do the first years of Campanile, one of the restaurants where Armstrong has worked.) In Los Angeles, this is what passes for classicism, sunny, global-ingredient cooking updated by a chef whose frequent-flier miles do not necessarily take him only to France. 7661 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles, (323) 782-8258. Mon.–Thurs. 6–10 p.m. (late-night menu until 10:30), Fri.–Sat. 6–10:30 p.m. (late-night menu until 11:30). Full bar. Takeout. Valet and street parking. All major credit cards. California Seasonal. $$$


Tacos Baja Ensenada

In most of Mexico, the words estilo Ensenada signify just one thing: fish tacos, specifically the fried-fish tacos served at stalls in the fish market down by the docks. In East L.A., you will come no closer to the ideal than these crunchy, sizzlingly hot strips of batter-fried halibut, folded into warm corn tortillas with salsa, shredded cabbage and a squeeze of lime, sprinkled with freshly chopped herbs and finished with a squirt of thick, cultured cream. Entire religions have been founded on miracles less profound than the Ensenada fish taco. 5385 Whittier Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 887-1980. Lunch and dinner Tues.–Sun. 10 a.m.–9 p.m. No alcohol. Lot parking. Cash only. Mexican. ¢


Tiara

Its giant range hood tricked out to resemble the kind of glittery diadem that Godzilla might wear when he was exploring his feminine side, Tiara, Fred Eric’s new Fashion District restaurant-cum-organic-market, shoots the girly aesthetic up with steroids. Eric is the chef who practically invented the hypereclectic style of the modern Los Angeles restaurant, and the Asian-tinged, pan-Mediterranean menu is painted in 17 shades of farmers’-market salad. There are bubbly lengths of curry-brushed flatbread served with little dishes of baba ghanoush and puréed fresh fava beans, a Cuban-style pressed sandwich made with smoked duck and house-pickled cucumbers, and noodle dishes vegan and not — I suspect there is not a single peculiar diet or system of culinary belief the kitchen is not prepared to handle. 127 E. Ninth St., downtown, (213) 623-3663. Food served Mon.–Fri. 11:30 a.m.–3 p.m. Market open Mon.– Fri. 8 a.m.–5 p.m. Beer, wine, sake, and Champagne only. Street parking. All major credit cards. California Seasonal. $$


Torafuku

Devoted to the Japanese cult of perfect rice, Torafuku is the first American outpost of a small Tokyo-based chain. The restaurant’s rice is warm and fluffy with a sort of toasty quality that supposedly comes from a blast of heat at the end. It’s the focus of Torafuku’s expensive, luxurious izakaya menu: at the center of set meals, accompanied only by miso soup and pickles; topped with fried prawns or marinated tuna; or as tou-ban-yaki, seared in a superheated clay bowl with bits of seaweed, tiny dried sardines and a lightly poached egg. 10914 Pico Blvd., West Los Angeles, (310) 470-0014. Lunch Mon.–Sat. noon–2:30 p.m.; dinner Mon.–Thurs. 6–10 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 6–10:30 p.m., Sun. 5–10 p.m. Beer, wine and sake. Valet and street parking. AE, MC, V. Prix fixe starts at $80, set dinners $38, bento lunches $8.50–$12, à la carte meals vary, takeout $55. Traditional Japanese. $$


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. Italian. $$


Urasawa

This tiny, luxurious sushi bar is famously the most expensive restaurant in California, and most nights, it is also the best, with fish unseen anywhere else in the country. Other sushi restaurants display fish triple-wrapped behind glass in a refrigerated case; at Urasawa, the fish is out in the open, lighted as carefully as the tomatoes in a Carl’s Jr. ad, all glistening pinks and glowing translucence. If a particular leaf or species of clam is in its Japanese two-week season, it will certainly be on your plate. Waitresses refill your glass with sake, replace hot towels and remove plates so efficiently that you are barely aware of them at all. And Urasawa’s artistry with a fillet is surpassed in the United States only by that of his mentor, Masa Takayama — there is, one senses, an enormous effort to keep the customers in a bubble of serenity, an uninterrupted flow of bliss. 218 N. Rodeo Drive, Beverly Hills, (310) 247-8939. Mon.–Sun. 6–8:30 p.m. Full bar. Valet. AE, MC, V. Japanese. $$$


Vietnam House

Golden Deli, you may not need to be told, has the best cha gio, fried Vietnamese spring rolls, in the observable universe, and the owners know it. Vietnam House, its sister across the street, has the same cha gio, and gently spiced pho, and the rice-noodle mats called banh hoi that you wrap into lettuce bundles with grilled beef and lots of herbs. But Vietnam House is almost the anti–Golden Deli, with the functional air conditioning, beer, daily specials and its acceptance of credit cards that its older sibling lacks. Almost as a public service, Vietnam House prepares bo bay mon, the fabled Vietnamese seven-course beef dinner that was a specialty in this dining room when it was still called Pagode Saigon. 710 W. Las Tunas Drive, San Gabriel, (626) 282-6327. Lunch and dinner Mon., Wed., Thurs. 10 a.m.-9 p.m., Fri.–Sun. 10 a.m.–10 p.m. Beer only. Takeout. Lot parking. AE, MC, V. Vietnamese. $$


Vincenti

The mastery of the wood-burning oven at Vincenti can be deduced from a single bite — a scallop, say, sprinkled with bread crumbs and baked in its shell until it just sizzles. The adjacent rotisserie turns out the best restaurant version of porchetta in Los Angeles, loin and belly wrapped into a ­spiral, seasoned with fennel, and spit-roasted to a crackling, licorice-y succulence. Vincenti is the real thing, a spare, elegant embassy of modern Italian cooking: minimally sauced pastas and house-cured meats; pungent flavors and abundant herbs; and an obsession with grilled steak that is unmistakably Italian. Perfection does not come cheap, and it is certainly possible to eat several mediocre Italian meals elsewhere in this neighborhood for the price of a single superb one here. Should that thought cross your mind, it is good to remember that Monday is pizza night. 11930 San Vicente Blvd., Brentwood, (310) 207-0127. Mon.–Sat. 6–10 p.m., Friday for lunch noon–2 p.m. Full bar. Takeout. Valet parking. AE, MC, V. Italian. $$


Wat Thai

At the northern end of drab, endless Coldwater Canyon Boulevard lies this massive, gold-encrusted Thai Buddhist temple, grounds crowded with parishioners, saffron-robed monks, and small children who run about as if the temple were a private playground. On weekend afternoons and during festivals, the air around the temple almost throbs with the smells of Thai cooking: meat grilling at satay stands, the wheat pancakes called roti sizzling on massive griddles, pungent, briny salt crabs being pounded for the ultraspicy green-papaya salad. This spread may be more or less the equivalent of the smothered chicken and collard greens eaten after services at some African-American churches, and it feels just as homely; the inexpensive Thai feast is open to everyone who cares to come. 8225 Coldwater Canyon Blvd., North Hollywood, (818) 785-9552, Open weekends only 10 a.m.-2 p.m. No alcohol. Parking lot. Cash only. Thai. $$


Wilshire

Wilshire is an odd place, a handsome patio restaurant that seems unable to decide whether it is a farm-driven restaurant or a roaring bar and grill; a celebration of the seasons, a paparazzi’s stalking ground, or a celebration of the organic wine and food that can be purchased with an American Express card. Christopher Blobaum, who has run more high-end hotel kitchens than anybody else this side of Escoffier, seems to be running his dream restaurant, and he obviously spends some of his happiest hours at the Santa Monica farmers' market. At Wilshire, there will always be jewel-like baby Nantes carrots the week that baby Nantes carrots hit the best farm stands; sweet satsuma tangerines in the duck confit salad at the time satsumas are at their peak; tiny purple artichokes when tiny purple artichokes are the thing — the stuff that defines Southern California as a great agricultural region. 2454 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, (310) 586-1707. Lunch Mon.–Fri. noon–2 p.m.; dinner Mon.–Wed. 6–10 p.m., Thurs.–Sat. 6–10:45 p.m. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, MC, V. California Seasonal. $$$$


Woodlands

In the afternoons, Woodlands is strictly a buffet restaurant, and on the steam table you’ll find the crunchy fried-lentil doughnuts called vada, puffs of poori bread, buttery rounds of paratha, knobby lumps of limp vegetable pakora, and a vat of Woodlands’ special lemon rasam, a thin, peppery Tamil vegetable sauce for rice that doubles as a soup and a healing tonic. Depending on the chef’s mood, you may find something mysteriously identified as moore khulambzu, a tart, runny, complex curry of yogurt and tiny fried-lentil dumplings that is among the best Indian dishes we have ever tasted. There are the usual south Indian starches too — the steamed rice cakes called iddly, the oniony porridge pancakes called uttupam, the mung-bean crepes called pesarat — served with the usual complements of sambar and chutney, and done extremely well. 9840 Topanga Canyon Blvd., Chatsworth, (818) 998-3031. Also at 11833 Artesia Blvd., Artesia, (562) 860-6500.Tues.–Sun. 11:30 a.m.–3 p.m. & 5–10 p.m. Beer and wine. Takeout. Lot parking. AE, MC, V. Indian. $$$

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