Delicious Deals: More budget-friendly restaurants
March 1, 2012
The path to nirvana starts with appetizers at Himalayan Cafe in Old Pasadena. Those hot, steamy curry-stuffed dumplings called momo look exactly like twisty-top Chinese xiao long bao, but their fillings taste vaguely Indian. Every spectacular bite, accented with bright pungent "pickle" dipping sauce, shows off the Indo-Chinese personality of a cuisine that makes its home in the valleys and hills in the shadow of Mt. Everest.
October 13, 2011
Truffles shaved onto wild-caught yellowtail sashimi or kanpachi nigiri splashed with black caviar might begin your omakase at Got Sushi? Or the chef might enrobe supple ribbons of pristine snapper in creamy cured uni brightened with the sharp citrus snap of yuzu and house-made soy sauce. Close your eyes and for a moment it's easy to forget that this tiny sushi bar is squeezed into a corner of King's Burgers, a fully operational burger joint in Northridge.
September 15, 2011
A gentle haze of cumin and garlic-laden steam wafts from a tray of gulpi mounded high on the lunch buffet at Afghan Express in Gardena. The toss of cauliflower, fresh tomatoes and onion is brought to life with an earthy spice recipe inherited from the Silk Road caravan traffic that once trailed across Afghanistan. The dish, as with the other half-dozen or so Afghan specialties on the daily changing buffet, mixes Persian cooking with muted Indian flavorings, and a little of this and that from the country's Central Asian neighbors.
September 1, 2011
If you're familiar with the Chinese food wonderment that is the San Gabriel Valley, you probably know what to expect from Sichuan food. It's searing, brain-rattling Chinese food from a different dimension, one in which there are two forms of spice — the usual chile burn and the otherworldly ma la, the pins-and-needles tingle of the Sichuan peppercorn.
July 21, 2011
At David Padilla and Maria Ramos' Oaxacan restaurant Gish Bac, the weekends are made for goat and lamb barbecue. A third-generation barbacoa specialist, Ramos began learning the trade of goat and lamb barbecue as a 10-year-old in Oaxaca's Sunday market in Tlacolula — one of Mexico's longest-running markets — where her family still operates a stand.
July 14, 2011
"It's not that easy to find," warned the friend who agreed to meet at her favorite Korean place, Jun Won.
July 14, 2011
July 7, 2011
So many breakfast foods around the world have the same familiar ideas at heart: simple, filling, just the thing to soothe your soul's journey from bed to the harsh light of the working day. Having Taiwanese breakfast at Huge Tree Pastry is like looking at an American diner breakfast, just slightly refracted.
3:39 PM EDT, June 29, 2011
There's a kind of heartland excess at many Argentine restaurants, palaces of meat that offer as good a lesson in bovine anatomy as any abattoir. But Del Tomate doesn't indulge in steakhouse gluttony. Instead, the 2-month-old Tustin restaurant busies itself draping ribbons of prosciutto and kneading handmade pastas, the essentials of a streamlined and simplified Argentine-Italian cafe.
June 23, 2011
This is Los Angeles' Peruvian moment, an embrace of Andean flavors prophesied long ago by food futurists who proclaimed the cuisine to be the next big thing. There have always been pockets of our sprawling geography where ceviche is scattered with giant kernels of corn and jugs of chicha morada stain teeth a pleasant purple. But this is a citywide shift in culinary consciousness.
June 16, 2011
Life at Kabab Grill revolves not, as its name suggests, around a grill for its kebabs but around an imposing stone oven. The 4-by-6-foot custom-made behemoth dominates the open kitchen at this otherwise modest 2-month-old cafe in Palms. "Last week we roasted a whole stuffed lamb in it for someone's party," owner Firas Tar, who comes from Syria, tells a customer, clearly proud of his oven's prowess.
June 9, 2011
The tagline for Coffee Tomo, a cafe that opened a few weeks ago off the main drag of Sawtelle Boulevard's mini Japan Town, might be: coffee specialists and slightly manic pretzel innovators. Think fresh-baked, intricately structured pretzels stuffed with red beans and cheese.
6:41 PM EDT, May 31, 2011
A rainbow of neon colors flooding through the plate glass window of Valley India Cafe radiates from a sign on the Bollywood DVD rental shop across the parking lot. The San Fernando Valley's mini Little India also boasts a spice market around the corner, sari stores advertising wedding attire and halal butcher shops close by.
May 26, 2011
This is a lesson: Good food is hiding everywhere, and you might come across it when you least expect it. You just need to be open, willing and ready to seize the moment.
May 12, 2011
Sometimes, you cannot conceive of how much love can be cooked into a falafel. Many falafel are sad, desiccated creatures made from powdered mix; it's the rare place that makes falafel from fresh ingredients. But Habayit Restaurant's falafel are beyond even that.
May 5, 2011
"When I worked in banking it was important to me to have a job that required wearing a suit and tie," says Brian Huynh, whose eponymous northern Vietnamese-style restaurant sits in the center of Little Saigon. "But I loved working in my spare time at Ha-Noi, my aunt and uncle's place, where I learned to cook. Eventually I realized the kitchen is where I belong."
April 28, 2011
If you like a pizzaiolo who is downright maniacally obsessive, Bez Compani — owner and pizza-maker at Mother Dough Pizza — is the man for you. This is a guy who went to India for four months and worked in six restaurants looking for a master to teach him the art of the perfect dosa. He went to Armenia to tap into mystical lavash-making methods. And he learned his pizza-making arts in the pizzerias of Naples.
April 21, 2011
Now that thrill-seeking diners have advanced beyond pork belly and crispy pig's ears and are going hog wild over snout-to-tail pork events, it may be the perfect time to check out Koreatown's best jokbal. The braised pork foot and shank, Korea's answer to charcuterie, often shows up boned and sliced as anju — the snacks served in pubs and other hangouts for hard-drinking night crawlers. But few versions will thrill the souls of pork junkies as completely as jokbal from the homespun Jangchung-Dong Wong Jokbal on Western Avenue.
April 7, 2011
At La Cocina del Camaguey, Ilonka Garcia's Dominican, Puerto Rican and Cuban takeout window tucked in the back of El Camaguey Meat Market in the Palms area of Los Angeles, regulars line up for affordable, soulful Caribbean dishes such as arroz con pollo (rice with chicken), rabo encendido (braised oxtail) or mofongo (mashed plantains and cracklings).
March 31, 2011
Among food-obsessed Angelenos, shawarma isn't as much a point of contention as, say, ramen or carne asada. At too many of the city's Levantine restaurants, flaccid, flavorless strands of meat pass as properly shaved shawarma almost without protest.
March 24, 2011
A foodie rite of passage here in Los Angeles is to walk the pupusa mile: that stretch of Beverly Boulevard where Koreatown's northeastern fringe pans to a scramble of auto services, a hostess club or two, and Central American restaurants and bakeries. This is the old-guard Salvadoran restaurant row, but these days a new wave of restaurants is revealing a wealth of regional dishes beyond that well-trod corridor.
March 17, 2011
The stuffed grape leaves at Jasmine Mediterranean Restaurant in Anaheim deserve your complete attention. First: These are unapologetically lemony, in a way that says, "Hello! I am not in any way trying to calm myself down for middle-of-the-road taste buds."
March 10, 2011
Chirmole, a high-intensity soupy sauce as black as squid ink, is poured over tender poached chicken and holds a single hard-cooked egg. This classic Maya dish, dubbed "black dinner" in tiny Central American Belize, is based on darkly charred chiles, ground to a mud-colored paste with a litany of seasonings as complex as that of any Oaxacan mole. It's easy to go through several baskets of corn tortillas mopping up every trace of its toasty, hauntingly pungent liquid.
March 3, 2011
A brand-new flaming star of glorious, singing, singeing Isaan Thai cooking has landed smack in the center of Thai Town. But it's hiding behind a false face. Krua Siri smells right, but the menu seems all wrong. It's chock-full of such depressingly non-Thai dishes as orange chicken and Vietnamese pho — the sort of pan-Asian pandering that typically marks an insincere kitchen.
February 24, 2011
A skein of flat, linguine-like noodles and shards of ginger are so fine they all but dissolve in the broth. There are pork ribs, with brawny slabs of meat thick as a Little Leaguer's baseball bat. But the soki soba is all about the bones, marrow-filled ribs stewed until they can be eaten.
February 17, 2011
Is there room in Southern California for another hip taco slinger? Judging by the lunch crowds at Taco Asylum, there is indeed.
February 10, 2011
Ricardo Diaz is on his way to building a culinary empire with Mexican restaurants that innately reflect the attitudes and fluctuations of the Angeleno appetite.
February 3, 2011
Tonkotsu is the heart of the matter at Ramen Yamadaya, an unassuming little ramen shop in Torrance squeezed between a skate shop and the 405 Freeway. Proper tonkotsu broth is made by simmering pork bones for the better part of the day, and the result is a lush, intensified, liquefied pork. A good tonkotsu broth feels like a crushed velvet smoothie.
January 27, 2011
The splashy color-saturated drink menu at OShan Island could easily leave you wondering exactly how the small cafe fits into San Gabriel's food-mad culinary scene. With 123 beverages on the list, is the place merely another refreshment depot hooking its fortunes to the aging boba trend?
January 18, 2011
There's chutney everywhere: streaked across piles of rice, dabbed on crisp flatbreads, blotted up by grilled kebabs. Jars of the stuff — gleaming containers of pure verdant green and sticky maraschino red — are on display. At Chili Chutney, a months-old Afghan restaurant in Lake Forest, the condiment is elevated to a cornerstone.
January 13, 2011
Strangers chatting in the fast-moving line outside Asal Bakery & Kabob are all jonesing for a taste of the same thing: warm sangak, a floppy chewy yard-long sesame-encrusted flatbread pulled from the fiery depths of a floor-to-ceiling oven whose constant muted roar dominates the Woodland Hills Persian cafe and bakery.
January 6, 2011
First, locate the tiny, unassuming entrance to Little London Cafe, a long, narrow, white linoleum corridor of a diner in the middle of the San Gabriel Valley's Chinese food paradise. A sign outside claims that the restaurant specializes in fish and chips. Ignore this sign. Inside, you will be presented with a laminated, black menu that lists pedestrian fish and chips and Americanized teriyaki bowls. Ignore this also.
December 30, 2010
There's a moment in a cuisine's acculturation when a dish morphs into a movement. In Orange County, that moment belongs now to a multinational influx of Middle Eastern flatbreads.
December 23, 2010
A thick, juicy slab of organic chicken, speckled with a dusting of Parmigiano-Reggiano, sits between crunchy slices of artisan bread in the suprema di pollo panino at the Venezuelan Churros Calientes in West Los Angeles. A veneer of whisper-light breading seals in the meat's moisture. And the thin schmear of dense, house-made tomato sauce that punches up the flavors is so concentrated it almost tastes sun-dried.
December 16, 2010
Trying to eat a warm, doughnut-size meat pie from Beijing Pie House with any sort of decorum is a real challenge. They're probably best consumed leaning over a huge plate or the kitchen sink, because the garlicky juices spurt out in every direction the instant you bite into the crisp, potato-chip-like crust.
December 9, 2010
The corner of Heliotrope and Melrose might be the new cutting edge for bargain-basement culinary delights. Right next to avant-garde ice creamery Scoops is the second branch of Cafecito Organico. You can get your two scoops of experimental beet-cashew and salty mascarpone ice cream for $3, then walk next door and get an individually dripped, single-origin mug of coffee for $2.50. It's complete gustatory bliss for not that much more than the price of a Happy Meal.
December 2, 2010
Peek inside Antojitos Latinos, a tiny Colombian deli and market in Van Nuys, and there's little inkling of its status as a treasured comfort food institution. Over the last 16 years, under owner Patricia Blancheteau's guidance, this tidy but plain shop has blossomed into the go-to Valley spot for traditional baked goods, steamy soups crowded with meats and vegetables, and home-style bargain lunches.
November 25, 2010
Some culinary trends come with promises concocted in the vague argot of marketing executives and brand managers. But a few rare ideas spring from something universal. They're the restaurants and recipes that tap into unknown pleasures, manifestations of all our unconscious cravings.
November 18, 2010
Gamja-Gol on Olympic Boulevard is as legendary a fixture in Koreatown as Canter's, Langer's or the Apple Pan are in their neighborhoods. It's a place untouched by time, where the finish on the black lacquered tables is worn thin by years of use. Its crowded dining rooms, which span two connecting storefronts, are plain, save for slightly faded decorative photos of Korean dishes.
November 11, 2010
On some late nights, Jeff's Gourmet Sausage Factory is the most happening place in L.A.'s Pico-Robertson neighborhood. Squadrons of families and kids descend for a late-night nosh. You might see packs of high school boys lounging at the outside tables, carefully adjusting their clothes: popping their white collars, skewing their yarmulkes just right to look as much like Jay-Z as possible while still keeping to the letter of Orthodox Jewish dress code.
November 4, 2010
A voice crackles from the tinny speaker in the kitchen, and the staff at El Pollo Imperial listens closely to someone in a minivan at the drive-through window placing an order — not for pallid hamburgers stacked two patties high or limp fish encased in sheaths of greasy batter, but for stunningly fresh ceviche and impeccable lomo saltado, the Peruvian dish of stir-fried beef and French fries.
October 28, 2010
Thatched baskets of sticky rice arrive alongside tart pork sausages still sputtering from the pan. Papaya salad follows, the strands of green, unripened fruit stained a murky brown from fermented blue crab paste. At Tom Yum Koong in Westminster, among the offal-laden boat noodles and coconut-rich curries of Thailand are the flavors of Laos.
October 21, 2010
When the platter of steaming, saucy chicken chunks is set on our table at Omar, a months-old Uighur restaurant in San Gabriel, it's clear we're in uncharted culinary territory. The sauce is dappled with tingle-inducing Sichuan peppercorns and chocolate brown star anise pods. Cardamom leaves poke out from a layer of sliced garlic cloves that blankets the meat. But the wide, flat handmade noodles soaking up those juicy flavors resemble a Moldavian grandmother's handiwork.
October 14, 2010
Ice Pan is one of those places where several pop culture trends converge and form a genuinely pleasing little confectionary bubble. It is the current endpoint in a rising line of chain ice cream one-upmanship, the place where they not only mash in your chosen topping, but they also mash the ice cream into existence right in front of your eyes.
October 7, 2010
In the hyperspecialized kitchens of Little Saigon, where dining by dac biet (a restaurant's prescribed list of house specialties) is almost a moral obligation, nem nuong cuon is a matter of contention. For every dozen batches of slack, sloppy spring rolls, there are a few that approach brilliance: ruddy pork patties branded by the grill, cucumber spears that snap with farmers-market freshness, dipping sauces derived from equal parts recipe and alchemy.
September 30, 2010
Early on a Saturday night the scene at Red Chili Pakistani restaurant is heating up. Smoke-laden aromas from spice-crusted, tandoori-charred meats float above the crowd. Tables groan under the weight of delicately perfumed biryanis. Waiters rush from the kitchen bearing towering stacks of steamy tandoori nan to tear up and dip into tongue-numbing curries or to wrap around chunks of flavor-infused meats.
September 23, 2010
On a good night at the new Woodland Hills branch of Tara's Himalayan Cuisine, it can feel like the entire world loves you. Tara Gurung Black, there most nights, is the kind of owner who hugs her regulars, who chats with guests new and old, who will tell you without hesitation which menu items she loves.
September 16, 2010
It's not easy being green in the frenetic, food-obsessed San Gabriel neighborhood where Green Zone put down roots almost four years ago. At first, the modest restaurant's organic offerings generated little enthusiasm from those who preferred to prowl the area's malls and boulevards lusting after obscure regional Chinese dumpling varieties or caustically spiced Hunan stir-fries.
September 9, 2010
No matter what you order at Western Soondae and Moobongri Soondae restaurants in Koreatown, whether it's the ice-cold spicy noodles or the luscious raw oysters drizzled with tart chile-infused sauce and wrapped in soft cabbage leaves, you'll be getting a generous side of soondae, the juicy, snappy-skinned blood sausage that's one of Korea's culinary obsessions.
September 2, 2010
Cars cruise through the roundabout under the waning afternoon sun, leisurely circling a reconstruction of Mexico City's Angel of Independence. First-timers marvel at the faux-colonial facade seemingly imported block by block from Guadalajara. Lynwood's Plaza Mexico is Latin America the L.A. way, an elaborate set onto which visitors can graft memories and forge new ones.
August 26, 2010
Your best introduction to Mottainai Ramen might be if you slink in exhausted, after a long day of work, needing some comfort. Duck your head through the Japanese curtains that hang in Mottainai Ramen's entryway and you'll be hit by a soothing fog of pork and garlic, as waiters and waitresses shout hearty Japanese greetings and farewells, and somebody lights a wok on fire.
August 19, 2010
There's a glistening chicken somewhere under the blanket of crispy rice-flour crumbles. The crystalline snowflake-like particles are scattered over the entire bird, its skin sluiced with a squeeze of lime and spiced with a dab of sambal, shrimp paste and chiles ground into a pungent, penetrating blast of heat.
August 12, 2010
Front Page Jamaican Grille is one of those places where the guy working behind the counter will tell you, in no uncertain terms, what his favorite dish is. Where the owner will come out and shower love on your dog and then show you pictures of her own sweet pup. Where regulars in hot pink dresses breezing by to pick up their dinners will lean over your table, eye your oxtails and tell you: "Ooh, you got the good stuff!"
August 5, 2010
With the penetrating scent of lemon grass fused with garlic and roasted chiles trailing behind him, a waiter sets a khan tohk on our table at the new Lum-Ka-Naad. It's a sort of northern Thai omakase, a mini banquet packed with lush, wild flavors. It is served on a short-legged woven palm frond table laden with bowls heaped with palate-searing dips, mellow curries, varied-textured vegetables and spice-infused fish wrapped in a banana leaf as well as heaps of mysterious fresh herbs and carefully arranged leafy greens the color of a spring garden. It's a meal that keeps the sense memory reliving every taste long after the last bite is finished.
July 29, 2010
In Little Saigon, modest fortunes have been made on spring rolls alone. Entire legacies have been decided by the buttery crunch of a warm baguette. Diners anoint only the most exacting items: fresh-pressed sugarcane juice with muddled kumquats, whole baked catfish with skin caramelized into candy. Here, restaurants are immortalized in the details.
July 22, 2010
Almost every entrée and side order at El Bolivar in Chatsworth comes with a humble arepa, one of those innocuous little South American white corncakes. They're smaller than the palm of a child's hand. But take a bite, quickly: They're an utterly extraordinary nibble, a meltingly tender fluff of cornmeal and cheese, barely held together by the thinnest skein of crispy outsides. They're like the softest, tenderest, velvetiest grits you've ever had, only even softer than that.
3:27 PM EDT, July 13, 2010
It's always a wild scene at 85C, a coffee shop, bakery and patisserie in Irvine. From morning through evening, hundreds of customers of every age and walk of life pour through its doors heaping their trays high with a fantastical array of baked goods and the sea salt lattes that helped to popularize this Taiwanese cafe.
July 8, 2010
The menu at Sattdown Jamaican Grill is instantly intriguing. Scanning its pages past the salmon with garlic-orange zest crust and the shrimp seared in olive oil with jerk seasoning, to the vegetarian curry roti, you quickly realize, we're not in Kingston anymore, Toto.
July 1, 2010
The fatit hummus at Olive Tree is a dish of geological depth, a dip of distinct strata. Slicked across its top is a layer of yogurt puddled with olive oil and dusted with cumin and paprika. Pine nuts dot the surface like pale pebbles. Embedded in the warm hummus below are fragments of crunchy pita.
June 24, 2010
All of the dough is made fresh and by hand, shaped into dozens of subtle variations. Every dumpling wrapper and bun is tweaked to match the particular heft and texture of its filling.
June 17, 2010
As soon as a parade of Moroccan-style nibbles at Itz Kosher lands on our table, it's easy to imagine we're sitting in a little cafe in Fez or Marrakech, just outside the central bazaar: a bright carrot salad flecked with spicy harissa, Cabernet-colored pickled beets, cracked cured olives and a fresh cabbage slaw with lemony vinaigrette.
June 10, 2010
They're the sounds of blue-collar commerce: the pneumatic squeals of an impact wrench, the resonant clangs of metal striking metal. Out on the boulevard, a chorus of tires thrums across the asphalt. Together, it's something like jazz, an improvisational soundtrack of working-world rhythms and melodies that coalesce around Eatalian Cafe, a 4-month-old restaurant in the middle of an industrial zone in Gardena.
June 3, 2010
Platters and bowls and condiments crowded our table at Manja, but the mee udang vanished first. Everyone had spooned out second, even third helpings of the toothsome noodles, served in a pristine shrimp broth ruddy with puckery tamarind and punched up with chile. They came topped with half a dozen jumbo shrimp and arrived in a wide porcelain bowl the size of a birdbath.
May 27, 2010
Mofongos Comida Caribena is easy to spot: a bright dab of orange on a drab strip of Lankershim Boulevard in North Hollywood full of car dealerships and auto body repair shops. It smells absolutely amazing; a blast of garlic and pork and sweet frying plantains hits you about 5 feet away from the door. It's small inside, and warm, and the waitress may wave wildly if she recognizes you. This is one of the sweetest-feeling spots in Los Angeles.
May 20, 2010
A queue of naked noodles waits to be dressed with delicate daikon sprouts, quivering poached eggs and oil-slicked strips of blackened bell pepper. Ingredients are plucked from bowls, plates, bottles and jars and laid onto the loose nests of udon, each shard of seaweed and ring of green onion in its right place. Lomita's Oumi Sasaya is a noodle house of seemingly effortless elegance, minimalism maximized to the fullest.
May 13, 2010
The mangu at Mamá Fina in Bellflower is a savory, vaguely sweet dish of crushed green plantains that looks a little like lumpy mashed potatoes. As the foundation of the blow-out breakfast at this modest Dominican-style restaurant, the lightly seasoned mound sits under a sunny-side-up egg surrounded by house-made longaniza based on owner Josefina Soto's own sausage recipe, a slice of gooey-centered fried fresh cheese and thick rounds of the Dominican-style "salami" that she has shipped from Miami (its taste and texture resemble knackwurst).
May 6, 2010
Morning clouds float through downtown San Pedro like dandelions caught in a port breeze. In the distance, cranes sprout from behind stacks of cargo containers like trees atop a corrugated mountain range. It's a collision of industry and history, a nascent neighborhood of century-old stores and glistening new lofts. And feeding it all is Nosh Cafe, a homey hub of a restaurant that prepares simple, seasonal cooking with an Australian accent.
April 29, 2010
If Korean barbecue restaurants are the cultural equivalents of American steakhouses — overwhelming piles of meat and booze for a celebratory night out — then Mapo restaurant is the Korean version of a great country diner. Mapo is about the elemental, the rustic and the simple perfection of everyday standards.
April 22, 2010
Casa Don Rolando sits on secluded Parthenia Place, a one-block street that curves between a row of tawdry gentleman's lounges and rundown taquerias on Sepulveda Boulevard and a vast, gaudily lit stretch of auto dealerships and tire retread shops in North Hills.
April 8, 2010
The bartender at Moqueca is mixing up flamingo-pink Copacabanas. Brazilian caipirinha cocktails are flowing and there's plenty of Xingu, the dark-as-ink Brazilian beer, being poured. Through the windows of the second-story dining room you can look out over Oxnard's Channel Islands Harbor. The exterior lights catch flashes of rippling water and bounce off the gleaming white boats bobbing by the docks.
April 1, 2010
The lunch line at House of Kabob in Lake Forest curls out the door, the neck of each prospective diner craned toward the kitchen. It's a crowd mostly of baby-faced workers from nearby tech firms waiting with ID cards still dangling from their company-issued lanyards. They're jockeying, however politely, for even a fleeting glimpse of the restaurant's excellent Persian cooking.
March 25, 2010
When you inhale the aroma of a rich, spicy crawfish étouffée at Bayou Grille on South La Brea, you're following the scent of Louisiana's Creole culinary past. Unlike countrified Cajun cooking, New Orleans' Creole cuisine is adopted from the manor houses of Europe — influenced by African cooks who tossed in a few ingredients of their own.
March 18, 2010
Behold the majesty of banh it kep banh ram, one of the most dementedly wonderful versions of the one-thing-stuffed-inside-another-thing idea on this green earth. Deviously enough, banh it kep banh ram takes the concept a step further — stuffing one thing inside another version of itself. It's a glutinous rice cake, gently steamed, then stuffed halfway inside a deep-fried glutinous rice cake. One bite will take your mind apart.
March 11, 2010
Shanghai's cuisine, whether served at a dive or a white-tablecloth restaurant, often is typecast as an impossibly rich parade of braised meats and overly sweet, heavy sauces. But at 4-month-old Yu Garden, chef Bin Hu focuses on a lighter, more streamlined Shanghainese cooking style. It's the sort of food found in casual, modern eateries that have popped up to serve the Chinese city's outlying urban sprawl — call it Neo-Shanghainese Cafe Cuisine.
March 4, 2010
A lot of folks will probably compare the newly minted Slaw Dogs with the year-old Fab Dogs, the anointed champion of the Southern California hot dog scene. After all, they're both trying to kick an old American street-food classic up to the next level. But where Fab Dogs takes the cultural anthropologists' approach, meticulously re-creating New Jersey rippers and Coney Island dogs down to the last detail, the Slaw Dogs is the shock of the new.
February 25, 2010
Magic Wok is a porcine palace, a restaurant where the pillars of Filipino cooking are fortified by all things pork. Kids chomp on shards of pig skin as crisp as potato chips, grandparents leisurely ladle hunks of pork from sour tamarind soups — the homey restaurant went whole hog long before quivering cubes of pork belly cropped up on happy-hour menus and bacon became an almost de rigueur dessert.
February 18, 2010
Snaking through the city of Liuzhou in southern China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, the Liu River dominates the landscape -- and the flavors of the food.
February 11, 2010
Who would have expected it? The best plate of fries in Los Angeles is hidden in a Lebanese kitchen, completely invisible in the back corner of a Burbank Boulevard strip mall, near a gigantic neon clown sign hawking liquor.
January 27, 2010
When Vietnamese food lovers spot the neon sign of Thien An Bo Bay Mon, they know exactly what to expect at the Rosemead restaurant. Bo bay mon (often spelled bo 7 mon) denotes the famous Saigon-style all-beef dinners of seven courses, brought to the table one by one, each dish cooked by a different method.
January 20, 2010
This is how to eat an order of pani puri at Samosa House East, home of some of the best Indian snacks in Los Angeles. First, roll up your sleeves. Pani puri is chaat -- Indian street snack food -- and demands to be eaten with the fingers, lustily, and with some degree of abandon.
January 13, 2010
"This broth is surprisingly good," admitted my friend the fastidious Sinophile, swishing an abalone mushroom through the roiling, scarlet liquid in our hot pot at J.R. Bistro in Chinatown. At around 10 p.m. nearly every surface of our table was covered with plates and platters of raw ingredients: glistening shrimp and rosy beef slices, a tangle of emerald-green pea tendrils, Chinese greens and the combination plate of wild and fresh mushrooms -- half a dozen varieties arranged like a bouquet, each ready to soak up the simmering liquid in the pot.
January 6, 2010
Crisp, impossibly airy cookies served straight from the freezer, their centers stuffed with slick buttercream, seem almost Space Age. They're somehow both sturdy and weightless. They dissolve the second they touch your tongue. These otherworldly treats are silvanas, colorful and classic Filipino cookies that could easily be mistaken for oversized French macarons.
December 30, 2009
Golden and shimmery, the fragile crackly exterior of a Costa Rican corn pancake gives way to a moist, dense center. Alongside the Frisbee-size disk comes a small bowl of natilla, a buttery cultured cream that's as heavy and rich as cheesecake. The custom is to scoop up little mounds of cool cream with shards of warm pancake. Each bite is a blissful marriage of contrasts -- crunchy with tender, tart and subtly sweet.
December 23, 2009
It's easy to stereotype Japanese food as a cuisine of all delicacy and lightness. But every culture must have its bar food, and so we have Horon, serving a barrage of skewered tidbits, all breaded, carefully deep-fried and lovingly arranged into architectural stacks.
December 16, 2009
Pomegranate seeds spill from the sandwich after each bite, brilliant and glistening like freshly polished rubies. Peanuts tumble out too, speckled with flecks of cumin, cinnamon and ground chiles. They land with a percussive patter that completes the sensory experience that is the Indian snack dabeli, a White Castle-sized, potato-based slider that's a staple on the streets of Mumbai. At Artesia's Mumbai Ki Galliyon Se, dabeli is just one of Sailesh and Shruti Shah's edible odes to their former home.
The grilled prawn and green papaya salad at 9021Pho rests under a stack of crackly ramen-thin fried yam shreds that jut up from the bowl like flames. Its pristine freshness and modern garnish speak volumes about chef-owner Kimmy Tang's individualist approach to the food she grew up eating in Vietnam.
December 2, 2009
"Fufu Land!" blares the sign over Veronica's Kitchen, a newly minted Nigerian place at the back of a mini-mall on busy Sherman Way in Van Nuys.
November 25, 2009
This is how to experience the essence of pure Korean funk: First, take mackerel, queen of the powerful, oily fishes. Then add special kimchi, long-fermented for extra pungency, and some heavily fermented soy sauces. Simmer together carefully, until the mixture becomes a glowing, red syrup.
November 18, 2009
The new Flaming Clam Grill in the Chapman Market complex is the first restaurant in Koreatown to devote itself exclusively to multi-course all-seafood repasts.
November 4, 2009
There's an unquestionable comfort in Hoang Yen's chao. The Vietnamese congee is a homey, hearty meal of rice boiled down until it takes on a consistency somewhere between that of oatmeal and Cream of Wheat. Even for those whose childhood memories revolve around grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup, the porridge possesses an innate familiarity.
October 28, 2009
The Koranic art at Mutiara Food & Market is rattling against the wall, its filigreed details shaken by the groans of a jet passing overhead. When the plane travels out of sight, Mutiara fills with a consuming quiet. The Inglewood restaurant and market is a subdued place, but its unassuming setting belies its rich and varied Burmese and Malaysian cooking.
October 21, 2009
Like a classic storybook bistro, with smart burgundy awnings, lacy curtains and flower boxes at the windows, Mantee exudes a warm and welcoming aura. So why is the small dining room so empty?
October 14, 2009
Scrawled across a huge, zanily illustrated chalkboard in vibrant pastel tones, Wat Dong Moon Lek's bilingual menu is a crowded pastiche of witty drawings, slogans and photographs. It has the feel of an interactive website, and like the décor at this 4-month-old spot, the food takes a hip, updated cue from an archetypal Bangkok noodle house.
October 7, 2009
Just north of the traffic-tangling intersection where Beverly, Temple, Virgil, Commonwealth and Silver Lake merge sits Amalia's Restaurant. Secreted away in a refurbished bungalow on a shady stretch of Virgil, it's a surprising oasis where Amalia Zuleta's longtime dream, one that began with her arrival from war-torn Guatemala in 1984, is finally being realized.
September 23, 2009
Anybody who grew up in the United States will tell you: For a certain kind of grilled cheese sandwich, it's got to be American cheese -- the kind that normally comes in individually wrapped slices. A good farmhouse cheddar is all wrong; high-quality cheese melts into particles and lumps, and just plain has too much substance. Only a cheap cheese, like American, will properly collapse into velvety goop.
September 9, 2009
The menu at Rio Brazil Café seems a relic of restaurant protocol, a vestigial document that exists only to fulfill standard expectations. There has to be a menu, right?
September 2, 2009
Sunny-side-up eggs with flowing yolks and house-made Lebanese beef sausage top the khachapuri at Zaatar Factory in Burbank.
August 26, 2009
There are rules of thumb for hunting hidden culinary greatness in this town. One of them is to avoid steam tables. Another is to avoid culturally profligate fast food -- stands that promise the best burritos, hamburgers, pastrami and gyros in town. But sometimes you just have to trust your instincts and your nose and follow that smell, and to heck with all the rules.
August 19, 2009
Bo De Tinh Tam Chay is so serene it can transport you to a meditative state. The sound of trickling water flows through the dining room, a peaceful backing-track that blocks out the occasional clangs and whirs that erupt from the kitchen. A forest of fake bamboo surrounds the dining area, and Buddhist statues are placed throughout the room
August 12, 2009
"What about the kala pocha?" asks someone at our table at Khybar Afghan restaurant in Reseda. Our waiter, dressed in black track pants and a Nike soccer shirt, shakes his head. "You don't want that," he assures us. "It's for breakfast."
July 29, 2009
You might feel a momentary sense of dislocation when you first stumble across Ning Jie, in the San Gabriel Mission District. Ning Jie is next to the centuries-old Mission San Gabriel Arcangel, located in a preciously faux-adobe shopping district. It's probably the only place in San Gabriel you wouldn't expect to find a Chinese restaurant, but here it is -- a pure Beijing outlier, serving distinctive regional specialties and street food.
July 15, 2009
There are probably three essential things you need to know about Michelle's Pancake, an upstart cafe tucked into the back corner of an unassuming San Gabriel Valley mini-mall.
July 8, 2009
Ramen California's soups are startling, peculiar creations crowded with a garden's worth of unconventional ingredients. Bobbing in a bowl might be florets of purple cauliflower, earthy chunks of celery root or broth-staining bits of beet. The restaurant's produce-packed style marks a new direction for the noodle soup -- one guided by ramen prodigy Shigetoshi Nakamura.
July 1, 2009
Russian Dacha is walled off to the world, concealed behind a picket fence erected to quiet the crush of cars along Laurel Canyon Boulevard. It doesn't create a sense of isolation but, rather, one of solitude -- the restaurant is an hommage to the dacha, a class of sprawling estates in Russia's exurban forests that capture a kind of lost country living. And behind its fence, Dacha ably honors that tradition of leisure and ease.
June 24, 2009
You might call Louisiana Best Seafood a seafood shack in an ethnically diverse neighborhood, but some of the local kids have a different term for it. "Welcome to the hood," say some kids out front. "How you like your hood fish?" The term "hood fish" is, apparently, in some urban circles, as common as "crab shack" or "seafood shack" is in the Northeast.
June 17, 2009
The wall of sweets inside Rollie's Bakery Café in Tustin -- a collection of shell-shaped conchas, rows of cinnamon-crusted confections and a group of fluorescent pink pastries -- is deceiving. The year-old restaurant is part panadería, but it has also evolved into something more anomalous: a rare outpost of Bolivian cooking.
June 10, 2009
The sunny yellow bungalow that houses Kassava Caribbean cafe is a Chandler-esque remnant of an earlier L.A., a poignant contrast to the neighboring steel- and glass-fronted restaurants along 3rd Street and the monochromatic hulk of the Beverly Center nearby.
June 3, 2009
Ricardo Zarate remembers reading a 2004 article in the Economist magazine predicting that Peruvian cuisine was the Next Big Thing. A Peruvian who had studied at a culinary college in Peru, then at Westminster Culinary College in England, he was cooking in a Japanese restaurant in London. The moment he read the article, he knew it was right: Peruvian was the next big thing, and he wanted, desperately, to cook Peruvian in his own restaurant. He started dreaming and moved to L.A. in 2007.
May 27, 2009
Priyani Oriental Cafe is tucked into the tiny back corner of a parking lot, wedged between an Indian/Pakistani supermarket and a fence. It's actually a chunk of the supermarket, walled off into a separate space, and lovingly made as cozy as possible. There are leather couches, hanging bamboo mats, red paper lanterns and a flat-screen TV playing softly in the background. But you can still spot the supermarket giveaway -- the floor is that same industrial white linoleum.
May 13, 2009
The nasi bungkus at Java Spice is a magnificent Indonesian meal, a picnic banquet swathed in fresh-cut banana leaf that looks something like a pregnant shoe box. Inside are generous chunks of coconut-infused chicken, smoldering chile-laced beef rendang, brightly spiced jackfruit curry, chunky fish cake, tofu nuggets and a blazing scarlet sambal-topped egg.
May 6, 2009
The aroma of kebabs grilling over smoldering charcoal will lead you to a shipudia, or skewer house, almost anywhere you wander in Israel. The allure of these simple restaurants, though, is more than just the meat. Typically, even the most unpretentious places lay out a generous spread of Israeli-style salads and dips that, no matter how casual the ambience, surrounds you with a wonderful sense of luxury.
April 29, 2009
Wadiya turns tropical the second you pass through its doors. Consuming all of one wall is a multi-canvas mural depicting a neon beach scene. Stationed at the restaurant's center is a cash register shaded by the thatched roof of a seaside shack. And creeping out from a corner is a fake, gangling tree, its limbs unnecessarily groping for some sun. Wadiya's is a dedicated design -- one that swaps the Anaheim restaurant's strip mall surroundings for the paradise of Sri Lanka's island style.
April 22, 2009
"I've seen a chef at Mr. Chow make these," said my friend the Beverly Hills gourmand, as we hovered over bowls of la mian, the hand-pulled noodles at Kam Hong Garden in Monterey Park.
April 15, 2009
A plate of chicken with chile, Hunan-style, comes to the table with glistening whole garlic cloves and thick ginger slices that dot a sea of deep red whole chiles burying a mound of crisp, fried chicken cubes. Eyes water and noses run, but after the initial burst of spicy heat, a symphony of umami emerges and each bite becomes more intriguing than the last.
February 18, 2009
A long, manically cheerful mural on one of the walls at Salvadoran restaurant La Pupusa Loca re-imagines Los Angeles as a mostly empty, grass-filled valley, with nothing but one church, one school and one lone strip mall, housing La Pupusa Loca.
February 11, 2009
As soon as you enter Bon Marché Bistro in Monterey Park, you realize it's not the quaint French café its name evokes.
February 4, 2009
Until now, cemitas poblanas, the heroically proportioned, sumptuously layered central Mexican answer to Dagwood sandwiches, have been more or less relegated to cult status. But lately, these Pueblan street foods have been drawing long lines at certain Southern California taco trucks. And food buffs will probably notice that more and more mom and pop Mexican cafes are adding them to their menus.
January 28, 2009
Simon's Café is all contradictions. It's in pretty much the weirdest possible place for an elegant little Moroccan cafe: in Sherman Oaks directly under the intersection of the 405 and the 101. Some customers, trying to find the rear parking lot, accidentally get on the freeway.
January 7, 2009
The multitude of moles at East Los Angeles' Moles la Tía might just complete a culinary color wheel: Circle through the menu and you'll find the cheery yellow of the passion fruit mole, the herbaceous green of the finas hierbas mole, the pristine ivory of the velo de novia mole. These sauces don't seem so much cooked as they do composed, every ingredient mindful of its place in the restaurant's oeuvre.
December 31, 2008
"Please don't call my cooking 'fusion,' " chef Haley Nguyen insists, as she assures me that the flavors of her food are those she grew up with in Vietnam.
December 17, 2008
A crush of humanity jammed Kapiolani Park on Oahu when I was there a couple of years ago for the annual Okinawan Festival. Crowds pressed close around the food booths where cooks were frying up deep-purple sweet potatoes, golf-ball-shaped Okinawan doughnuts and rafute -- pork belly, braised to buttery softness in a traditional distilled rice liquor called awamori.
December 3, 2008
RESTAURANTS / THE FIND
Push open the screen door at Peña's Restaurant in Santa Ana and you'll find reclaimed relics of California's rancho past: rusted ranch equipment, hollowed-out gourds, a poster promising gold and glory from the pockets of Pancho Villa. Occasionally, a jukebox flips on unprovoked, pumping out the wheezy bellows of an accordion. Down a skinny stretch of the dining room that runs along the kitchen, saddles serve as retrofitted bar stools, bow-legged seats that help Peña's accommodate every eater.
November 12, 2008
Red-hot flames leaping from the side of a restaurant on Ventura Boulevard catch your eye as you drive by Copper Chimney, a 7-month-old Indian restaurant in Woodland Hills -- but it's just a faux fire, crafted from lights and fabric (an old theatrical stage technique) and meant to draw customers. The gimmick is attention-grabbing, but what might the place add to a part of the Valley that's already home to a surfeit of northern Indian restaurants?
October 15, 2008
LOOKING seaward from Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu, there's almost no sign of the Beachcomber Cafe, but if you're astraddle a surfboard in the ocean off Surfrider Beach, you probably have a pelican's-eye view of what's so special about the place -- its million-dollar location.
September 17, 2008
Puro sabor -- Spanish for pure, unadulterated flavor -- is the name of a sprightly 7-month-old Peruvian restaurant on Van Nuys Boulevard. The kitchen lives up to the promise of its moniker, sending out plates that are all about puro saborpuro sabor -- nothing architectural or flamboyant, no foam or bouncy gelée -- just classic Peruvian favorites with powerfully seductive tastes.
September 10, 2008
Surrounded as they are by taquerías, the non-Mexican Latin American restaurants of Southern California too often feature menus of tangled-together cuisines, slighting many distinct dishes in search of pan-American tastes. And Señor Big Ed, a homey Puerto Rican spot in Cypress, did begin as a Mexican restaurant, folding up tacos and burritos long before it mashed together its first order of mofongo, a dish of plantains, pork rinds and garlic. But the place is purely Puerto Rican these days, with flags, hats and shoes all proudly displayed (and for sale) just inside the door.
September 3, 2008
SOMETIMES what happens is that the food at a neighborhood restaurant is so good (even if it's not fancy) that the get-together takes on a special glow.
August 13, 2008
THE DISH of silky slices of lime-cured salmon looks like a platter of crudo, the trendy Italian-style raw fish. But the flavors are pure Cambodian -- Asian fish sauce punctuated by the sharp citrus jolt of shredded kaffir lime leaf, perfumed with a wild assortment of fresh leafy herbs.
July 23, 2008
TAKING summer visitors on a tour of downtown Los Angeles? Before or after Disney Hall, Olvera Street, Santee Alley and whatever other landmarks are on your itinerary, stop in for breakfast or lunch at Blue Star restaurant, a terrific little cafe located in one of the most visually arresting spots in the state.
June 18, 2008
Plenty of L.A. cafe owners have realized that ethnic food can have enhanced crossover appeal if healthful characteristics of the cuisine are emphasized. Lately, even fast-food places are oriented toward fresh and good-for-you offerings, often because that's the way proprietors like to eat.
May 28, 2008
IF YOU sit at the table in the window at Tara's Himalayan Cuisine, a new cafe on Venice Boulevard in Palms, you can study a large panoramic photo under the tabletop glass. It's a scene of the mountain region from which the cafe takes its name, but rather than the more common sight of peaks with no sign of human habitation other than prayer flags, it pictures the city of Pokhara, Nepal.
February 20, 2008
THE pork chop on my plate is twice as thick as the Michelin Guide. Lightly seared and faintly rosy at the center, it has the heft and juiciness you'd expect of a chop served at Jar or BLD. It's accompanied by a silky sauce redolent of cream and roasted nuts, its roots solidly in Latin America but with inspiration from French technique. Right now the only place to find this dish is at El Caserio Silver Lake, the dramatically enhanced sibling of William Velasco's 25-year-old restaurant known for its raved-about Ecuadorean and Italian food and a notoriously obscure Virgil Avenue location in Los Angeles. The original is so entrenched in the neighborhood that many regulars order without looking at a menu.
May 14, 2008
SPICE-INFUSED and presented with several sauces, the iskender kebabat Sako's Mediterranean Cuisine, a Turkish restaurant in Reseda, sent me straight back to Istanbul's vibrant Beyoglu district, where the aroma of meat-scented smoke wafts through ancient cobblestone streets. Just off the tony boulevard Istiklal Caddesi, the area is packed with dozens of cafes and rotisserie specialists doling out the country's iconic doner kebab -- slices of meat stacked on a big skewer (similar to the Greek gyro and Arab shawarma) -- and its fancier cousin, the iskender kebab (a plated version).
August 29, 2007
VENTURA'S favorite son, Erle Stanley Gardner, author of the Perry Mason mystery books, never wrote about a meal that didn't begin with a martini and include a steak and baked potato, but times have changed since his fictional hero's mid-century heyday. Today's detectives -- fictional or otherwise -- can't determine a car's owner by peeking at the registration on the steering wheel column the way Mason could, and they most likely can't pack away the red meat the way he did.
January 9, 2008
WHEN it comes to neighborhood restaurants in L.A., it's all about the micro-climates -- the prevailing winds can be so different in different parts of town, you can't just plant a bistro any old where and have it flourish. The Del, an 8-month-old spot in Playa del Rey, has been slowly, quietly taking root in its unique little cul-de-sac of a beach community. It's by no means full-grown -- a dining room just opened in November after months of lounge-only service, and a large patio is due by summer -- but already it's rich with endearing personality.
January 23, 2008
BONG! Boahhhnnggg, bonggggg! "Haieeee dozo!" Bonggggg.
August 1, 2007
LIKE lucky families everywhere this season, we're enjoying a visit from vacationing relatives -- what a great excuse to knock off work and head to the beach! -- and after a day of sun, surf, kids and family gossip, no one wants to cook, but no one wants to go out to dinner either. But on such nights, there's usually a 15-minute window till hunger-induced meltdown.
February 6, 2008
WHEN you see a line of people waiting for tables outside a restaurant, it's simultaneously intriguing and off-putting. Sure, there's usually something about the spot that's memorable, often a good deal (Versailles' garlicky roast pork, for example) or an after-hours experience (think Pink's), but just as often, there's bound to be disappointment because our dining options in this crazy city are so many and so varied that you know you can get even better food somewhere just down the street from wherever you see the people lining up.
September 19, 2007
For every high-profile restaurant that opens in downtown L.A. these days, three small, on-your-block cafes spring into life, nothing to make a big deal about in other parts of town. But downtowners -- craving variety and choice -- are all over those new doorsteps immediately. Maybe this one will have great pizza or a hot takeout dinner that's homey and comforting. There are still lots of gaps in the scene.
April 8, 2009
It takes a determined climb to get all the way up to Pavich's Brick Oven Pizzeria, a tiny restaurant parked at the peak of a steep San Pedro hill. It's a haul, but the pizzeria is a beacon of local flavor, a neighborhood spot surrounded by a tract of hilltop homes. And for owner Zdenko Pavic, that's the perfect place to serve his mammoth pizzas and Croatian classics that capture the harbor town's immigrant history.
March 25, 2009
Every order at Scottie's Smokehouse in Orange passes through owner Darren Scott's hands, whether it's a blackened slab of brisket awaiting a deft swipe of the knife or a golden-skinned chicken about to be pulled apart. It's an exacting process, but that control is crucial because Scott has barbecue in his blood.
March 11, 2009
Maximilians Austro-Hungarian Restaurant is hidden away a few steps from the slowly gentrifying NoHo arts district. But on a sunny afternoon, with the sunlight bouncing off its crisp white tablecloths and a view to the garden through the dining room's arched windows, you could easily imagine you've landed in a village somewhere in Europe.
March 4, 2009
Mariscos Chente serves shrimp -- lots and lots of shrimp. It serves camarones aguachiles -- enormous, raw, lemon-soaked shrimp, heads still on, arranged in a circle and facing outward, antennae dangling over the side of the dish, and covered in an unexpectedly delicate cucumber and green chile salsa. It serves cubed shrimp ceviche -- alone, mixed with octopus, or covered in red salsa. It serves shrimp drenched in a thick layer of garlic powder (al mojo de ajo) or sautéed and served with a suave garlic-cheese sauce (al ajillo).
February 25, 2009
Tiny flecks of fire jump from Feng Mao's tabletop grills. They're unpredictable at first, but as the embers slowly brighten to white-hot, the flames calm down. Once the entire dining room gets cooking, the Koreatown restaurant fills with a familiar scent: a meaty smoke that works its way into the very fibers of your clothes.
October 3, 2007
The throb of tango music, the sizzle of grilling meat, crowded tables groaning under the weight of portable barbecues loaded with short ribs, sausages and yards of skirt steak that drape over the grills' edges. We're at Buenos Aires Grill in Northridge, it's close to 10 p.m. and the place is still rockin'.
October 31, 2007
"I'D come back for this in a heartbeat" says one of the guys at our table, on the way to polishing off every smidgen of his vegetable-stuffed poblano chile at the new Amaranta Cocina Mexicana. On a whim, this usually carnivorous fellow had opted for the vegetarian chile relleno and is now hoarding every bit.
November 28, 2007
IT is a truth universally acknowledged that American people in possession of a good appetite must be in want of a cozy Italian restaurant in their neighborhood. Some areas have reached saturation level in this regard; others lack even a decent pizzeria.
August 15, 2007
YOU'D have to be a real curmudgeon to find something to argue with at the York, a new gastropub opened about a month ago by two former bartenders with a vision.
December 12, 2007
"SO what's Afghan food like, exactly?" someone at our table wants to know. The answer is drowned out by the laughter from a birthday celebration across the room, but it's soon evident from the extravagant spread of dumplings, breads, pilafs and kebabs covering our table at Chopan Kebab House in Northridge.
October 17, 2007
In contrast to the boisterous spots where sake drinkers gather around a communal table, there's a quiet, elegant new izakaya, or Japanese pub-style cafe, in Studio City. Yuta is a delightful oasis, a great place to bring people together -- you can really talk, and the food's adventurous, a welcome alternative to the offerings of Ventura Boulevard's sushi row.