Restaurant recommendations, new openings, and highlights from the LA Chowhound community.
Brunello Trattoria is the closest you’ll get to Naples in Los Angeles, says basilboy. “The pasta is homemade and cooked al dente. They are never over sauced. The ingredients are fresh and local. The fresh baked bread is unbelievably distinctive and amazingly good. ... The pizza is great and uses the same bread recipe for the crust. ... The recipes range from Roman to Neapolitan to Northern Italian, and most all of them bring you back to Italy.”
“I grew up eating Italian food passed down from old family recipes … and Brunello is like the perfect comfort food for me,” says noahbites. “The menu is simple, but almost every dish has that homemade care and love that just puts me in a good mood.”
The special of linguine with soft-shell crab is fantastic, says slacker. Gnocchi vongole—gnocchi with a circle of clams—is different, and really tasty, says noahbites. And he’s managed to order it every time, even when it wasn’t on the daily specials list.
SecretAsianMan just discovered the place: “The food and service were so fantastic that I ate there three nights in a row, introducing a different foodie friend each night. Two nights in a row, I ordered the veal-porcini fettucine, which was so amazingly delicious that it dominated my consciousness for days.”
The ambiance is simple: a clean little family joint, all the way.
Brunello Trattoria [Westside–Inland]
6001 Washington Boulevard, Culver City
Board Link: Brunello Trattoria in Culver City: Naples Born Owner, Family Run, A Must-Visit Place
Did you know Los Angeles has a Little Tel Aviv? It’s in Tarzana. bulavinaka’s best hummus experience yet is at Hummus Bar and Grill, right in “the epicenter of Little Tel Aviv.” You may, says bulavinaka, be the only non-Israeli in the place.
The hummus is “very creamy, mild, a little umami, swirled with olive oil and some spice and herbs,” says bulavinaka. You can have it plain, or topped with sautéed mushrooms, chicken, steak, or pine nuts. But the best topping of all is braised chickpeas. “It sounds redundant but the braised chickpeas do add another subtle dimension of flavor and texture.”
Flatbread is made fresh and served immediately.
Hummus Bar and Grill [San Fernando Valley–West]
18743 Ventura Boulevard, Tarzana
Board Link: Best Hummus in L.A.
Despite the Japanese culinary riches of the Los Angeles area, exilekiss has been missing modern kappo restaurants like the ones she visited in Tokyo. A kappo-ya (sometimes called a koryouri-ya in Tokyo) is a relaxed, convenient place that “specializes in the Culinary Arts, focusing on the chef’s and kitchen’s ability to provide refined Small Plates focusing on the key disciplines within Japanese cuisine: A Kappo menu will usually have dishes featuring their skills for Cutting, Steaming/Stewing, Grilling, Frying, etc.” And, while there are a lot of places in SoCal that call themselves kappos, they’re all pretty humble—nothing like the stylish Tokyo kappos. Until exilekiss found the new Kagura.
Kagura has an extensive, creative menu, but it’s an “unpolished jewel,” says exilekiss. The greatest glory: kinmedai no nitsuke—slow-stewed snapper in soy sauce broth. It’s “perfection personified, so tender, wonderfully flavorful as only Kinmedai can get, and a nice supple texture while still retaining its inherent structure.” Ankimo no touban yaki kuzuankake—sautéed monkfish liver—is “liquid nirvana,” says exilekiss, with a great sear, and light notes of mirin and mushroom. Koayu takikomi gohan—baby sweetfish over steamed rice—is beautiful and simple. It’s steamed inside an earthenware pot, and comes to the table lidded, all the better to preserve the aromas.
“With an innovative menu, and some rare dishes I haven’t seen offered on any local menu, and a great waitstaff aiming to please … Kagura has the potential to be a great Tokyo-style Koryouri-ya. For now, I would stick with the dishes off their Main Menu and pass on the Kaiseki courses until they can work out their service kinks,” says exilekiss.
Kagura [South Bay]
1652 Cabrillo Avenue, Torrance
Board Link: The Beautiful, Unpolished Jewel–Modern Tokyo Dining at KAGURA [Review] w/ Pics!
Artisan Cheese Gallery serves the “sandwiches of the Gods,” says creamfinger. The best non-deli-style sandwich creamfinger has had in recent memory is Artisan’s glorious duck confit. This “damn fine” sandwich involves fresh ciabatta bread with a good schmear of fig spread, a few slices of slightly pungent Le Maréchal cheese, and duck confit. The whole affair is popped into a sandwich press; it comes out “warm and a bit gooey.”
“Melody, the owner, is a gem, and her staff, with one exception, are all amazing pros!” says Diana. Adds a213b, “My wife and I were treated with more than a little snobbery at [the Cheese Store of Beverly Hills], whereas Melodie and Co have always welcomed and treated us like close friends.”
Artisan started out as a cheese counter with a few extra dishes; it has been remodeled and is more of a restaurant now. It still serves all the same cheese though, says a213b.
Artisan Cheese Gallery [San Fernando Valley–East]
12023 Ventura Boulevard, Studio City
Board Link: Artisan Cheese Gallery… finally!
deliciouscoma loves Isaan-style Thai more than anything. So she’s excited by Khun Dom, “a Thai restaurant in a barren region of Melrose. ... The place secretly specializes in Isaan-style salads, a fact apparently unknown to most of the patrons.”
The highlight is nam kao tod—pork-and-crispy-rice salad. “I loved the gingery bite and the slick, crispy bits of rice—but what made it even better was following up each mouthful with a chomp of fresh greens and a chunk of perfectly cooked sticky rice. Isaan synergy!”
Nam tok—grilled beef salad—is also excellent, “dripping with spicy lime dressing and meaty juices.”
“Sitting in Khun Dom sipping a cold beer and munching on nam kao tod and greens could almost make me forget I didn’t go to Thailand with my sisters this summer. I’ll just pretend it’s my own Isaan desert island,” says deliciouscoma.
Khun Dom a.k.a. Khun Dang [East of Hollywood]
4681 Melrose Avenue, Los Angeles
Board Link: Khun Dom, Isaan-style Thai in Hollywood (Review w/ pics)
Where can you roll in wearing flip-flops and shorts and have a beautiful French meal? Why, in Orange County’s South Coast Plaza, of course, at Marché Moderne. It’s entirely worth the expense, says Das Ubergeek.
One afternoon’s $25 prix fixe lunch included a very good leek-and-bacon quiche; suave onion salad; excellent tapenade; and salty, delicious pork loin with braised cabbage and truffle mousseline. Das Ubergeek’s wife was “blown away” by “a very large plate of wagyu carpaccio with a big monolith of Dungeness crab atop it (seriously, I was looking for apes worshipping around it).” Prix fixe choices change daily.
russkar is a regular; his favorite à la carte items are oysters on the half shell, Gustaf Anders–style herring, short ribs, sliders, fish, and the best steak tartare anywhere. And the desserts, agree all, are uniformly excellent.
This is “one of the best restaurants in OC and hopefully will continue to receive the support it has so far,” says russkar.
Marché Moderne [Orange County]
3333 Bristol Street #3001, Costa Mesa
Board Link: REVIEW: Marché Moderne, Costa Mesa
Cook’s Tortas is a repository for all things sandwich. “I’m surprised that more SGV/Eastside people haven’t been raving about this place,” says soyarra, “the tortas are really wonderful and imaginative.” It has the traditional milanesa, ahogada, and the like, but it also has Spanish- and Cuban-style sandwiches. And American-style deli sandwiches, too. The ahogada torta is a beautiful sandwich: slow-cooked pork, with a spicy double dip. The taste is very close to authentically Jaliscan, says BCM.
All the torta bread is baked on the premises by the owner’s mother-in-law, and is much more like levain-style ciabatta than traditional Mexican torta rolls. It’s nonstandard, but great. The sides are equally surprising and wonderful—dilled potato salad, macaroni salad with red peppers and ham, and spectacular homemade bread with butter pickles, says soyarra. Cook’s Tortas also sells what it calls “great, great grandma’s” corn cake; it’s very good, but odd, “like a cheesecake with a very strong corn taste,” says Neta.
“Really, this is such a find—delicious, fresh, thoughtfully prepared food, reasonable prices,” soyarra says.
Cook’s Tortas [San Gabriel Valley]
1944 S. Atlantic Boulevard, Monterey Park
Board Link: Cook’s Tortas
There are three reasons exilekiss loves El Huarache Azteca. They are carne adobada, barbacoa de borrego, and the restaurant’s famed huarache.
The carne adobada is exilekiss’s “current favorite incarnation of this dish in L.A.” It’s “wonderfully smoky, marinated chunks of pork that’s just screaming with flavor! The hints of chile powder, the slight tang of vinegar, the oregano, and also a slight sweetness….”
Huarache (“sandal”) is a long, sandal-shaped piece of fried masa, topped with your choice of meat. “They make their huarache to order, fresh, even having a dedicated kitchen station setup outside with someone constantly making them as the orders flow in,” explains exilekiss.
Barbacoa de borrego is a weekend special. It’s lightly marinated lamb, steamed to the point of dropping off the bone, and served with a bit of lamb consommé. “It’s nothing short of wonderful!” says exilekiss.
This is a small, homey shop. Tacos are $1.25; huaraches are $2.50.
El Huarache Azteca [Highland Park]
5225 York Boulevard, Los Angeles
Board Link: Lamb and Pork Goodness! :)—El Huarache Azteca [Review] w/ Pics!
Perla Del Pacifico is the only Colombian seafood restaurant in LA, and it’s a real gem, says streetgourmetla. More important, it focuses on the little-known cuisine of the Pacific coast of Colombia—almost all the Colombian food you get in the States comes in the style of the Caribbean coast. The Pacific coast stuff has European, African, Arabic, and Japanese influences, but the African influences dominate. There’s all sorts of unique Pacifico stuff here, like encocados of shrimp, black clams, fish, and crab cooked in coconut milk.
The excellent arroz de mariscos has ample amounts of mussels, clams, and baby octopus—it’s almost as substantial as paella. Perla Del Pacifico serves perfectly fried patacon, among the best streetgourmetla has ever had. And the shrimp empanada is a crunchy, bright-yellow fried object that tastes like a classic Colombian empanada.
Perla Del Pacifico [San Fernando Valley—East]
12727 Sherman Way Suite #B-8, North Hollywood
Board Link: La Perla Del Pacifico:Colombian seafood Paisas y Calenas! Review w/pics
The flavors from the pear-and-Brie sandwich at Elements Kitchen “really knocked me off of my seat,” says E Eto. The sandwich involves Brie, slices of pear, candied walnuts, and a coating of arugula pesto, all on Euro Pane bread. The whole affair is toasted on a sandwich press, just enough to melt the cheese slightly. “This combination of unique flavors works in complete harmony that you wouldn’t expect, but packs a punch. I went to Elements Kitchen twice during the week, mostly because of that sandwich.”
Other items are also immensely enjoyable. Gruyère tart, a special, is outstanding. The pulled-pork sandwich “tasted a lot more like good carnitas than a Carolina style BBQ pork butt, but still delicious,” says E Eto. Chicken escabèche sandwich is quite good, and subtle—rather like a Vietnamese banh mi. Mac ’n’ cheese is an extravagant winner: One version comes with wild mushrooms and truffle oil. Cucumber-ginger soup has a velvety texture and a nice ginger kick; Thai carrot-coconut soup pairs the sweetness of carrots and coconuts well against a spicy hit. “They also make a damn fine cornbread … maybe some of the best I’ve ever had,” says ipsedixit.
“Desserts were also bold and interesting,” says E Eto. Pineapple upside-down cupcake is nice and delicate. Cucumber-and-Key-lime sorbet is light and refreshing. Pear napoleon includes nicely ripe slices of pear held between wafers and bound with maple-pecan custard.
Elements is mostly a catering operation, but it offers lunch in a tiny dining area, or at an outdoor table. It doesn’t offer dinner regularly, but there’s an occasional tasting menu dinner, available to subscribers of its newsletter.
Elements Kitchen [San Gabriel Valley]
107 S. Fair Oaks Avenue Suite 110, Pasadena
Board Link: The Pear & Brie sandwich from Elements Kitchen (Pasadena) and other lunch items