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Restaurant recommendations, new openings, and highlights from the LA Chowhound community.

A Perfect Cuban Coffeehouse

Café Contigo is a brilliant little Cuban coffeehouse. “It opened about two weeks ago with little fanfare, but it should get some soon—the coffee is fantastic,” says Das Ubergeek. “... The Americans spawned the $4 coffee revolution but the Cubans have been quietly making the best coffee for 300 years or so.”

Café con leche—“which is essentially a caffe latte, but slightly sweetened with raw molasses, and no bloody foam”—is just perfect, “still a little bitter but not the unpalatable alum feeling of completely unsweetened coffee,” says Das Ubergeek. And refugiado, the famed guava-cheese pastry, is Porto’s refugiado, literally. Café Contigo makes many of its pastries in-house, but it imports its refugiado from Porto’s in Glendale. The refugiados are made at Porto’s off-site bakery, frozen, sent to Café Contigo, then rebaked. Because this is precisely how Porto’s handles its own refugiados, the pastries taste exactly the same. So for all you sad Orange County hounds who’ve been pining away for those oh-so-perfect refugiados, rejoice.

The sandwiches are made in-house, and they’re very, very tasty, says Das Ubergeek. Medianoche is quite nice, and the hummus-and-avocado veggie sandwich is a must-try, says dvestre.

“The owners, Linda and Petros, are two of the nicest people you could ever possibly meet,” adds peanut112. The ambiance is rustic and pleasant, and right now the restaurant’s basically empty. “The only thing lacking is more satisfied customers,” says crt.

Café Contigo [Orange County]
327 S. Anaheim Boulevard Suite A, Anaheim

Board Link: REVIEW: Cafe Contigo, Anaheim

Afghan Wonderment

pleasurepalate always tends toward going to new restaurants, but she can’t stop going back to Azeen’s Afghani.

Pakawra-e-badenjan is great: crispy batter-fried eggplant, topped with tangy yogurt and spicy tomato-meat sauce. It may seem strange, but yogurt, tomato, and meat marry beautifully. Buranee-e-kadu is sautéed butternut squash topped with the same yogurt and meat sauce. “The melding of flavors was really interesting for this dish,” says pleasurepalate. “You get sweet, meaty, tangy all in one bite.”

The dumplings are always worthwhile. Mantu dumplings have a filling of chopped beef, onion, and herbs, topped with yogurt and mixed vegetables; aushak dumplings are filled with leeks and scallions, and topped with that yogurt and meat sauce, with a little extra mint.

Gulpi—cauliflower stew with ginger, onions, and tomatoes—tastes very lively. Korma challaw is chunks of beef in a satisfying sauce of green pepper, onions, and tomatoes. And the chicken breast kebabs are moist and tender. Best of all, says Dommy, is the cardamom tea, served cold or hot.

In general, says pleasurepalate, the vegetable dishes are unbeatable. “Azeen’s really knows how to cook their vegetables. They always have a lot of great flavor to them.” Meat kebabs, on the other hand, are hit-or-miss.

Azeen’s Afghani Restaurant [San Gabriel Valley]
110 E. Union Street, Pasadena

Board Link: REVIEW w/ pics: Dinner at Azeen’s Afghani

Pistachio Mole, Coffee Mole, Tamarind Mole

“My tastebuds went into overload,” says pleasurepalate. “The flavor profiles were all over the place. Sweet. Smoky. Spicy. Nutty. All of them had such complexity of flavors.” She’s talking about the mind-bending array of moles available at Moles “La Tia.” There is white mole; passion fruit mole; dark, rich coffee mole; tequila mole with a shot of lime; and hibiscus mole. And there is the gloriously nutty pistachio mole.

You can mix and match your moles to your proteins, but chef and owner Rocio Camacho has suggested some particularly great pairings on the menu—pairings with unexpected resonance, like shrimp with coffee mole, or venison with hibiscus mole. Burger Boy digs the Oaxacan quesadillas, as well as the fillet with tequila mole.

Cochinita pibil is also excellent—highly flavored, like chorizo.

There are great desserts, too, like rice pudding with tequila-soaked raisins served on green tomatillo marmalade, and ancho chile flan.

Moles “La Tia” [East LA]
4619 E. Cesar E. Chavez Avenue, Los Angeles

Board Links: REVIEW w/pics: Mole Heaven at Casa de Moles “La Tita”
Moles La Tia in East La

Nicaraguan at Nica’s Kitchen

Nica’s Kitchen “is dedicated to comida Nicaragüense and presenting typical dishes,” says streetgourmetla. It’s a hot, humid little hole in the wall—“I actually felt like I was in Nicaragua. ... But, such a wonderful dive and one of my new favorites.”

Carne asada Nicaragüense is fantastic, with every sort of texture and temperature all on one plate. It includes carne asada, gallo pinto (rice and beans), soft and sweet plantains, crispy plantains, ensalada (a lightly pickled slaw, much like Salvadoran curtido), and queso frito (fried cheese), all for $9. Cebollitas—the Nicaraguan sweet, spicy pickled onion—tops the whole affair, and makes a great condiment.

Monday’s menu is limited, Tuesday the restaurant’s closed. But they have specials Wednesday through Sunday. On weekends, you can get Nicaragua’s famed nacatamal and vaho (a.k.a. baho)—a mixture of meat, plantains, and yucca cooked in banana leaves.

Nica’s Kitchen [San Fernando Valley—East]
11640 Victory Boulevard, North Hollywood

Board Link: Nicaraguan comes to the Valley:Nica’s Kitchen lunch w/pics

Islamic Chinese in Anaheim

There is a fantastic Islamic Chinese place in Anaheim. It’s Mas’ Islamic Restaurant, and, says Das Ubergeek, it’s even better than San Gabriel’s beloved China Islamic.

Dough cut noodles with lamb are excellent, with just slightly al dente noodles, says Das Ubergeek. Mu shu chicken is also great. But the true winner is the scrumptious thin sesame bread. The portion is enormous: $8.50 buys you five foot-wide rounds.

Lamb with pickled cabbage is a pleasant surprise, says OCchowman: “not too pickly, with a nice contrast between the slightly crunchy cabbage and the lamb.” It’s good for those with a slight fear of lamb—the pickle masks the intense lambiness. Stir-fried lamb is also good, as are five-spice beef and leeks, and cumin lamb.

The place is nice-looking, gracious, and very Islamic. This means no alcohol, “and they turned away a family in shorts as we were leaving, asking them to attire themselves modestly,” says Das Ubergeek.

Avoid the gloppy, Americanized Chinese food that populates much of the menu. You may have to fight to get Islamic dishes if you look too gringo, though. Some of the waitstaff will try to push you toward the Americanized dishes, unless you insist.

Mas’ Islamic Restaurant [Orange County]
601 E. Orangethorpe Avenue, Anaheim

China Islamic Restaurant [San Gabriel Valley]
7727 E. Garvey Avenue, Rosemead

Board Link: REVIEW: Ma’s Chinese Islamic, Anaheim

The Best Pho in the San Gabriel Valley

“If you name a pho specialist in the SGV there’s a very good chance I’ve been there, but, I was DEEPLY underwhelmed with the scene until I crossed Rosemead Blvd. and entered South El Monte earlier this year,” says Erik M. His absolute favorite is Pho Minh. “This is pho for those folks in search of cerebral, as opposed to merely carnal, pleasures. ... My first taste, a few weeks ago, was like reconnecting with a part of me I never knew I’d lost, let alone had.”

This is the place for those who hate MSG-laden, overstuffed pho, says exilekiss: “amazingly light, authentic pho, with a beautiful beef broth could that only be achieved by slow-cooking for hours and hours.” Some may find it bland at first; keep trying it, urges exilekiss, and you’ll soon be converted to the clear, pure beauty of real pho.

Many hounds recommend Pho Minh’s dac biet pho bac—pho with slices of beef fillet. Com tam, broken rice with various pork toppings, is also excellent.

Pho Minh [San Gabriel Valley]
9646 E. Garvey Avenue #108, South El Monte

Board Links: Six months? Already? (Part1…)
Enchanting Pure Beef Noodle Soup–Pho Minh [Review] w/ Pics!

The Elusive Ipswich Belly Clam

Mattapoisett in LA finally found fantastic fried Ipswich clams, with bellies, in a Long Beach mall. The place is called Lawton’s Famous Frankfurters, at the Pike. “They were the best I’ve had outside of New England,” says Mattapoisett. “The batter was right, the crispiness was right, the taste was really good. Oooh, and the tartar sauce was tangy and sweet all at once.” The clams have a nice sweet sea flavor, says JEN10. They are, in a word, fantastic, says SIMIHOUND.

You get a massive carton of fried belly for a mere $13. Lawton’s is a takeout place, but there are a few tables outside, right by a Ferris wheel and a merry-go-round.

The hot dog with the works is delicious, too, says JEN10. As is the fried fish, which is moist in a crunchy batter.

Lawton’s Famous Frankfurters [South Bay]
110 Bay Street, Long Beach

Board Link: Search for the Elusive Fried Clam, Part 4–Found it!

Pulled Pork, Kansas City–Style

The sign over Porky’s BBQ says it serves Kansas City–style barbecue. The place is fragrant with hickory smoke, and the pulled pork sandwich is the best in all of Los Angeles, says exilekiss. “The pulled pork shoulder had a real, honest hickory smokiness and it was *so* tender and moist!” Porky’s is hands-down the Los Angeles winner for flavor and tenderness, says Dommy.

“I love Porky’s—for the food and the value, but also for the warmth and friendliness of their people,” says nosh. “My goodness, when the place isn’t crowded they usually ask what I’d like to watch on their flatscreens.”

Barbecue pork ribs taste fresh—clearly made every morning. The St. Louis spareribs are even better than the baby back ribs, says nosh. Collard greens are the best that Jeryy has ever had.

Porky’s BBQ [South LA]
801 E. Manchester Boulevard, Inglewood

Board Link: Smoky, Tender and So Delicious!–Porky’s BBQ and Golden Bird [Review] w/ Pics!

A Pan-American Hot Dog Wonderland

Fab Hot Dogs is an unassuming little joint with three tables, a counter, and pretty much every kind of hot dog under the sun. It has New Jersey rippers—hot dogs with a special casing that rips when you deep-fry them. It has Coney Island chili-cheese dogs; bratwurst dogs; steamed dogs; and Carolina-style dogs with chili, mustard, and coleslaw. There’s a bacon-wrapped all-beef dog with grilled onions and jalapeños—dubbed the LA Street Dog. It has a hot dog covered with Hatch green chile, Polish dogs, and even a Sonora Dog: two dogs on a toasted sub roll with bacon, tomatillo salsa, Jack cheese, pinto beans, lettuce, onions, and sour cream.

The rippers are really good, says beingreen. The place utterly satisfies her longstanding desire for a Jersey-style dog. Fab sources its dogs from a Jersey supplier—the same supplier that makes the rippers for Jersey’s beloved Rutt’s Hut. Fab Dogs’ ripper is absolutely delicious, even if you’ve never been to Jersey, says BHAppeal. If you do get the ripper, keep it minimal, urges JeMange—a little mustard and maybe a little sauerkraut to cut the richness, and nothing else.

The bratwurst and the steamed dog are both excellent, says Galen. And the Tater Tot–like potatoes are perfect, says creamfinger. “The outside is extra crunchy and inside is creamy and each piece has that bit of extra potatoey goodness that Ore-Ida can only dream of.”

“I don’t know what impressed me more, the food or the owners,” says creamfinger. “Some people own a hot dog stand and dream of owning the French Laundry, but you can tell that these people just love owning a hot dog stand. They welcome every customer warmly and make every order fresh.”

Fab Hot Dogs [San Fernando Valley–West]
6747 Tampa Avenue, Reseda

Board Link: Fab Hot Dogs—mini report

A Hidden Pocket of Latin American Awesome

The stretch of Inglewood Avenue between Century Boulevard and 111th Street is a residential neighborhood zoned for business, so you’ve got a lot of houses that have been converted into restaurants and other businesses, explains streetgourmetla. There’s tons of stuff there, everything from touristy mariachi-filled restaurants to serous pollos rostizados joints.

Don Rogelio is a real Tex-Mex restaurant. It has fabulous, aromatic, beautiful cocido (beef stew), says streetgourmetla. “The cocido has huge Texas-size vegetables and tasted delicious. Along with some tortillas and the chorus of low flying planes, pure heaven on Earth.”

But if you really want an adventure, go after dark, says Professor Salt. “This street … has long been one of my hidden stashes of Mexican food.” There are two taco trucks that set up at night. The better of the pair is at the corner of Inglewood Avenue and Lennox Boulevard, says Professor Salt. “The first time I went, I noticed they hung coils of dry chorizo … in the truck’s window. I figure any business that hangs their food in front of your face like that … must take some pride in that thing. So I got the chorizo taco and damn if it wasn’t some of the best chorizo I’ve ever had.”

Be sure you’re on Inglewood Avenue, and not Inglewood Boulevard. They’re totally different streets.

Don Rogelio [South LA]

10618 South Inglewood Avenue, Lennox

Board Link: Lennoxico tour w/pics