Los Angeles Area rss

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

Crossing the Frontera for Great Eats

Fronteras Mexican Grill is a nice-looking place, with lots of blown-glass lighting, comfortable and colorful booths, and a cool-looking bar, says Clare K. But don’t get her wrong—this is also the kind of place that serves you menudo as a side dish.

It’s really good, and so are the basics: delicious salsa and freshly fried tortilla chips. Chicken mole is just how it should be—rich, dark, complex, and not too sweet. Chicken enchilada is good eating.

And despite the nice surroundings and deliciously authentic food, it’s not expensive: Lunch for two comes out around $26 before tip.

Fronteras Mexican Grill & Cantina [San Gabriel Valley]
118 W. Main Street, Alhambra

Board Links: Fronteras Mexican Grill in Alhambra–muy excellente!

May Induce Blissful Daze. Do Not Eat and Drive.

Know before you go: Vien Dong doesn’t do pho. The Northern Vietnamese spot does turn out mean spring rolls, though, their crinkly rice-paper skin characteristic of true cha gio/nem ran, says Das Ubergeek. These may be the best spring rolls in Little Saigon. Seriously.

But the pièce de résistance is the bun cha, a platter of grilled pork and pork patties, just barely charred, swimming in green papaya–fish sauce. Herbs (perilla, mint, rau ram, and lettuce) and rice noodles come on the side. The proper way of eating it all is to mix the ingredients with the sauce in the small individual bowl, adding more as you go. But no matter how you choose to eat it, the explosion of flavor will knock you over the head. Ubergeek was left dazed by its incredibleness.

Vien Dong [Little Saigon]
14271 Brookhurst Street, Garden Grove

Board Links: Explorations on Brookhurst: Vien Dong

Worst Table at Providence Is One of City’s Best Bargains

It’s actually possible to get a bargain at Providence—by reserving the restaurant’s “worst table,” which knocks 10 percent off your bill, says Diana.

And as for the worst table, it’s not half bad. A two-top in the room to the left of the entrance, the table is on the right side as you exit to the patio, and near the sommelier/bus station, although shielded from it by a wall.

Diana had the chef’s tasting menu, whose 15 or so courses included raw scallops with purple shiso, female Santa Barbara spot prawns baked in a rosemary-salt crust, Berkshire pork belly, and white chocolate–cardamon lollipops.

“We were there from 7:30 PM to past midnight, spoke to wonderful people next to us, had great people watching, had our picture taken and ate an amazing meal. Had I gotten the chef’s table, I would have had the amazing meal, but not any of the other stuff!”

The final tally, with corkage and sparkling water, was $430 before tip (which was based on the prediscount bill, of course).

Providence [Hollywood]
5955 Melrose Avenue, Los Angeles

Board Links: Providence “book the ‘worst table’ save 10%” dinner report!

Gonpachi Goes Beak to Beak With the Best Yakitori-Yas

The newly opened Gonpachi is like Miyagi’s rich, hip cousin from the motherland, says rameniac. The gargantuan restaurant may also be a temple to Japan fetishism: It’s been built from the ground up with imported wood without a single nail, adorned with samurai armor, and carries a very Japanese price tag of $18.5 million.

But don’t worry, it won’t cost a fortune to eat here, though it’s a bit pricier than your standard South Bay izakaya. And the food is entirely competent: Yakitori shows flashes of brilliance, although the traditional sushi disappoints—you’re better off with rolls. Soba is house-made and top-notch; kamo seiro soba, served cold with a hot dipping broth, chopped scallions, and grilled duck, is thoroughly delicious.

Cherry tomato with bacon, and sliced grilled corn on the cob, are great, says Ciao Bob; so is the tempura.

For a point of comparison, try one of the South Bay izakayas, like Azuma or Kan. On the Westside, Musha and Raku are good bets.

Gonpachi [Beverly Hills]
134 N. La Cienega Boulevard, Beverly Hills

Miyagi’s on Sunset [West Hollywood]
8225 Sunset Boulevard, West Hollywood

Azuma [South Bay]
16123 S. Western Avenue, Gardena

Kan Yuzen Izakaya [South Bay]
2755 Pacific Coast Highway (in Torrance Towne Center), Torrance

Musha [Westside]
424 Wilshire Boulevard, Santa Monica

Raku [West LA]
11678 W. Olympic Boulevard, Los Angeles

Board Links: Gonpachi, Beverly Hills + photos
gonpachi on la cienega
Best Izakaya in Southbay?

Truly Authentic Mexican Flavor on the Westside

Raves are pouring in from Westside fans of Mexican food for Sabor a Mexico. It’s like Abuela’s cooking. Or like the Mexican grandmother you wish you had, with a golden touch in the kitchen. These folks GET it: the true shining soul of Mexican food that is so hard to capture; when somebody does, it’s a revelation, says Dommy.

There’s something here for everyone, including a generous selection of delicious vegetarian options. Carne asada is great, and so is al pastor, flavorful and just crispy-fatty enough. It’s usually cooked on the grill except on weekends, when there’s an outdoor spit set up.

But let’s talk about the salsa bar, one of the best Dommy says she’s ever seen. The standard spicy red and spicy green are there, as well as pico de gallo. But they also have an amazing avocado salsa that’s fruity, smooth, and spicy-hot. The creamy chipotle salsa could make an old shoe taste good, and bright orange habanero salsa tempts the die-hard chileheads.

On Friday and Saturday evenings, there’s a taco table where they braise and grill all kinds of cuts. Weekends also bring $1 tacos.

Tortillas are handmade here, thick, warm, and aromatic with corn. They’re perfect in queso fundido con hongos, where the cheese is gooey, smooth, and flavorful. Huaraches also set a new standard in LA: huge things drenched in a mild, supertasty tomatillo sauce and sprinkled with cojita cheese, beans, and cilantro—the perfect combo.

A Mexico City–style quesadilla (Quesadilla de D.F.) is actually like an empanada, deep-fried but wonderfully light, full of tangy cheese and perfectly done squash blossom. Another variety has mushrooms and epazote.

This place is distinctive for being not only authentic but creative, in the spirit of a great food culture. Everything is made fresh and from scratch, even the pickled jalapeños, which are garlicky, with a hint of bay leaf, and bits of carrot and cauliflower thrown in.

Sabor a Mexico [Culver City]
8940 National Boulevard, Los Angeles

Board Links: Mexican soul food
A True Test of Faith: Sabor a Mexico Culver City
Sabor A Mexico muy sabroso–thanks, Dommy!!

Tasty Banh Cuon, at Home or To-Go

There are two ways to get banh cuon, the delectable rice flour cakes (think of those translucent dim sum dumplings) filled with pork, mushrooms, and other goodies that you dip in nuoc mam (fish sauce). You can go to a restaurant that specializes in the dish, or if you’re going to take it home or buy in bulk for a party, you want a place that does bulk.

For the restaurant experience, Banh Cuon Tay Ho is one of the better places, says kingkong5. Get the combo with the shrimp and sweet potato tempura, adds groover808. There’s a branch in SGV for those who don’t want to cross the Orange Curtain.

Hong Mai is another banh cuon specialist that’s good, says bulavinaka.

For parties and takeout, Thanh Son Tofu makes fresh banh cuon and sells it for $2 a pound, says kingkong5. You can also get freshly made rolls of yummy sausage wrapped in banana leaves, and fresh fried tofu in various flavors (including lemongrass-chile and green onion–mushroom).

Banh Cuon Tay Ho [Little Saigon]
9242 Bolsa Avenue, #F, Westminster

Banh Cuon Tay Ho [Little Saigon]
9629 Bolsa Avenue, Westminster

Banh Cuon Tay Ho [San Gabriel Valley]
1039 E. Valley Boulevard, Suite B103, San Gabriel

Banh Cuon Tay Ho [Orange County]
3520 W. First Street, Santa Ana

Hong Mai [Orange County]
5425 W. First Street, #D, Santa Ana

Thanh Son Tofu [Little Saigon]
9688 Westminster Avenue, Garden Grove

Board Links: Best Banh Cuon?

The Taiwanese Have Got Breakfast All Rolled Up

One of the most odd food items a person can eat for breakfast is probably the Taiwanese rice roll, or “fahn-tuan” (excuse the poor pinyin), says ipsedixit.

There’s nothing exotic, or even complex, about this item. But when you take it in your hands and observe it carefully, you realize this is really Frankenfood. It’s sort of a quixotic mix of different cultures and eating styles. It has the faux lineage of a tamale, but the makeup and appearance of a Japanese sushi roll (sans nori).

When it’s done right, a rice roll can be a titillating experience. Place your order, and you’ll observe the chef scoop out a pile of cooked sticky rice, drop it onto a sheet of plastic wrap, pound the rice into a rectangular sheet, then build layers of filling with spoonfuls of pickled cucumbers (or mustard greens), fried and dehydrated ground pork, and perhaps other goodies, all before the equivalent of the maraschino cherry is placed into the center stack: the Chinese cruller (or “yiou-tiao”).

Then with deft hand and nimble fingers, the chef will roll it into a tubular shape, twist the ends of the plastic wrap, and voilà! A rice roll is born.

Unfortunately, even in the San Gabriel Valley, most are premade and abandoned under a heat lamp in the kitchen.

Four Sea in Hacienda Heights is the place to go, says Pei, who recommends this place so much she’s like a broken record.

And although the regular fahn-tuan is nothing special at Yi Mei, the vegetarian version is surprisingly nice ’n’ crunchy, salty, and oh so satisfying, says PandanExpress.

Four Sea [San Gabriel Valley]
2020 S. Hacienda Boulevard, Hacienda Heights

Yi-Mei [San Gabriel Valley]
736 S. Atlantic Boulevard, Monterey Park (Dingho Plaza)

Yi-Mei [San Gabriel Valley]
608 E. Valley Boulevard, #G, San Gabriel (San Gabriel Superstore complex)

Yi-Mei [San Gabriel Valley]
18414 E. Colima Road, #I, Rowland Heights (Hong Kong Store complex)


Board Links: An plea for the Taiwanese rice-roll

Pasta Magic in an Irvine Food Court

Franco’s Pasta Cucina shines like a pearl in the sea of heat-lamp and chafing-dish food court mediocrity that is Irvine, says elmomonster. Although photos of Franco with the likes of Stallone and NYPD Blue’s Dennis Franz plaster the walls, the man himself is unassuming, dressed in crisp chef’s whites and presiding over a kitchen no larger than a prison cell.

But he works magic with what he’s got. Up his sleeves are such unexpected delights as salmon, feta, and yellowtail, which he juggles with rigatoni, fettucine, linguine, and gnocchi. Tossed in a sauté pan, and coaxed by his deft hand, these disparate ingredients coalesce into masterpieces worthy of a thousand Mario Batalis. But at $8 for a pasta dish, salad, garlic bread, and soda, his creations are offered for a price that won’t even cover valet parking at Mozza.

One favorite is linguine, perfectly cooked, in a light spicy clam sauce—generous fistfuls of chopped clam in a buttery, sweetly garlicky sauce and dotted with fresh parsley. Spicy yellowtail linguine is the best pasta I got nothin has had since coming back from Italy.

But watch out, there’s a little bit of Pasta Nazi in Franco. Want extra cheese/sauce/salad dressing? You’re wrong, it doesn’t need any. Franco knows best.

Sadly, it’s all over by 2 p.m., when he closes up shop.

Franco’s Pasta Cucina [Orange County]
2222 Michelson Drive, Suite 206, Irvine

Board Links: Great pasta in an Irvine food court–whodathunk?!

Oaxacan Tapas? You Said a Mouthful.

A meal at Antequera de Oaxaca left kare_raisu craving more. Amarillo de puerco, nice pieces of pork tenderly absorbing the yellow mole, sit among al dente chunks of potato and crisp green beans. This is one hot bowl of deliciousness. Nice handmade tortillas on the side, too. Chicken- and raisin-stuffed chile relleno, with confetti rice and black beans, looks awesome—but a friend doesn’t offer to share.

The place seems to actually focus on botanas, the Oaxacan version of tapas. Memelas, which resemble sopes, are topped with black bean paste and fantastic salty cheese, the perfect snack.

Antequera de Oaxaca [Hollywood]
5200 Melrose Avenue, Los Angeles

Board Links: Antequera De Oaxaca report

Mulitas and Much More

Taqueria Las Mulitas is one of those restaurants that we in SoCal take for granted and Chowhounds in places like Minneapolis can only dream about, says Das Ubergeek.

You’ve got fresh seafood like ceviche and cocteles; tacos and sopes; dishes like chile relleno; a few burritos as a nod to the gabachos; and the house specialty, mulitas.

A mulita is a lot like a quesadilla: cheese and meat sandwiched between two thick corn-based patties that are slightly gritty and toothsome, like a tortilla pancake made of grits. Al pastor, though chopped fine, is smoky and wonderful, and it’s paired in the mulita with some panela. Sopes are very tasty and obviously homemade, although the carnitas is a little dry. Red salsa is smoky, heavy on the chiles, and a bit greasy, but very, very unctuous, like a really good taqueria salsa should be. There’s also salsa verde, onions with cilantro, limes, and carrots en escabeche.

Mulita al pastor is $3; sopes con carnitas and a drink are $5.

Another variation on a masa patty, the huarache, is exactly as it should be at Sabor a Mexico, says lvgoodfood. With beans, Mexican cheese, and the perfect carne asada on top, it’s delicious. Agua de jamaica and horchata are tasty and refreshing, and the place is clean and welcoming.

Taqueria Las Mulitas [Orange County]
2115 E. Ball Road, Anaheim

Sabor a Mexico [Culver City]
8940 National Boulevard, Los Angeles

Board Links: REVIEW: Taqueria “Las Mulitas” and Brianna’s Ice Cream and Fruit Salad, Anaheim
Sabor a México–Review + photos