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NY 'hound on 5 day visit--specific questions

freddie | Apr 24, 200609:29 PM

i'll be in LA for the first time this week for a conference, with some free time for chowhounding built in. i'll be staying in santa monica for the first few days, and will have a car. then to the conference--downtown, at the westin hotel on south figueroa street.

i'd love recommendations and input. in general, i'm looking for inexpensive and neighborhoody, and am up for all cuisines (particularly mexican--we don't have good options here). oh, and iranian is a must too, because i'm iranian and am interested in checking out the LA scene.

my questions
1. what are your mexican favorites? i'm getting overwhelmed by the gazillion options--if you could point out your favorites, i can go from there.
2. should i go to shahrzad or shamshiri? what about iranian ice cream places? or pastry or cookie places?
3. what about santa monica breakfast and lunch places? (casual but excellent would be lovely).
4. what about downtown? is it a complete wasteland? is there anywhere near the conference hotel where i can grab lunch?
5. the one thing i've planned in advance is a reservation at lucques, given all the praise of the sunday suppers book on the home cooking board--but after browsing this board, i wonder if i should try for AOC instead. thoughts? what are your lucques favorites?
6. one other thing...i'm being treated to dinner at ciudad. the only things i've read about the place here is that it's expensive and uninspired. is there anything salvagable to be had there? (besides the churros which one 'hound recommended, and i'm excited to try)

thanks, all, for your help. i promise i'll post back...

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