Sadly, Zankou chicken is not the only great, family owned restaurant whose owners were killed in a grisly bloodbath. But that doesn’t take away from the amazing quality of the food! Zankou chicken remains open for business. Their chicken shawarma is damn hard to beat, served in generous portions with tahini, pickled beets, and pita bread. Served by the plate, as a gyro, or on the bone, Zankou chicken is the middle eastern version of El Pollo Loco and both are incredibly satisfying.
1716 S Sepulveda, Los Angeles
5065 W Sunset Blvd, Los Angeles
5658 Sepulveda Blvd, Van Nuys
1415 E Colorado St., Glendale
also Pasadena and Anaheim
I was turned on to Woody’s first by my mother-in-law whose route to work takes her through the Crenshaw district past all the best barbeque joints in town. Woody’s pumps out a smell so good she’s tempted to break koshrut for a plate of their meaty goodness. Second was Jonathan Gold’s Counter Intelligence, who rates Woody’s as his second favorite barbeque in town, just behind Woody’s cousin’s place, Phillip’s. When Phillip’s is closed its one day, Woody’s jumps to his number one slot. My wife and I were surprised on our first visit that Mr. Gold failed to warn us there aren’t any tables; both Woody’s and Phillips are take-out only with no nearby picnic benches either. The lines are long but the wait isn’t as most of the food has been smoking and simmering all day and is just waiting to be cut and slathered with sauce. Woody’s is freakin’ outstanding. The pork ribs slide off the bone and have a smoky, savory flavor that is so damn good you’ll completely forget about all the parasites pork meat can contain. Their collard greens were actual greens, not hidden under tons of garlic or pork. The chicken links were super tasty and when covered in a mixed mild/spicy sauce still had super flavor combined with kick. The corn bread muffins were dry and unimpressive, but they include two pieces of white bread to mop up their delicious sauce. (It is altogether possible they included the white bread as a racial insult, but I doubt it.) In all truth, J.R.’s is still my hands-down favorite, but Woody’s has such a distinctly wonderful taste it’s good to have around to keep J.R. on his toes. A half rack of ribs, collard greens with two corn bread muffins, and a pound of chicken links was $30 – steep but 3 could have eaten well for it. One day I’ll invite the other two people.
(323) 294-9443, 3446 W Slauson Ave, Los Angeles
Ahhh, the birthday dinner at the expensive tapas restaurant. You want to be a good friend and participate, but you know – you just KNOW – you’re getting fucked on the bill. Woe is the friend who arrives a little late to the event, orders a glass of wine and an entree, and then when the bill comes some schmuck at the table has the temerity to say “let’s just divide this up equally, OK?” Suddenly you’re thinking you should have had the Beluga-stuffed coelacanth glazed in real gold. Confession: this time, I was the schmuck. We’ve been to enough of these events that we brace ourselves for the bill and make sure that since we’re getting reamed on the bill anyway we might as well lube up and enjoy the ride. The wine flights are a unique treat – trios of wine served in two ounce glasses. The choices are lovely and I had a hard time choosing from many tempting combos. Some years ago my father introduced me to the virtues of the Rhone Rangers, so I went with flight 14, Wines of the Rhone Valley. For $24 this was an outstanding choice. There was an outrageously bold wine that apparently is the closest thing you can get to a chataeneuf de pape for less than a house. My wife had the World of Whites which featured an Austrian wine that was incredibly savory and peppery. Smelled weird, but was one of the most unique whites we’ve ever had. We were cautioned against the polenta, but the square that came with the pulled pork was super tasty though a little too buttery. The pork, however, was pretty much the best pig candy ever. The fig poppers were delicious but a little rich. Share this one amongst your table. My one real complaint is over the cheese plate. A sampling of domestic cheeses. Totally not worth it. The chevre wasn’t nearly bold enough, the cheddar tasted like something from Albertsons, and the blue didn’t burn one whit. Remember, “domestic cheese” is just another way of saying “American cheese”, a substance lacking in both flavor, culture, and taste, homogenized to death. Vertical Wine Bistro understands the best wine comes from surrender monkeys, they should look east for the cheese, too. It’s a fun experience, but if you go with a group make sure you order a lot so when the bill does arrive you can at least feel like you got your Benjamin’s worth.
(626) 795-3999, 70 N Raymond Ave, Pasadena (upstairs)
If you’re looking for a great Japanese restaurant that serves everything you’re craving in beef steak, sushi, salmon, bento boxes, combo plates, and tempura, make sure that you visit T.O.T. Depending on where you look (the awning, your credit card bill, or online) Teishokuya Of Tokyo, or Taste Of Tokyo, or just T.O.T, the name makes it somewhat hard to find in directory listings. But like most of the really good restaurants in Little Tokyo they advertise amongst the local newspapers in vertical writing. If you want authentic food you have to brave the Nippon-shtetl barrier. The wait staff is exceedingly friendly and there are enough options to keep you interested for many visits. Fresh sushi, expertly grilled meats, and delicious soups. Fairly priced, too at about $15 a head.
(213) 680-0344, 345 E. 2nd St., Los Angeles
Tender Greens is a fabulous neighborhood restaurant in the blossoming “restaurant row” section of Culver City. A cafeteria style ordering system means your food is prepared in front of you, your salad and hot plates made to order. While Tender Green’s menu is extremely limited, what they do offer is outstanding quality ingredients, fresh vegetables, and high quality meats. I find their chicken on its own to be dry, so it’s best in one of their main course salads like the Chipotle barbecue chicken salad with creamy lime dressing. The flat iron steak, however, is dynamite on its own or in their big salad with beets and a horseradish vinaigrette.While normally I poo-poo the hippie California roughage crowd, Tender Greens is so consistently good I find myself treating it as a walk-in neighborhood cafe rather than a colonic destination like Leaf. The staff have the overly gregarious nature of people who eat all their vegetables and the aqua fresca and iced tea are a must-try. Given that you’ll want a dinner salad, drinks, and maybe a dessert, two people will eat for around $30.
(310) 842-8300, 9523 Culver Blvd, Culver City
Taylor’s is one of the last red leather seat, wood walled steak houses of Los Angeles. A wholly traditional beef menu of nothing but meat, meat, angina, meat, potatoes, and a side vegetable. The place is in a crappy ass part of L.A., which really only adds to the ambiance and decor. You can see fire and police retirements parties here, and the many fattening meals to expand the bellies and arteries of formerly fit men. The staff has changed along with the neighborhood; I thought I was ordering garlic fries, and got cottage fries instead due to a thick Hispanic accent (not mine, mind you). Nevertheless, my bone-in prime rib was good, a tad less pink than I was hoping for, but otherwise a nice piece of meat. The night before I had finished reading a lengthy article about aging meats by James Steingarten, the food writer for Vogue, and knew to ask about the aging methods of the restaurant. Steingarten is adamant about dry aging beef (see Nick+Stef’s, part of the Patina group food oligarchy of Los Angeles cultural landmarks) for at least 6 to 8 weeks, and then cooking to medium rare (just to warm on the inside). Taylor’s meats are wet aged for two weeks, meaning they are shrink wrapped in plastic to expedite the process. Ruth’s Chris does the same thing and all use USDA prime cuts. (A side note, Ruth’s Chris is named as such because Ruth got the restaurant in the divorce and continues to rub Chris’ nose in her settlement by making her name the possessive. i.e. “Ivana’s Mercedes”, “Tom Cruise’s children”, or “Meg Ryan’s film career”.). If you ask Steingarten he’d say it was garbage. If you ask me, it was a fine place to spend my 30th birthday, and my fiancee’s excitement over taking me to a classic steak house for my birthday was more than delicious.
3361 W 8th St. Los Angeles
Yet another gem hidden inside a crappy looking strip mall Tamara’s Tamales is an orgiastic cornucopia. Hand made from scratch daily the sheer volume, variety, and quality of tamales is mind blowing. To be fair, we’re talking about three tablespoons of ingredients impregnated into a corn meal womb and wrapped in corn husk. But at any given time you can choose from dozens of different kinds, exotic or traditional, haute or cold, meat or vegetarian, even fat-free and dessert. You can grab a bucket for your husks and eat-in, get them to go, or order by the dozen and freeze them for later. The only down side is that they’re not cheap. Each tamale runs an average of $4, the king crab is $7.50! If you and a friend get a decent variety you’re in for at least a $30 meal.
(310) 305-7714, 13352 W Washington Blvd, Los Angeles, CA
Hands down the best desserts in this city. Once there was Operetta, they were a 24 hour dessertery on 3rd. Then they closed under shady auspices and The Sweet Life opened in their place. They had an amazing banana cream pudding. They closed late in 2002. Now Sweet lady Jane has no competition. They do amazing cakes that are well worth the slightly pricey tag. They make cakes to order, decorated to order, and they also have a small, cozy coffee shop and cake per-slice counter inside. You will wait a long time for a table at night, since it’s no secret this place rules the earth with a sugary fist.
8360 Melrose Ave., 2 blocks east of La Cienega
Wonder why there’s always a line at the S&W? Go and find out. A family run operation in the heart of downtown Culver City, the S&W is what a roadside diner should be. Grits done right, eggs, pancakes, good rib stickin’ grub. Oh, and the waitresses who work there are drop dead beautiful. Not in that weird L.A. got-a-head-shot in their pocket way, either. These girls are direct descendants of Betty Page. Unpretentious and always happy to see you, they’ll take a seat at your table and take a load off. Great people, great dive. And they have a corn reaper on the wall. Have to love that. But perhaps the single best reason to go is they always give you separate checks without question. To me, it’s a great sign of egalitarianism and lack of pretension. We average eight bucks a person here.
9748 Washington Blvd, Culver City
Go to your local bookstore and pick up a copy of Guns, Germs, and Steel. It is a book that attempts to answer why Spaniards with horses and guns landed in south American and conquered the indigenous tribes, rather than the other way around. One of Jared Diamond’s major points is that the region known as the fertile crescent had vastly more crops and animals the early human population was able to domesticate. This lead to a better immune system, which lead to an agrarian society, which resulted in longer survival rates, and spawned cities, artisans, and technologists. The fertile crescent gave rise to the Babylonian empire, the Assyrians, the Persians, and what is now Israel and Syria. These early civilizations spread their farming technology across the region, due to similar climates and farming abilities. Language and technology spread across the longitudinal meridian and voila, the Mediterranean cuisines all have a similar GUI. Greece appropriated a lot of this long pre-history and claimed it as its own. Turkey, Macedonia, and Italy all have an antagonism towards certain aspects of Greek society for this reason. What is true Greek architecture? True Greek art? It’s like asking what is American. Greece was the dominant civilization of its day and appropriated the world into itself. But Greek food does taste different from middle eastern and Persian food, even though so much of it looks the same. Sofi’s is one of the few true Greek restaurants in the city, with both traditional seafood choices, as well as poultry and beef entrees. They make a wonderful Avgolemonu, a lemon-egg soup that is a sublime balance of tart and creamy, with tender chunks of chicken and orzo. They fish is stupendous, as are the traditional moussakka and lamb dishes. They have a splendid outdoor patio, but it’s usually populated by ugly smokers. Two people can dine for thirty dollars.
8030 3/4 W 3rd St., Los Angeles