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Readers' Choice 2012: Food & Restaurants

American Restaurant
Veggie Grill
Multiple area locations
(323) 933-3997
www.veggiegrill.com
Veggie Grill doesn’t just serve good vegetarian food, it serves good food period. The crispy chicken plate and Buffalo Bomber are especially delish — and totally free of cholesterol.

Orange County: 320 Main
Pasadena/San Gabriel Valley: Twohey’s Restaurant
SF Valley/Foothills/Ventura: Tallyrand
South Bay/Southeast: Nelson’s at Terranea Resort
Westside: Houston’s

 

Bakery/Sweets
La Brea Bakery
624 S. La Brea Ave.
Los Angeles, 90036
(323) 939-6813
www.labreabakery.com
The original La Brea Bakery opened its doors in 1989, sparking an artisan bread renaissance in Southern California that soon spread across the nation. Today, La Brea Bakery’s 300 varieties of breads and rolls are sold at the finest grocery stores and restaurants in the country — each made with the original starter Chef Nancy Silverton first created back in 1988.

Orange County: 85C Bakery
Pasadena/San Gabriel Valley: Panera Bread
SF Valley/Foothills/Ventura: Porto’s Bakery
South Bay/Southeast: Torrance Bakery (tie)
South Bay/Southeast: Susie Cakes (tie)
Westside: Vanilla Bake Shop

 

Barbecue
Lucille’s Smokehouse BBQ
Multiple area locations
www.lucillesbbq.com
The secret to authentic Southern barbecue is all in how it’s cooked: low and slow. And that’s exactly how they do it at Lucille’s, smoking the finest cuts of meat at a constant temperature of 225 degrees for hours and hours. No matter what kind of barbecue you’re partial to, chances are you’ll like Lucille’s, with its perfectly cooked meats brimming with spices and juice, so succulent they fall right of the bone.

Inland Empire: Joey’s BBQ
L.A. Central/Hollywood: Phillip’s BBQ
Orange County: DivBar Smokehouse
Pasadena/San Gabriel Valley: Gus’ BBQ
SF Valley/Foothills/Ventura: El Paso BBQ Company
South Bay/Southeast: Johnny Reb’s
Westside: Baby Blues BBQ

 

Breakfast/Brunch
Twohey’s
1224 N. Atlantic Blvd.
Alhambra, 91801
(626) 284-7387
www.twoheys.com
It all began back in 1943 when Jack Twohey (pronounced two-e) first opened his eponymous restaurant on Arroyo Boulevard in Pasadena. And though 70 years have passed, the great food and traditional atmosphere remain. Try the Belgium malted waffle or the orange French toast for a breakfast you won’t soon forget.

Inland Empire: Flo’s Airport Café
L.A. Central/Hollywood: Blu Jam Cafe
Orange County: Coliseum Pool & Grill at Pelican Hill
SF Valley/Foothills/Ventura: CiCi’s Cafe
South Bay/Southeast: Marmalade Cafe
Westside: Huckleberry’s

 

Burger
In-N-Out Burger
Multiple area locations
www.in-n-out.com
In-N-Out is a classic for one reason: its ingredients. The venerable chain starts with 100% beef patties, made fresh and never frozen. Each patty is free of additives, preservatives or fillers of any kind. Best of all, whether you’re ordering a simple Double-Double or something off the not-so-secret secret menu, each burger is cooked to order.

Inland Empire: Grill-A-Burger
L.A. Central/Hollywood: Umami
Orange County: Bomb Burger
SF Valley/Foothills/Ventura: The Habit Burger Grill
South Bay/Southeast: The Counter
Westside: Hole in the Wall

 

Chinese Restaurant
P.F. Chang’s China Bistro
Multiple area locations
www.pfchangs.com
The award-winning architecture of P.F. Chang’s distinctively elegant restaurants sets the tone for Chinese-American cuisine that’s exotic without being alien to stateside palates. Favorites here include flavorful marinated wok-charred beef, orange peel chicken tossed with a mild chili sauce, tangy Hunan-style hot fish and a host of guilt-free vegetarian plates.

Orange County: Peking Dragon
Pasadena/San Gabriel Valley: Din Tai Fung Dumpling House
SF Valley/Foothills/Ventura: Bamboo Cuisine
Westside: Hu’s Schezwan

 

Coffeehouse
Caffe Luxxe
Multiple Westside Locations
(310) 394-222
www.caffeluxxe.com
The team at Caffe Luxxe is passionate about artisanal coffee, handcrafting each drink one at a time. The vibe here is great, too. Instead of bleary-eyed caffeine addicts staring at open laptops, you’re more likely to see groups of friends, sitting and enjoying one another’s company. One thing you won’t find here is attitude. Caffe Luxxe refuses to take itself
too seriously.

L.A. Central/Hollywood: Intelligentsia
Orange County: Kean Coffee
Pasadena/San Gabriel Valley: Niko and Friends Cafe
SF Valley/Foothills/Ventura: Aroma Coffee & Tea Company
South Bay/Southeast: Catalina Coffee

 

Deli
Brent’s Delicatessen & Restaurant
Northridge and Westlake Village locations
www.brentsdeli.com
Much to the chagrin of some New Yorkers, Brent’s has been hailed as not only the best deli in California, but perhaps No. 1 in the entire United States. It’s certainly one of the busiest, with its original Northridge location alone serving more than 1,000 diners (and prepping catering for another thousand) on an average Sunday.

Inland Empire: Subway
L.A. Central/Hollywood: Langer’s
Orange County: Katella Deli
Pasadena/San Gabriel Valley: Euro Pane
Westside: Bay Cities Deli

 

Diner/Family Restaurant
Twohey’s
1224 N. Atlantic Blvd.
Alhambra, 91801
(626) 284-7387
www.twoheys.com
In an area that values trendiness over tradition, it’s nice to see that a diner like Twohey’s can survive — even thrive. Founded back in 1943 by Jack Twohey, the eatery originally had just 37 seats, serving up tasty hamburgers, onion rings and fountain specialties to an enthusiastic public. Today, the Twohey’s formula remains largely unchanged: good food, great service and an unbeatable family atmosphere.
Inland Empire: Richie’s All American

L.A. Central/Hollywood: Swingers
Orange County: Ruby’s
SF Valley/Foothills/Ventura: Mel’s Diner
South Bay/Southeast: Ocean Diner
Westside: Swingers

 

Fast Food
Wienerschnitzel
Multiple area locations
www.wienerschnitzel.com
Having celebrated its 50th anniversary last year, Wienerschnitzel continues to serve up unpretentious, affordable American comfort food beloved by kids and grown-up kids alike. Along with seven hearty dogs (including their famed chili dog), hamburgers and kids’ packs, the world’s largest hot dog chain also offers five items under a dollar, including an improbably tasty corn dog.

 

Fine Dining
Andrea at Pelican Hill
22701 Pelican Hill Road S.
Newport Beach, 92657
(949) 467-6800
www.pelicanhill.com
Offering an incomparable dining experience, Andrea skillfully employs storied culinary traditions to craft classic dishes bursting with flavor. Savor the regional cuisine of Northern Italy in this casually elegant atmosphere, while Andrea’s chefs craft sublime fresh pastas in a temperature-controlled pasta room. The restaurant offers a sophisticated wine list and a full-service bar overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

L.A. Central/Hollywood: Bazaar
Pasadena/San Gabriel Valley: Ruth’s Chris
SF Valley/Foothills/Ventura: Madeleine Bistro
South Bay/Southeast: Mar’Sel at Terranea Resort
Westside: Spago

 

Food Truck
Grilled Cheese Truck
www.thegrilledcheesetruck.com
The Grilled Cheese Truck was one of the first food trucks to cruise the streets of L.A. and is still one of the best (and most popular). Offering imaginative variations like a decadent brie melt, savory macaroni and cheese melt and even sweet dessert variants (plus oodles of additions and sides), it has redefined this classic childhood comfort food.

Orange County: Seabirds Truck

 

French Restaurant
Taix
1911 W. Sunset Blvd.
Los Angeles, 90026
(213) 484-1265
www.taixfrench.com
This effortlessly old-school eatery opened in 1927 and has been at its current Echo Park location since 1962. Chef Dominique Theval’s unpretentious Provençal fare is served with quiet flair and in plentiful portions. Take your time with Gallic classics like escargots de Bourgogne and cote de veau, then retire to the darkly debonair 321 Lounge, where live music and comedy complement a comprehensive bar.

Orange County: French 75
Pasadena/San Gabriel Valley: Maison Akira
SF Valley/Foothills/Ventura: Cafe Bizou
Westside: Mélisse

 

Happy Hour
Maria’s Italian Kitchen
Multiple area locations
www.mariasitaliankitchen.com
Diners flock to Maria’s for its gloriously generous portions and expansive menu, so it’s no surprise that the Italian eatery is home to an appropriately gigantic happy hour. It starts each day at 4 p.m., with great app specials, $3 beers, $4 house wines and $5 house margaritas and martinis. Looking for even more bang for your buck? Check out the downtown L.A. location. Its happy hour lasts until close every night. 

Inland Empire: Black Angus
L.A. Central/Hollywood: St. Felix
SF Valley/Foothills/Ventura: El Torito
South Bay/Southeast: FishBar
Westside: Copa d’Oro

 

Indian Restaurant
Samosa House
11510 W. Washington Blvd.
Los Angeles, 90066
(310) 398-6766
www.samosahouse.net
This Culver City landmark — now with two locations — first opened its doors in 1979 as the first Indian ethnic grocery store in Southern California. Envisioned as a place for vegetarians to come together and celebrate their way of life, Samosa House hasn’t cooked or sold a meat product in more than 30 years. Come to sample the restaurant’s signature samosas, but be sure to leave enough time to explore the exotic wares of the Eastern Indian market, also on the premises.

L.A. Central/Hollywood: Parus
Orange County: Mayur
Pasadena/San Gabriel Valley: All India Cafe
SF Valley/Foothills/Ventura: Taj Mahal
South Bay/Southeast: Al Noor

 

Italian Restaurant
Maria’s Italian Kitchen
Multiple area locations
www.mariasitaliankitchen.com
When you arrive at Maria’s, you arrive as a welcome guest. Even if you’ve never been here before, it all feels so … familiar. That’s thanks in large part to the family atmosphere so carefully fostered by the veteran staff. Eating here is more like enjoying a Sunday dinner at Grandma’s than a meal at a chain restaurant. Favorites include the chicken parmigiana, though the fettuccine artichoke from the Chef’s Summer Creations menu is not to be missed. 

Inland Empire: Olive Garden
Orange County: Andrea at Pelican Hill
Pasadena/San Gabriel Valley: Carmine’s
South Bay/Southeast: Eatalian Café
Westside: Alejo’s

 

Japanese Restaurant
Shojin
333 S. Alameda St. # 310 
Los Angeles, 90013
(213) 617-0305
www.theshojin.com
Shojin serves up vegan, macrobiotic, gluten-free, organic cuisine that’s as impressive on the plate as it is on the palate. The eclectic menu is full of reasonably priced — and brilliantly plated — delicacies, like marinated saitan steak and grilled Portobello. Regulars rave about the vegan sushi rolls with colorful names like yellow magic orchestra, pirates of the crunchy and spicy terrific roll. The sakè selection, too, is impressive. 

Inland Empire: Benihana’s
Orange County: Matsu
Pasadena/San Gabriel Valley: KABUKI
SF Valley/Foothills/Ventura: Katsuya
South Bay/Southeast: Rice Things
Westside: Hide Sushi

 

Korean Restaurant
Road to Seoul Korean BBQ
1230 S. Western Ave.
Los Angeles, 90006
(323) 731-9292
If there’s one thing that can make or break an all-you-can-eat Korean barbecue joint, it’s the quality of the meats. At Road to Seoul, the premium meats and seafood do not disappoint. In fact, they delight. From savory beef to mouth-watering pork, tender chicken to delectable octopus and squid, Road to Seoul offers guests a first-class dining experience at a reasonable price. Twenty bucks will fill you up — and then some.

Orange County: Cham Sut Gol
SF Valley/Foothills/Ventura: Grandma Kim’s
South Bay/Southeast: Cho Dang Tofu
Westside: Tofu Ya

 

Mediterranean Restaurant
Carnival
4356 Woodman Ave.
Sherman Oaks, 91423
(818) 784-3469
www.carnivalrest.com
For nearly 30 years, the family-owned and -operated Carnival Restaurant has been serving up fabulous Lebanese food in the San Fernando Valley. Freshness is of paramount importance here, with much of the restaurant’s produce purchased from local farmers’ markets and meats from local distributors. Staples such as the tabouleh and babagannouj are top notch, and the shish-kebab and sheik almukshi are equally tempting. Finish up with the baklava and a traditional Arabic coffee for a truly authentic experience.

L.A. Central/Hollywood: Papa Cristo’s
Orange County: Panini Cafe
Pasadena/San Gabriel Valley: Cafe Santorini
South Bay/Southeast: Open Sesame
Westside: Gaby’s

 

Mexican Restaurant
Camacho’s Cantina
1000 Universal Center Dr. #133
Universal City, 91608
(818) 622-3333
www.camachos-cantina.com
Locals and tourists alike love this lively Mexican mainstay for its spacious dining room, lively cantina scene, two outdoor dining areas and weekend mariachi performances. Prices are thoroughly reasonable for such a high-profile location (including giant burritos from just $8.95). But be warned that Camacho’s famous “mega grande” margaritas really are the size of a small fishbowl.

Inland Empire: Don Marcos Mexican Restaurant & Cantina
Orange County: Javier’s
Pasadena/San Gabriel Valley: El Portal
L.A. Central/Hollywood: El Compadre
South Bay/Southeast: El Gringo
Westside: Paco’s

 

Middle Eastern Restaurant
Open Sesame
Multiple area locations
www.opensesamegrill.com
Dedicated to serving the community wholesome and delicious Lebanese food in a casual yet exotic atmosphere, Open Sesame recently opened a third location in Manhattan Beach. The restaurant reflects the contrasts and diversity of Beirut, with dishes such as Ali’s Favorite (charbroiled sirloin on a layer of spicy roasted tomato and onion served over basmati rice). Can’t decide what to order? Try the Sultan’s Platter — a combination of lamb chops, grilled tiger shrimp and filet mignon, marinated then charbroiled to perfection.

L.A. Central/Hollywood: Zankou Chicken
Orange County: Darya’s
Pasadena/San Gabriel Valley: Wahib’s Middle Eastern Restaurant
SF Valley/Foothills/Ventura: Carnival
Westside: Javan

 

Pizzeria
Pizzeria Mozza
Multiple area locations
www.pizzeriamozza.com
Not to be confused with Osteria Mozza next door, this quietly upscale establishment bakes just-right crusts and employs imaginative toppings with flavors that fuse rather than fight (like stracchino with artichokes, lemon and olives). Factor in a further selection of delicacies — from succulent meatballs al forno to sweet and salty caramel copetta — and a well-matched wine list, and it’s easy to see why reservations are highly recommended.

Inland Empire: Lamp Post Pizza
Orange County: Z Pizza
Pasadena/San Gabriel Valley: Domenico’s
SF Valley/Foothills/Ventura: Fratellis
South Bay/Southeast: Fresh brothers
Westside: 800 degrees

 

Romantic Restaurant
Andrea at Pelican Hill
22701 Pelican Hill Road S.
Newport Beach, 92657
(949) 467-6800
www.pelicanhill.com
Andrea at Pelican Hill is one of those places you need to see to believe. The food here is rivaled only by the view, with authentic Italian flavors and regional dishes served against a backdrop of the churning Pacific. Enjoy housemade pastas and artisan-style gelato in a casually elegant environment, while being attended by a gracious staff that manages to tread the line perfectly between attentive and unobtrusive. Need to impress a date? Andrea is the place.

L.A. Central/Hollywood: Pace
Pasadena/San Gabriel Valley: Raymond
South Bay/Southeast: Mar’sel at Terranea Resort
Westside: Inn of the Seventh Ray

 

Seafood
FishBar Manhattan Beach
3801 Highland Ave.
Manhattan Beach, 90266
(310) 796-0200
www.fishbarmb.com
The proprietors at FishBar are self-described fanatics about freshness, and it shows. Fish are flown in — whole — from around the world, then carved up by a master filleter. No fish spends more than 24 hours in the restaurant — each comes in and is served in a single day. FishBar specializes in mesquite-grilled fish, king crab, lobster, shrimp, scallops and oysters — though their clam chowder is some of the best on the West Coast. Don’t miss the house bloody mary, which goes with, well, just about everything.

L.A. Central/Hollywood: Providence
Orange County: Crab Cooker
Pasadena/San Gabriel Valley: Cameron’s Seafood Market and Restaurant
SF Valley/Foothills/Ventura: King’s Fish House
Westside: Santa Monica Seafood

 

Steakhouse
Ruth’s Chris Steak House
Multiple area locations
www.ruthschris.com
Ruth’s chefs sear huge USDA prime steaks — everything from juicy ribeyes to full-flavored T-bones — at 1,800 degrees and serve them buttered (and sizzling) on hot, hot plates. Expertly executed sides include subtle garlic mashed potatoes, to-die-for creamed spinach and addictive shoestring fries. Little wonder that some Ruth’s aficionados refuse to set foot in any other steakhouse.

Inland Empire: Black Angus
L.A. Central/Hollywood: Mastro’s
Orange County: Black Angus
South Bay/Southeast: Fleming’s
Westside: Mastro’s

 

Sushi
Katsuya
Multiple area locations
www.sbe.com/katsuya
Pairing the prodigious talents of Master Chef Katsuya Uechi and Parisian design impresario Philippe Starck, Katsuya serves artfully Americanized takes on sushi and Asian-fusion cuisine in endearingly uncluttered, bento box-inspired surroundings. It’s the absolute epitome of ultra-hip L.A. dining. Also known as Katsu-Ya at Encino and Studio City locations. The Kobe tobanyaki and miso-marinated black cod are especially delectable.

L.A. Central/Hollywood: Shojin
Orange County: Kula Sushi
Pasadena/San Gabriel Valley: Kabuki
South Bay/Southeast: Gu Gu Sushi
Westside: Hama Sushi

 

Thai Restaurant
Natalee Thai
Multiple area locations
www.nataleethai.com
Natalee combines authentic Thai fare, striking contemporary décor and unhurried ambiance to memorable effect. The restaurant’s perennially popular Westside wonton, stuffed with pork, shrimp and chicken, makes the perfect prelude to dishes like sweet and tangy pineapple crab fried rice or garlicky nutty chicken. There’s half a dozen meatless meals (try the bold vegetable mélange), full-bodied cocktails and — at the Culver City location — even a sushi bar.

Inland Empire: Gra Pow
L.A. Central/Hollywood: Jitlada
Orange County: Thai Bites
Pasadena/San Gabriel Valley: Saladang
SF Valley/Foothills/Ventura: Siam Cabin
South Bay/Southeast: Thai Thani Restaurant

 

Vegetarian/Vegan Restaurant
Veggie Grill
Multiple area locations
(323) 933-3997
www.veggiegrill.com
Veggie Grill represents the very best of contemporary, fast-casual, meat-free cuisine. One meal here confirms that veggie cuisine can be both flavorful and fun. The Santa Fe “chickin” sandwich and “carne” asada burger are uncannily close to their carnivore cousins, while an organic wine will take the edge off without all those nasty chemicals. Ethical good health never tasted so great.

L.A. Central/Hollywood: Café Gratitude
Orange County: Native Foods
Pasadena/San Gabriel Valley: One Veg World
SF Valley/Foothills/Ventura: Follow Your heart
Westside: Real food daily

 

Vietnamese Restaurant
Brodard
9892 Westminster Avenue
Garden Grove, 92844
(714) 530-1744
www.brodard.net
Tradition, authenticity, integrity and a dash of creativity combine to glorious effect at Brodard, an Orange County mainstay that serves up specialty Vietnamese cuisine. Founded by the Dang family as a French bakery 20 years ago, Brodard took shape when Diane Dang was persuaded to open her recipe box. Today, dishes like nem nuong, roasted duck salad and banh xeo have earned devotees all over the Southland.

Inland Empire: Pho ha
L.A. Central/Hollywood: Blossom
Pasadena/San Gabriel Valley: golden deli
SF Valley/Foothills/Ventura: Pho So 1
Westside: Pho Show

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