Is it possible to spend more than $400 per person at some of the restaurants on this year's list of the best 101? Of course. Cuisine costs. But great cooking takes many different forms in Los Angeles, and some of the most exquisite flavors belong to us all.
Attari Sandwich Shop
Attari is a slice of Tehran high society transplanted onto a leafy Westwood patio, where exquisitely tailored expats sip tea and eat the thick Iranian soup called osh or crisp French bread sandwiches stuffed with slices of kuku, a bright-green frittata that is at least half fresh herbs by weight. On Fridays, the mandatory order is abgoosht, a complex, delicious stew of lamb and chickpeas mashed into a thick, homogeneous paste with the texture of refried beans, alongside a bowl of its expressed essence served as soup.
1388 Westwood Blvd., Los Angeles (310) 441-5488, atarisandwiches.info
You would not be sad if your afternoon brought you to the uptown Bludso's Bar & Que, which serves a pretty close approximation of Kevin Bludso's Texas-style barbecue along with Pabst Blue Ribbon on tap. But you might as well drive down to the original in Compton, which shares a dining room with a storefront church and where the brisket, coarse hot links and beef ribs are fever-dream good, all smoke, animal and salt.
811 S. Long Beach Blvd., Compton, (310) 639-1342, bludsosbbq.com
Leo Bulgarini is nearly as fanatical about his gelato as he is about his hometown AS Roma soccer team; he is especially adept at capturing the flavors of ripe, local fruit. It is hard to say what is better: his goat's milk gelato with toasted cocoa nibs, the yogurt gelato with sea salt and olive oil, the blood orange sorbetto or the gelato he makes with the ultra-pricey Bronte pistachios he hand-carries from Sicily.
749 E. Altadena Drive, Altadena, (626) 791-6174, bulgarinigelato.com
Even a half-dozen visits aren't quite enough to exhaust the menu here — as soon as you check toothpick lamb, tea-smoked duck and garlic leeks sautéed with dense house-cured bacon off your list, you still have sliced fish with tofu pudding, flour-steamed pork and numb taste wonton yet to try. It is almost impossible to visit without a taste of boiled fish with green pepper, a seriously addictive dish. The wait for a table will be long.
828 W. Valley Blvd., Alhambra, (626) 588-2284
It is hard to imagine a Los Angeles restaurant more Yucatecan than Chichén Itzá, a lunch counter in the Mercado La Paloma complex named for the vast temple complex north of Cancún, whose menu is a living, habanero-intensive thesaurus of the panuchos and codzitos, sopa de lima and papadzules, banana-leaf tamales and shark casseroles that make up one of Mexico's spiciest cuisines.
3655 S. Grand Ave., Los Angeles, (213) 741-1075, chichenitzarestaurant.com
Colonia Taco Lounge
Your table is covered two-deep with tiny plastic plates. You have seen the bottom of a michelada or two. You are at Colonia Taco Lounge, a land of horchata-battered shrimp tacos, lamb barbacoa tacos, cheese and chayote tacos and tacos made with chicken tesmole, an herb-intensive Oaxacan preparation thickened with corn. Are we living in the golden age of the California taco? We may be.
13030 Valley Blvd., La Puente, (626) 363-4691
Corazón y Miel
Eduardo Ruiz's wonderland of chopped-and-channeled street food and cheesy Mexican booze has mellowed into a pretty serious restaurant, the slithery pigskin salad and giant turkey legs tempered by long-roasted pork shoulder, braised Argentine short ribs and wild-boar chilaquiles.
6626 Atlantic Ave., Bell, (323) 560-1776, www.corazonymiel.com
Why does the line outside Golden Deli stretch halfway to infinity on weekends? Because it always has, because the restaurant has set the pho standard in the San Gabriel Valley since Duran Duran was at the top of the charts and because the cha gio, crackly skinned imperial rolls stuffed with pork and crab, among other things, are good on an almost intergalactic level.
815 W. Las Tunas Drive, San Gabriel, (626) 308-0803, www.goldendelirestaurant.com
You can get vast piles of white Oaxacan cheese served with lard-soaked memelas, the giant Oaxacan pizzas called tlayudas, heaps of fried empanadas or mole-soaked enmoladas, or even a platter with chicken, bowls of four kinds of mole sauce and the fresh tortillas to eat them with. If you're drinking, the micheladas are excellent.
3014 W. Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles, (213) 427-0608, ilovemole.com
The tacos you get at Guerrilla, a truck that parks downtown a few days a week, are pretty much the ones Wes Avila decides to sell you, which are as likely to be stuffed with diver scallops, Tuscan kale or even French black truffles as they are to be heaped with shrimp or carnitas. The lamb shoulder or sea urchin you've been craving may be sold out within minutes.
826 E. 3rd St., Los Angeles, www.guerrillatacos.com
The tortillas are made from fresh nixtamal ground several times an hour at the tortillería next door, and the fillings tend to be long-simmered stews. Vegetarians are as happy with the stewed calabacita as carnivores are with the cochinito pibil. And fire eaters take pleasure in the chiles toreados.
2100 E. Cesar E. Chavez Ave., Boyle Heights. (323) 264-7201. www.guisados.co
At Hunan Mao, house-cured ham is forest-fire smoky, even when chopped and fried with handfuls of dried long beans, a handful of garlic cloves, and the vivid red and green chopped chiles that dominate almost everything here. The giant steamed fish heads are comically large, frosted with the chopped blend of dried, fresh and fermented chiles. Mao's braised pork, a sweet, slightly spicy clay-potful of thick-cut braised pork belly and garlic named for Hunan's favorite son, is almost unbearably rich.
8728 Valley Blvd., Rosemead, (626) 280-0588
Kogi is credited with hot-wiring the Twitterization of American cooking, the food-truck craze and the shotgun marriage of Korean flavors and the L.A. street taco. So sometimes it is good to step back a bit and realize that the miracle of Kogi lies chiefly in the four trucks that cruise Southern California every night and that Korean short-rib tacos, Kogi dogs and blackjack quesadillas taste really good.
300 S. Grand Ave., Los Angeles, kogibbq.com
Everyone knows that Langer's serves the best pastrami sandwich in Los Angeles. Still, if you haven't been to Langer's in a few years, you might be surprised to see the long lines outside the delicatessen on a Saturday afternoon, supplicants waiting for their shot at the No. 19, a baroque concoction of hand-cut pastrami, Swiss cheese, coleslaw and Russian dressing on double-baked rye bread.
704 S. Alvarado St., Los Angeles, (213) 483-8050, www.langersdeli.com
Specializing in seafood cocktails, ceviches of fish or shrimp marinated in citrus, or aguachiles of raw seafood soaked in lime and puréed chiles, the mariscos truck is as much a part of Eastside culture as the murals, pan dulce and música norteña. Crunchy fried shrimp tacos in the style of San Juan de Los Lagos are famous.
3040 E. Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 528-6701
At the center of Lebanese cooking here are Serge and Sosi Brady, whose splendid array of the garlicky small dishes called mezze, their roast chicken and barbecued quail, fried sardines and grilled sausages, Lebanese wine and house-made jallab have defined the local Lebanese-Armenian kitchen in Hollywood for more than 25 years.
4905 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 662-9325, marouchrestaurant.com
Mexicali Taco & Co.
The Mexicali-style tacos are pretty spectacular at this tidy storefront near Dodger Stadium, packed into the small, plump flour tortillas the owners bring up from Baja a couple of times a week. You will probably end up with at least one vampiro, a large flour tortilla folded over chorizo, chicken or charbroiled carne asada, maybe all three, as well as a squirt or two of garlic sauce and what can technically be described as a boatload of gooey, stretchy melted Mexican cheese.
702 N. Figueroa Ave., Los Angeles, (213) 613-0416, mexicalitaco.com
Pancakes and thick-cut bacon, fried catfish and corn cakes, Lowrider burgers and onion rings — that's why you go to the Nickel, which caters as much to the local street people as it does to the tax attorneys who roll in on skateboards. The polenta, by the way, is excellent.
524 S. Main St., Los Angeles, (213) 623-8301, nickeldiner.com
Sapp Coffee Shop
It's Thai food cooked for people who eat Thai food every day: fragrant roast duck noodles, jade noodles with Chinese barbecue and grilled sausage with peanuts, gray-looking nam sod and a ground-pork salad spiked with slithery bits of pig's ear and a generous shot of lime.
5183 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 665-1035
Sqirl is just a really good place to have lunch. Well-made jam and impeccably grilled toast, apricot preserves made with ripe, sustainably grown fruit; rice seasoned with organic yogurt and local sorrel; fried eggs sourced from pastured hens and splashed with house-fermented hot sauce.
720 N. Virgil Ave., Los Angeles, (213)-394-6526, sqirlla.com
Always hungry? Follow me @thejgold