Avocado salsa: When I am out of town for longer than a day or two, the place I start to long for, even more than Rustic Canyon or Jitlada, is Ciro's, an old-school Mexican-American restaurant in Boyle Heights. Ciro's is best known for its flautas probably, crisply fried cylinders of happiness that taste completely homemade. It's a place where you go for the cheese enchiladas, the big bowls of chicken soup, or the plates of carnitas, although they are definitely in the crunchy mom's-cooking mode instead of the more fashionable D.F. confit style.
But the highlight of a meal at Ciro's may come even before the meal is actually served: warm, freshly fried chips; a smoky, fiercely hot salsa made with charred green chiles; and most of all the juicy avocado salsa. It's not mashed into guacamole or sliced into avocado toast blandness, but cut into rough chunks, tossed with tomato, onion and a little citrus, served in a bowl that is never big enough. With the possible exception of the original La Régalade in Paris, which used to cut you a massive slice of terrine before your bistro meal, I have never run across another restaurant that gave away the best thing on its menu for free. — Jonathan Gold
Escargot congee: Google "snail porridge" and you'll find a YouTube video of British chef Heston Blumenthal making a pot of Kelly green oatmeal and snails. "You just have to get over the name," says Blumenthal as he stirs. True enough. At Patina, Joachim Splichal's flagship fine dining restaurant in downtown L.A.'s Disney Hall, executive chef Paul Lee's version comes under the heading "Escargot," and is part of an eight-course tasting menu. It's still called porridge, but it's really a congee, and looks a bit more like an upscale risotto than the ubiquitous Asian rice soup. Studded with escargot, Iberico ham and parsley, and loaded with Normandy butter, Lee's dish is a gorgeous course of someting that's simultaneously classic European cuisine and Eastern comfort food. There's something glorious about sitting down to dinner inside Disney Hall, the staff like a dance troupe, the sommelier refilling your glasses, and finding, amist the progression of carpaccio with smoked consommé, squab with chicken liver mousse, and frozen foie gras — a plate of porridge. — Amy Scattergood
'In-yo-face' wings: You should only order the double-fried tamarind chicken wings from Button Mash, the Echo Park barcade with food by the Starry Kitchen crew, Nguyen Tran and wife/chef Thi Tran, if you love tamarind. This may sound like a "duh" moment, but it's not. These are not wings seasoned with a touch of tamarind. The first bite sends out an almost electric shock of that all too familiar piquant flavor — the sour pulp coming through loud and clear on every surface of the chicken's double-fried, ultra crisp coating. So order another beer, and go in for more. For just a hint of sweetness, the wings are served with a sprinkle of pomegranate seeds and a handful of chopped green onion. "All we wanted was a super-assertive, in-yo-face and tasty flavor profile to balance the other wings we have in our love repertoire of wings, that wasn't necessarily just spicy, or funky," said Tran, whose other wing flavors include ginger and gochujang (Korean fermented chile paste). "And we've been honestly trying to figure out a fun dish to do with tamarind for a long time too." Well, mission accomplished. — Jenn Harris
Drink this now: Butter makes most things better, including cocktails. Wait. What? You've probably heard of Bulletproof Coffee: two dollops of butter and a spoonful of a special oil added to your morning brew, meant to give you an extra boost of energy. But those drinking butter in their cocktails, in the form of a classic hot buttered rum, have known about the wonders of butter cocktails for a while now. And at Love & Salt, Guy and Sylvie Gabriele's Manhattan Beach restaurant, with food by Michael Fiorelli and cocktails by Vincenzo Marianella, there's a take on the traditional holiday drink called Butter Me Up. A couple scoops of Fiorelli's housemade cultured butter are added to a glass of hot tea, dark rum and grappa. It's a potent, decadent drink meant to be sipped after dinner as a dessert cocktail. The drink is presented in a glass tea mug, with a spoon. Give it a stir and watch the butter, which migrates toward the top of the drink, combine with the rest of the ingredients to create a pretty golden color. Can you taste the butter? Not really. If you didn't know it was in there, you'd probably never guess where that extra stick-to-the-roof-of-your-mouth richness comes from. Instead of providing a boost of energy, this drink, available only on the restaurant's dinner menu, may lull you into the happiest of food comas.
Cookbook of the week: "Rice, Noodle, Fish" by Matt Goulding (An Anthony Bourdain Book, Harper Wave, $35.) Imagine a Lonely Planet guide crossed with an issue of Lucky Peach and you'll have something like this book, which isn't a cookbook at all but a tour through Japan's food culture. Goulding, who co-created the book series "Eat This, Not That!," teamed with Anthony Bourdain's HarperCollins imprint for the book, and the narrative is predictably circuitous and idiosyncratic, entertaining and definitely mouth-watering. Starting with Tokyo and then traveling through the main regions of Japan, Goulding offers advice on eating in izakayas; gives profiles of yakitori chefs, okonomiyaki cooks and sushi masters; detours into a "gaijin glossary" and a convenience store survival guide; and generally tells stories. There are many terrific photos and bits about things like onsen (Japanese baths) and natto (fermented soybeans) that are fundamental to Japanese culture. Whether you're the sort of person who brakes for a new ramen-ya or a neophyte who still thinks that a California roll is an acceptable sushi bar order, you'll have fun, learn some things — and probably start looking up flights to Narita on Kayak after reading a few pages. — Amy Scattergood