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Eat, He Said

It’s almost enough to make you weep: Chez Franz, a scattering of chairs, a few tables, a cheerful striped awning, Caribbean rhythms pounding from a small boombox on the restaurant’s serving counter; a former carwash burger stand jerry-rigged into a facsimile of a stump-speech American dream. On a muggy August night, Chez Franz pulses with garlic and music, and a cool breeze comes in from the Rancho Park golf course across the street. The logo looks a little like this: CHEz FRANz. Good luck to chef Franz, and long live his splendid cafe.

The tables are full; the tableware is strictly Styrofoam and plastic. The food, which is more or less Haitian cuisine leaning toward the California vernacular, is not quite world-class, but it hardly seems to matter. You are outdoors smack on Pico, in sight of trees, walking distance from Twentieth, groovy and well fed . . . at a carwash. If you come before 6 p.m., you can watch your Pirellis get Armor-Alled as you eat. If you come at 6:30 a.m., you can have a Creole omelet with crisply fried potatoes and still make your tee time at 7.

During the day, Chez Franz almost does function as a carwash burger stand, dispensing lakes of Diet Coke and oceans of cool fresh-mango smoothies. Chef Franz lounges around outside after the lunch rush, talking to his friend (and headwaiter) Ron, persuading the occasional late-afternoon straggler to try

the chicken a la Franz instead of a hot dog, which in any case he does not have. Chicken a la Franz is a little dry and involves all too much vaguely spiced tomato sauce for my taste, but it is undeniably tastier than a carwash wiener. With it--with anything on the menu--you get rice, garlic bread, expertly fried sweet plantains, and a bowl of (bland) black beans or (pillow-y, well-spiced) red beans, possibly also a small salad with an intensely green herb vinaigrette.

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The best dish, shrimp and rice, is sort of a jambalaya, assertively seasoned, tossed with a sauteed heap of shrimp and onions and red and green peppers, that you would be happy to eat anywhere. There is fried conch, and shrimp Creole, and beef stew (if it’s ever available), and something called poulet grille , which is a be-onioned chicken breast that has been grille on a surface that imparts a strong flavor of fish. Order fried chicken and get sort of tasty McNugget things that are encrusted in a dusty coat of garlic and spice; try Haitian fried pork and get strong-flavored chunks of deep-fried marinated pork, not unlike Cuban masas de puerco , that are served with a dusky chile dipping sauce. Shrimp Franz--"my No. 1 best specialty,” says Franz--involves a creamy sauce, fried onions and sweet peppers, a few well-cooked shrimp and an acid-y smack that may remind you a little of mayonnaise . . . OK, but not as good as the shrimp and rice.

Oh, and don’t forget to check out the cashier’s booth at the carwash. You will find no finer selection of car deodorizers anywhere.

Chez Franz

10397 W. Pico Blvd., (310) 788-8418. Open daily 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Cash only. No alcohol. Takeout. Carnauba wax. Dinner for two, food only, $13-$22. Carwash, $7.50.

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