Eating 'round the clock

BREAKFAST

Beignets--Farmers Market can be a cool spot for breakfast. If you're not in the mood for Kokomo's thick, double-smoked bacon and scrambled eggs, try my favorite: a New Orleans-style breakfast of the Gumbo Pot's chicory-flavored coffee and an order of beignets, piping-hot puffs of fried dough showered in powdered sugar. It's not the French Quarter's Cafe du Monde, but it'll do, and quite nicely. The Gumbo Pot, Farmers Market, 6333 W. 3rd St., Los Angeles; (213) 933-0358. $1.63 for four.

--S. Irene Virbila

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Pancakes--Some of the best flapjacks can be found at Marston's, a modest restaurant in a converted house just north of Old Town Pasadena. If you ask, you can have a stack of light plain pancakes (they're not on the menu). But why not dig into blueberry pancakes made with wild Maine berries? Or court sheer bliss with macadamia pancakes, the nuts cooked in the cakes and strewn lavishly on top. There are also hearty and virtuous seven-grain pancakes topped with seasonal fresh fruit--bananas and strawberries, mostly, but sometimes raspberries. Marston's, 151 E. Walnut St., Pasadena; (626) 796-2459. $5.50 to $7.95.

--Michelle Huneven

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Steel-Cut Oatmeal--Nothing starts the day better than a bowl of McCann's Irish steel-cut oatmeal, simmered slowly on the stove until the oats are creamy yet chewy, then served with a jolt of cream and a touch of brown sugar. At John O'Groats, justifiably famous for its fluffy baking-powder biscuits and substantial morning fare, you can also order your oatmeal with milk (low- or nonfat) and add blueberries, bananas, strawberries, even pecans and raisins. John O'Groats, 10516 Pico Blvd., Rancho Park; (310) 204-0692. $4 plain; $5 with fruit.

--S.I.V.

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Torta de Huevo--Taco Mesa makes a great Mexican breakfast, where you can have fresh-ground coffee laced with cinnamon, fresh-squeezed juices with all the pulp and a killer egg sandwich. The torta de huevo is lightly scrambled eggs garnished with avocado, lettuce, tomatoes and a smoky chipotle pepper mayo, all on a yeasty hard roll still warm from the oven. Taco Mesa, 647 W. 19th St., Costa Mesa, (714) 642-0629; 22922 Los Alisos Blvd., Mission Viejo, (714) 472-3144; and 3533 E. Chapman Blvd., Orange, (714) 633-3922. $2.99.

--Max Jacobson

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Vietnamese Coffee & French Crullers--The food court in Little Saigon's Asian Garden Mall is a world of lively colors and tantalizing aromas. For a cross-cultural breakfast experience,check out the stall named Hien Vuon Phuoc Loc Tho and order strong, sweet filter coffee with condensed milk and the delicious fried crullers rolled in sesame seeds. Hien Vuon Phuoc Loc Tho, 9200 Bolsa Ave., #301, Westminster; (714) 897-4330. Filter coffee, $1; crullers, $1 for four.

--M.J.

LUNCH

Bakra--Much of the Southland's finest Indian food is served in dhabas, little cafes specializing in snacks and home-cooked meals. Diners flock to Ambala Dhaba for its great tandoori breads, exotic kulfi ice creams and particularly its bakra, or tender curried goat. The gamy, spicy stew comes with basmati rice, lentils, naan (bread) and great homemade chutney. Ambala Dhaba, 18413 Pioneer Blvd., Artesia; (562) 402-7990. $4.

--M.J.

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Barbecue Spaghetti--A barbecue restaurant on a street named Western? Sounds like a natural until you see the menu's odd combo: Texas and Tennessee 'cue (plus Louisiana-style sausages). The Texas influence is easy to recognize; Tennessee contributes spaghetti in a blend of marinara sauce and a vinegary homemade barbecue sauce. Talk of the Town, 3682 S. Western Ave., Los Angeles; (213) 732-1214. $4.50.

--Charles Perry

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Jerk Chicken Ravioli--Limbo, a cheerful joint done in tropical colors, serves more fusion food than its sister restaurant, Mobay. Still, one of its best dishes comes directly from its Jamaican roots--jerk chicken ravioli. The tangy mango chutney sauce may not prepare you for the spicy chicken, so brace yourself for a blast of Caribbean heat. Limbo, 8338 W. 3rd St., Los Angeles; (213) 866-8258. $8.

--C.P.

Sicilian-style Pizzas--Not many Southern California restaurants fly the Sicilian flag, but La Fornaretta does so, and proudly. It makes great pizzas with yeasty, medium-thick crusts, good mozzarella, lively homemade tomato sauce and 20 toppings, from dal bosco (mushrooms) to finocchietto (fennel). La Fornaretta Authentic Sicilian Restaurant and Pizzeria, 39 S. Raymond Ave., Pasadena; (626) 585-9088. $7.95 to $12.50.

--C.P.

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Wonton Soup--Shun Shing B.B.Q. may serve first-rate suckling pig, but its biggest draw is a hearty bowl of Hong Kong-style wonton noodle soup. You get a rich, briny broth packed with squiggly noodles, pork- and shrimp-stuffed wontons and plenty of Chinese broccoli. At less than $2, who can afford to eat at home? Shun Shing B.B.Q., 288 W. Valley Blvd., Alhambra; (626) 284-7881. $1.88.

--M.J.

SNACK

Belgian Fries--Don't call deep-fried potatoes French fries. They originated in Belgium, and the Belgians still do the best job. Benita's Frites cooks its potatoes twice, at two different temperatures, to get a beautifully browned fry that's crisp outside and perfectly done inside. The choice of 20 condiments ranges from mayonnaise (the Belgian favorite) to Thai peanut sauce. Benita's Frites, 1437 Third Street Promenade, Santa Monica; (310) 458-2889. $2.44 to $4.60.

--C.P.

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Campechana--This flaky, oblong pastry is named after the state of Campeche on the GulfCoast, but it's a favorite throughout Mexico and at most Mexican bakeries here. Crisp, airy and coated with a sugary glaze, it crumbles as you bite into it. Look for La Morenita's campechanas, feather-light all the way through, in the bakery display at the front of the market. La Morenita, 1157 Cypress Ave., Los Angeles; (213) 222-7953. 50 cents.

--Barbara Hansen

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Kaju-Anjir Barfi--Most Indian sweets (barfi) are intensely sugary and either oily with ghee or very rich with milk or fresh cheese. Not this wonderful fruit-and-nut candy native to the state of Gujarat in western India. Cashews (kaju) and figs (anjir) are combined with sugar in a way that seems downright healthful. The moist, tender candy is priced by the pound, but you can buy just a few pieces to nibble on while browsing through other sweet and savory snacks. Surati Farsan Mart, 11814 E. 186th St., Artesia; (562) 860-2310. $7 a pound.

--B.H.

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Lahmajune--Armenia has a snack-time winner in the pizza-like lahmajune, a chewy flatbread topped with minced beef and tomato puree. The best local source is Avo's Bakery, where lahmajunes are stacked up and sold by the plastic bag. Avo's Bakery, 16927 Vanowen St., #7, Van Nuys; (818) 774-1032. $3.25 for six.

--M.J.

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Tacos de Barbacoa--Restaurants specializing in the sweet, perfumed cuisine of Oaxaca,Mexico, are popping up all over the Westside. The latest, Monte Alban, serves the classic moles as well as some great snacks. They include giant pizza-like clayudas, plump turnover-like empanadas and, tastiest of all, tacos de barbacoa, corn tortillas filled with rich and remarkably tender stewed goat. Monte Alban, 11297 Santa Monica Blvd., West Los Angeles; (310) 444-7736. $2.99.

--C.P.

DINNER

Puerco en Salsa al Molcajete--Mi Familia, in the old Indigo location, serves traditional Mexican dishes aggressively updated, but don't call this Southwestern cuisine. Puerco en salsa al molcajete is thin-sliced pork topped with a sweet pepper puree, arranged California-cuisine fashion, on buttery mashed potatoes. Mi Familia, 8222 1/2 W. 3rd St., Los Angeles; (213) 653-2121. $12.95.

--C.P.

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Quail--The soul of the carefully planned menu at Mihran is spectacular marinated meats broiled on a charcoal brazier. The bread-topped antakali kebab and the garlicky Armenian sausage soujouk are both worth a detour, but the best choice may be the quail. You get three crisp-skinned and juicy birds accompanied by rice pilaf and wonderful pickled vegetables. Mihran, 19560 Ventura Blvd., Tarzana; (818) 342-2290. $12.

--M.J.

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Shrimp Creole--Mark Antione Foster studied under Cajun chef Paul Prudhomme and cooked at major New Orleans restaurants before opening tiny Cafe N'Awlins. Everything he makes is appealing, but his shrimp creole is notable for a bright, snappy sauce that practically climbs out of the bowl on its own. Cafe N'Awlins, 122 N. San Fernando Blvd., Burbank; (818) 563-3569. $7.50. --C.P.

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Sturgeon Kebabs--Caspian Cuisine specializes in the food of the Caspian Sea, from Iran to Russia, with whiffs of the Caucasus and Central Asia. That includes caviar, of course, and sturgeon fish itself. The sturgeon kebabs, served with rice pilaf, are the most expensive entree and modest in portion (two skewers), but they're exqui-site: sweet and so perfectly grilled that they're al-most fluffy. Caspian Cuisine, 205 Broadway, Santa Monica; (310) 395-5695. $14.95.

--C.P.

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Yakitori--The chicken's the thing at Sumiya, the Valley's most authentic full-fledged yakitori bar. Yakitori are soy-glazed chicken parts barbecued on skewers. The best skewers are moon-shaped lumps of ground chicken (tsukune); chicken breast with grilled leeks; and the lowly gizzard, here elevated to the rank of delicacy. Sumiya, 4517 Sepulveda Blvd., Sherman Oaks; (818) 995-8580. $3 to $4 per item.

--M.J.

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LATE NIGHT

Bananagasm--If you're hanging out after hours anyway, you might as well do it at artsy and bohemian Lumpy Gravy. The video screens and metal decor suggest flamboyant angst, but the desserts are overwhelmingly lush. Take Bananagasm: a frozen banana wrapped in a wonton skin, fried and served with bitter-chocolate swirl ice cream, almonds, choc-olate and caramel sauces. Now that's excitement. Lumpy Gravy, 7311 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles; (213) 934-9400. $4.95.

--C.P.

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Bo Dam--Thien Thanh has lasted more than a decade despite competition from nearby Little Saigon, partly because it serves until 3 a.m. on weekends. Late-comers crowd in for exemplary salted crab, fried squid and, above all, the off-menu bo dam, tender grilled New York steak with a tunnel of fresh chopped garlic in the center. Only garlic lovers need apply. Thien Thanh, 5423 W. 1st St., Santa Ana; (714) 554-7260. $8.95.

--M.J.

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Ebi Koroke--At Kappo Sui, a quintessential Japanese pub, the quintessential snack is ebikoroke, tiny crumb-crusted shrimp croquettes as smooth as cream inside. Their special soy dipping sauce is a salty concoction guaranteed to induce a powerful thirst for beer, wine or sake. Kappo Sui, 20070 Santa Ana Ave., Santa Ana Heights; (714) 429-0141. $5.50.

--M.J.

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Korean Barbecue--In Safe-ty Zone's "barbecue garden" (a tent outside with sides that roll down), the tables have gas grills for front-row cooking-cum-entertainment. The panch'an, little dishes of soybean sprouts, kimchi and the like, are better than most. Also very good are kalbi (short ribs), the fiery marinated pork and the pork ribs. Your server can even barbecue an entire octopus, cutting up the tentacles with scissors when it's done. What's more, the Zone is open till midnight on weekends. Safety Zone, 3630 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles; (213) 387-7595. $11.95 to $14.95.

--S.I.V.

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Media Noche--The perfect late-night sandwich is the Cuban media noche. It's thinly sliced ham and lechn (succulent roast pork) garnished with homemade pickles, mustard and mayo, all in a buttery grilled loaf of Cuban bread. La Cubana makes the best media noche around, but the restaurant closes at 9 p.m., so plan on getting takeout for midnight dining. La Cubana, 720 E. Colorado St., Glendale; (818) 243-4398. $3.95.

--M.J.

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