In the mood for something exotic? These recently reviewed restaurants each offer the cuisine of a different country, but all will allow you to taste truly faraway flavors.
ADDIS ABABA (6263 Leland Way, Los Angeles, (213) 463-9788). A modest dark-wood cottage, with posters, baskets and Ethiopian dresses on the walls. Huge servings are the order, with 15 offerings, several combination plates and meat and chicken dishes that run between $5.95 and $7.50. The lamb combination plate is rich, deeply flavored and a joy to eat. The vegetables (like the cabbage-potato-carrot stew) taste as if Grandma has been lovingly cooking them all day. Ethiopian cooking is rich, but owner Amare Teferi assures us that most of the dishes contain only 2% fat, which is welcome news in these health-conscious times. Open daily 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Beer and wine. Free parking next to restaurant. Cash only. Dinner for two, food only, $11-$40.
BENNY'S BEVERLY HILLS (240 S. Beverly Drive., Beverly Hills, (213) 278-0209). There is much to choose from here at Benny's, so you might have trouble making up your mind on this eclectic menu with a Mideastern slant. Should you, for instance, have the chicken salad that's dark red with chili, cumin and ginger and provides a pleasant, spicy heat? Or do you desire the sesame chicken? Maybe the tangy, light chicken salad dressed with lemon and accented with crunchy pea pods would be proper today. Vegetable dishes are abundant, and many of the offerings are salads. What's great about this place is that at $4.95 for a selection of three items (and very generous portions they are), you can afford to try them all. The desserts are the best bargain in town. Open Mon.-Sat. 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m., Sun. 5 p.m.-9 p.m. Beer and wine. No credit cards. Dinner for two, food only, $10-$20.
DARYA (1840 N. Tustin Ave., Orange, (714) 921-2773). The best Iranian restaurant behind the Orange Curtain seems to be this little gem. It is a busy, successful place and has the advantage of being next door to a Persian deli. Here is some of what you'll have to choose from: tender, even rather soft, pieces of boneless chicken; tiny lamb chops on a skewer, full of gamy lamb flavor; beef kebab, either ground beef (kouhlbideh) or a broad, thin strip of tender filet (chelo kebab barg). A side order to watch for is borani, a warm pureed eggplant dip with yogurt and fried onions. You can split an order with someone--it's that rich. Lunch and dinner daily. Full bar. Ample parking. Dinner for two, food only, $15-$20.
KOUTOUBIA (2116 Westwood Blvd., West Los Angeles, (213) 475-0729). Enjoy your Moroccan dinner in a room that looks as if it were plucked from the middle of the Sahara Desert. Carpets line the walls, cushions are scattered about and music fills the air. Your senses will explode as you peruse the menu: oxtails with cumin and chickpeas; lamb with pink olives; sea bass with roasted chiles. . . . There are salads: marinated carrots tasting strongly of cumin and tangy fresh beets, or a chopped cucumber, tomato and onion concoction. The owner might appear with a tiny tajine (the conical covered dish in which Moroccans make their stews); he'll remove the top to to reveal four little shrimp, perfectly cooked and perfumed with spices, glistening on a bed of rice. Even the brains are delicious. Dinner only, Tue.-Sun. Beer and wine. Street parking. All major credit cards. Dinner for two, food only, $30-$50.
MIGNON (1253 N. Vine St., Los Angeles, (213) 461-4192). A Romanian restaurant that is a discovery for anyone jaded enough to think he's eaten everything. The food is wonderful, from the appetizers (such as white caviar, eggplant pate and homemade pickes) to the dishes like stuffed cabbage, mamaliga (cornmeal) and miteti (meatballs). The desserts (such as crepes filled with Romanian sour cherries) are irresistible. Although the dining room is spare, there is taped music and live bands performing an international repertoire on weekends. Open Tues.-Sun. 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Major credit cards. Dinner for two, food only, $20-$40.
PERSEPOLIS (920 La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles, (213) 652-5312). It's named after the ancient Persian city, with an interior to match. Start your evening with a light, creamy barley soup or an appetizer like borani bademjan, a hot eggplant dish made from yogurt, coriander and much garlic. Leave room for the kebabs, though, because that's why you're here. The Persepolis kebab is really two kebabs, barg and kouhlbideh, one of marinated ground beef, the other of lean cubed sirloin. Two feet long end to end, they're served medium-well in the Mideast tradition. The rice is wonderful, and they even have a wine list, unusual in a Persian restaurant. Sun.-Thur. noon-10 p.m., Fri. and Sat. noon-11:30 p.m. Beer and wine. Some lot parking. MC, V. Dinner for two, food only, $20-$30.
SINGAPORE SATAY (Westin Bonaventure Hotel, Level 4, 404 S. Figueroa St., Los Angeles, (213) 624-5111). Proprietor Eddie Lim grills his marinated meats over charcoal in his homeland of Singapore, but must settle for a gas-fired grill here. Not to worry, as the sweetness of the marinade still cooks down to appetizing, caramelized brown bits on the surface of the meat. The satay dishes are the best to consider at this small fast-food shop. The beef or chicken satay can be ordered separately or on a combination plate, three sticks of each, for $4.25. A recently added item is beef rendang, a spicy dish of beef cooked with coconut milk that is popular in Singapore and surrounding countries. Sun.-Thur. 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m., Fri.-Sat. 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m. No credit cards. Dinner for two, food only, $18-$30.