If lively atmosphere is what you're after, consider the following. . . . BUDOKAN (10914 West Pico Blvd., West Los Angeles, (213) 475-9924). Los Angeles' Little Tokyo has had karaoke for quite sometime, but now it has surfaced on the Westside, at this Japanese-Californian restaurant that caters to a largely English-speaking clientele. Here's how karaoke works: an audiocassette plays an elaborate arrangement to a popular song, and anyone who's willing to pay a nominal charge gets to sing the lyrics into a hand-held microphone. The whole thing comes out through a box-shaped speaker, making the singer sound as if he's headlining at the Greek Theatre. At the far end of the dining room there's a stage with video set-up just waiting for 9 o'clock. Before that the restaurant is much like any other. Main courses can be Japanese, like tempura and teriyaki, or Western, like pastas, grilled meats or sauteed seafoods. Dinner, Tue.-Sun. MasterCard, Visa and American Express accepted. Full bar. Valet parking. Dinner for two, food only: $15-$35. Karaoke $1 per song. EMILIA'S (2101 East 1st Street, Santa Ana, (714) 542-3131). Emilia's has the distinct look of a remodeled motel coffee shop, but it's a party place. On Saturday night it explodes. Accompanied by an accordionist, diners sing songs--at their own tables thanks to a microphone with an extremely long cord. At times it gets a little rowdy with fun-lovers forming a conga line and Bunny Hopping right out the door. All this--and good food. There's no menu here, and dinner is a seven-course affair. It includes a bottle of wine, breaded zucchini sticks; a good antipasto salad; eggplant parmigiana; two pastas; a meat course, say, broiled chicken or veal piccata. Dessert is a coconut-flavored flan with grapes, followed by cappuccino. At lunch, the meal is a little lighter. Lunch, Tue.-Fri.; dinner, Tue.-Sun. MasterCard, Visa and American Express accepted. Beer and wine only. Parking lot. Dinner for two $32.
L.A. OLE (3760 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, (213) 383-6394). With its whitewashed brick walls and chandelier made from beer bottles, this restaurant resembles a high school gymnasium done up to look like a down-and-dirty Mexican bar. Crayons are provided so that customers may draw all over the white tablecloths, and paper place mats are provided in hopes that they'll do their artwork thereon. Something called a "Cadillac Botana Platter" is less of a risk than most things on the menu. It's a generous platter at a fair price that includes half a mesquite-grilled chicken, tomato aspic, beans stewed in beer and little tostada-type appetizers and fajitas. But food is really beside the main point here, which is having fun. Lunch and dinner, Mon.-Sat. All major credit cards accepted. Full bar. Lot and valet parking. Dinner for two, food only: $20-$35.
SUGAR SHACK (8751 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles, (213) 271-7887). At Sugar Shack you have your Caribbean music, your elaborate rock waterfall, your bamboo, your murals of happy, dancing Jamaicans, your steel drums and all that kind of hilarity. Waiters and waitresses scurry around in short-shorts and tropical shirts. The atmosphere assaults you--it's loud and garish--it's stupid and it's fun. Stick to simple things--Drunken Shrimp (shrimp in the shell in a fire-hot, beery broth); blackened fish and beef; Jerk Chicken (a smoky, spicy Jamaican preparation); the Coconut Fried Shrimp. Skip the stuffed crab backs. Entrees come with "Moors and Christians" (black beans and white rice); baked yams, spicy cabbage, fried plantains. Dinner, Tue.-Sat. All major credit cards accepted. Full bar. Lot and valet parking. Dinner for two, food only: $30-$45.
VERDI, ristorante di musica (1519 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica, (213) 393-0706). Verdi is pretty and pink and serves up food and music in about equal proportions. The musicians and singers are professionals as are the smooth-serving staff. And the Italian cuisine? Like the scene, it is festive yet refined. Delicate grilled salmon trout comes complete with a splendid balsamic vinegar and chive sauce and a huge veal chop is equally fine. Twenty minute performances take place several times a night, and serving comes to a near halt while the performers are on the small stage. Food and drink arrive between arias as well as between sets. Music ranges from operas and operetta selections to excerpts from Broadway musicals. There is no cover charge--and it's an evening's entertainment. Dinner, Tue.-Sun. All major credit cards accepted. Full bar. Valet parking. Dinner for two, food only $45-$90.