These are the nicest sort of restaurants--cozy and comfortable, they know what welcome means. You undoubtedly know the one closest to home, but here are some recently reviewed places to try when you're in the neighborhood. BEAR FLAG CAFE (5225 Canyon Crest Drive, Building 9, Riverside, (714) 369-FLAG). If you think that Hadley's is the only place to stop between Palm Springs and Los Angeles, you might just take the south fork and stop off for a meal at the Bear Flag Cafe. It looks like a Swiss travel-poster inn with shirred white curtains, pretty flower boxes and rustic wood facade. The warm leek salad with baked yams, artichoke hearts and cilantro vinaigrette is a good way to start, as is the spinach and smoked slab-bacon salad with garlic croutons. The succulent, mesquite-grilled shrimp comes with salsa and mushrooms sauteed in walnut oil with fresh thyme. The pasta is all homemade. Try the fettuccine glossed with Parmesan, cream and tossed with shards of lusty shrimp. Don't drive off without having dessert--everything is made on the premises. It's a toss-up between the extravagant chocolate walnut pie and the extraordinary amaretto custard-topped chocolate butter torte. Bear Flag also has a sturdy wine list and a good selection of varietal wines by the glass. Open for lunch and dinner Mon.-Fri., dinner Sat. and Sun. MasterCard, Visa and American Express. Full bar. Shopping center parking. Dinner for two, food only, $30-$50.
CAIOTI (2100 Laurel Canyon Blvd., Los Angeles, (213) 650-2988). Owner/chef Ed La Dou, who was the first pizza chef at Spago, then executive chef of the California Pizza Kitchen, is now doing want he wants. And what he wants is a relaxed, casual, neighborhood restaurant that serves interesting, good food--cheap. It looks like he has succeeded. Try the grape leaves stuffed with marinated goat cheese, served with roasted peppers and whole basil leaves. The filet of beef--a good piece of meat, tender and full of flavor, grilled a perfect medium rare, served with grilled onions, roast garlic and Gorgonzola sauce--makes a satisfying meal. The pizzas alone are worth going back for--roast garlic pizza with shallots and onion and smoked Gouda; smoked chicken pizza with roast peppers and goat cheese; barbecue chicken pizza, and so on. La Dou even invites you to design your own pizza. The desserts are all worth going off any diet for. Open for dinner daily. MasterCard and Visa. No liquor. Street parking. Dinner for two, food only, $20-$30.
JULIENNE (2649 Mission St., San Marino, (818) 441-2299). If rosemary is for remembrance, then it would be hard to forget Julienne. This French-inspired bistro is as closely linked to the herb as some women are to a certain perfume. Rosemary-raisin bread, which accompanies almost anything you order, is also the framework for scrumptious tarragon-flavored chicken sandwiches; the background for crisp, thin, Parmesan toast, and the stuff of which the croutons are made. Julienne's strong point is intriguing salads. Try the green tortellini and pea pods in pesto sauce or the Thai-inspired beef salad. Chicken Chinoise combines chicken, pea pods and water chestnuts in a lightly sweet citrus dressing and the Normandy salad is basically your Waldorf with chicken and tarragon added. For dessert, who can resist the chocolate truffle brownies and lemon-coconut bars? Open for continental breakfast and lunch Tue.-Sat. MasterCard and Visa. Parking lot in rear. Lunch for two, food only, $12-$25. LE PETIT MOULIN (714 Montana Ave., Santa Monica, (213) 395-6619). This French-American restaurant is filled with copper pots, bric-a-brac and painted plates on the walls. Pate, made on the premises, is fresh and mild, while thick, sweet onion soup is crusted with real Gruyere. The hot spinach salad comes lushly dressed with vodka and Canadian bacon. Fresh mahi-mahi comes crusted with lemon and almonds, and the rack of lamb is properly pink, with a traditional dark herbed reduction on the side. The juicy, crispy duck comes nicely dressed with pear chunks in pear brandy sauce. For dessert there's caramel custard and a rich chocolate mousse, both above par, as is the marshmallow sabayon with fresh raspberries. Open for dinner Mon.-Sat. MasterCard and Visa. Beer and wine. Parking lot in rear and street parking. Dinner for two, food only, $30-65.