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COUNTER INTELLIGENCE

Top 10 Dishes

December 26, 1991|JONATHAN GOLD

The 10 best dishes of the year? Who's to say. Ten real good ones, though. Guaranteed.

Sausage Pizza. Though Spago's baroquely delicious pizza is the pie the whole world copied, and Pazzia's crunchy wisps come closer to great Italian pizza than anything else in this country, purists remain unimpressed: "Not real pizza," they sniff. Of course, Casa Bianca Pizza Pie has made the "real" stuff all along, speckled with sweetly spiced homemade sausage, shot through with mellow cloves of roasted garlic (if you order them), topped with plenty of cheese and thin-crusted, with enough carbony, bubbly burnt bits to make each bite slightly different from the last.

1650 Colorado Blvd., Eagle Rock, (213) 256-9617.

Soontofu. What you eat in a Korean tofu restaurant: tofu. Also rice and a couple of different kinds of kimchee . At Beverly Soon Tofu, the tofu casserole, soontofu , comes bubbling and sputtering, splattering the paper place mat with a fine red mist, forming a burnt crust on the rim of the red-hot cast-iron bowls in which it is served. Until it cools down a bit, soontofu looks more like a scene from the "Rite of Spring" sequence of "Fantasia" than it does like actual food. If you like, the waitress will break an egg over the seething, volcanic mass. The white of the egg sets at once, while the yolk remains pleasantly viscous, a nice, subtle contrast to the velvety smoothness of the thumb-size chunks of tofu and the thick broth.

2717 W. Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles, (213) 380-1113.

Walking Fish. In "The Encyclopedia of Fish," A.J. McClane describes the walking fish as a creature that can breathe air, migrate over land and thrive in brackish water. "Edible, but difficult to remove the thin, foul-smelling skin," he advises. At Banteay Srey, conceivably the finest pure-Cambodian restaurant around, this exotic animal is served deep-fried, two jumbo fish to an order, with a side dish of cool, pickled cabbage heart. It's actually quite tasty, crisp-skinned, golden and mild, but shot throughout with tiny, needle-sharp bones that are next-to-impossible to see. Walking fish isn't just an entree, it's an adventure. Banteay Srey also serves a damn fine frog.

1020 E. Anaheim Blvd., Long Beach, (213) 495-4140.

Ribs. Crusted with black and deeply smoky, the spareribs at Phillip's Barbecue are rich and crisp and juicy, not too lean. Beef ribs, almost as big around as beer cans, are beefy as rib roasts beneath their coat of char, tasty even without the sauce. They are the best ribs in Los Angeles, perhaps the only ribs that can compete on equal terms with the best from Oakland or Atlanta. And the extra-hot sauce, sometimes with a scary, solid inch of whole chile peppers floating on top, can be pretty exhilarating. Tucked into a mini-mall between a liquor store and the local chapter of Alcoholics Anonymous, Phillip's might be a little hard to find, but if you keep your window open, you should be able to sniff it out from half a mile away.

4307 Leimert Blvd., Los Angeles, (213) 292-7613 .

Pork Pump. A specialty of the Shanghainese-style Lake Spring restaurant, "pork pump" is a mysterious, reddish-brown blob about the size of a hubcap, floating like a jellyfish in a murky, dense sea of anise-scented sauce. (When I asked a waitress what it was, she smiled mysteriously and gestured toward her shapely outstretched calf, but she was only being polite--"pump" is apparently a typo for "rump" so long-standing that it's been enshrined on Chinese menus all over town.) Here, the pump is simmered in soy sauce and rock sugar for hours, until it is so soft a probing chopstick easily penetrates the whole sweet, mass of delicious, melting fat; at the core is a fist of the tenderest imaginable pork, the sort of thing all pork might taste like if the President's Council on Fitness had never been convened. It's fun to imagine pork pumps at Chinois, and roomfuls of cholesterol-conscious Westsiders chowing down on what is essentially pounds and pounds of braised hog lard.

218 E. Garvey Ave., Monterey Park, (818) 280-3571.

Chinese Noodles. Dow Shaw, a small Chinese restaurant in San Gabriel, specializes in the sort of noodle 200 generations of Chinese chefs have probably regarded with horror, thick, clumsy noodles that run somewhere between spaetzle and pappardelle , self-consciously rustic things that taste of themselves whether fried with mixed seafood and lots of garlic or immersed with tendon in a deep, anise-scented beef broth, or sauteed with fresh-tasting, authentic moo shoo pork. The noodles, hand-cut in the style of Shanxi (a northern Chinese province that's sandwiched somewhere between Beijing and Inner Mongolia), have that good, dense bite you usually find only in the best Italian pasta.

432 E. Valley Blvd., San Gabriel, (818) 572-0617.

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