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Chow, Baby! : An Opinionated Guide To Dining In Southern California

May 03, 1992|RUTH REICHL | Ruth Reichl is The Times' food editor and restaurant critic.

MORTONS. The ultimate Hollywood hangout is filled with people so powerful you don't know who they are--especially on Mondays. This is a restaurant for famous names, not famous faces, the sort of place where producers take precedence. The big deal makers all have their own tables; ours are in the back, beneath the plants. Bigwigs don't want to think about their food--but it had better be good. The result is reliable, straight-arrow American fare. 8800 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles; (213) 276-5205.

THE IVY. The famous faces all come here, and if you don't mind trespassing, you can join them and find out the difference between them and us: They get treated well; we don't. The decor, which tends toward cute Americana, is a little deceptive; this is no democracy. Still, stargazers pour in to eat overpriced pasta, overdressed salads, over-ambitious burgers and huge desserts. On nice weekends, it's a swell place for an outdoor lunch--provided you don't mind the attitude. 113 N. Robertson Blvd., Los Angeles; (310) 274-8303.

DUKE'S. When the Tropicana was torn down a few years ago, all the rockers and unemployed actors in town began to worry that there wouldn't be any place for them to eat. Happily, the beloved Duke's moved up to the Sunset Strip, and despite the fact that the place was just a little too clean for comfort, everybody moved with it. This is one of the last of the real coffee shops, a great place for big breakfasts; now that it's not so new anymore, it's even starting to feel a little funky. 8909 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood; (213) 652-3100

THE BISTRO GARDEN. You can't really join the club, but you can gawk. You're in Hollywood Wife territory here, munching among the ladies who lunch. Watch them as they come in and kiss the air around each other's cheeks, being careful not to get their jewels tangled. Watch their eyes as they move subtly among the tables. This is one of the most civilized restaurants in town: The room and the garden are both gorgeous, the service is impeccable and the Continental food is very good. 176 N. Canon Drive, Beverly Hills; (310) 550-3900.

LUCY'S EL ADOBE CAFE. As we watch the demise of the smoke-filled room, let us take time to be grateful for Lucy's, a place where people still drink without apology. The drink of choice is the margarita, preferably by the pitcherful. Politicians mingle with journalists in this dark room, and everybody eats chips and salsa and the sort of Mexican-American food that isn't supposed to be good for us. 5536 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles; (213) 462-9421.

LEGENDS. If nobody's going to take you out to the ballgame, go on over to this sportsman's paradise, where you can shout at the television of your choice. At any given time, there are five or six different games being broadcast on a dozen TVs. You can drink beer and eat the same sort of food you'd get at the ballpark--only this is a little bit better. 5236 E. 2nd St., Long Beach; (310) 433-5743.

OLIVE. This may be too cool for you; it's too cool for almost everyone. If you've somehow managed to miss the club experience, though, a visit to this crowded, noisy restaurant would be a good way to simulate the anxiety. Will they let you in? Will you stumble over anybody in the dark? Will the hearing damage be permanent? And what is that on your plate, anyway? Don't worry--the food, while highly experimental, is actually quite good. 119 S. Fairfax Ave., Los Angeles; (213) 939-2001.

HARD ROCK CAFE. Eternally appealing to the pre-teen set, who start lining up early in the evening to await their places in the dark. The room is cavernous, the noise is enormous, and if you're old enough to drive you're probably too old to be here. The food has a nostalgic American quality that occasionally reminds you that the original Hard Rock is in London. 8600 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles; (310) 276-7605.

BROADWAY DELI. When yuppies have children and don't want to take them out for five-course meals, this is where they come. Broadway may be the only deli in the world that serves tiramisu and fancy French wines, but it also accommodates the kids with macaroni and cheese and egg-salad sandwiches. The kids have a great time. Meanwhile, their parents try to smile, but their resigned faces are saying that they'd rather be at Citrus. 1457 Third Street Promenade, Santa Monica; (310) 451-0616.

BIG & TALL BOOKS/CAFE. Define these words: deconstruction , technonationalism , Realpolitik . If you didn't miss one, you should be hanging out at this bookshop-coffeehouse. There are lots of other coffee houses in town--half of them seem to be within a mile of here--but this one has the added advantage of having not only its own bookstore but also its own parking lot. 7311 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles; (213) 939-5022.

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