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THE CREME DE L.A. CREME | Restaurants

Around the World, Via L.A.'s Great Eateries

What to do when the hottest hot spots are booked up? It's time to go exploring.


Eating in L.A. can be anything you want it to be: haute French, wacky California, hand-pleated Chinese dumplings from a tiny storefront, irresistible carnitas tacos, Thai noodles eaten to the accompaniment of the Thai Elvis, a feast of Lebanese mezze, or something as soul-satisfying as Southern-style ribs. We've got it all.

Come the Democratic convention, though, the hard part will be snagging a reservation at the top spots. Being flexible enough to come early or late might help to secure one; don't count on it. For the record, those hot spots would be Wolfgang Puck's step up into fine dining, Spago Beverly Hills; the smart Mediterranean-French Lucques in West Hollywood, the always crowded, always thrilling Campanile (with some of the best desserts on the planet); Valentino in Santa Monica for its comprehensive Italian wine list; and for seafood, Water Grill downtown. Patina, Joachim Splichal's consummate French-California restaurant has just reopened with a more elegant look, a bigger kitchen--and fewer tables.

To check on the state of California cuisine, in Santa Monica, try the vintage Michael's (ask for a table in the garden) for its classic pizzas, seafood and chops; JiRaffe for its creative take on bistro food; and Rockenwagner in a Frank O. Gehry-designed complex for its European and Asian techniques and ingredients. In Venice, 5 Dudley offers quirky California cooking at the beach.

Hugo Molina in Pasadena turns out a melting pot of dishes, while Jozu in West Hollywood has a distinct Asian slant. And, of course, the wildly popular Chinois in Santa Monica still is tops for intriguing Franco-Asian cuisine.

As for steak, Italian chef Celestino Drago came up with Celestino An Italian Steakhouse, featuring U.S.-raised Piedmontese beef along with appealing (and very Italian) appetizers, sides and desserts. Patina's Joachim Splichal weighs in downtown with Nick & Stef's Steakhouse, where you can watch the chefs pull the beef from a glassed-in aging room. Along with all the usual suspects--Arnie Morton's (which is the same as Morton's of Chicago), Ruth's Chris and the Palm, there is our homegrown steakhouse, Pacific Dining Car, one of L.A.'s oldest restaurants. Not to forget the venerable watering hole and chop house Musso & Frank in Hollywood, The Grill on the Alley in Beverly Hills, and everybody's favorite budget steakhouse, Taylor's Prime Steaks.

Some lucky neighborhoods are filled with small homey restaurants: Best pickings include Los Feliz, Larchmont, Montana Avenue in Santa Monica, Old Town Pasadena and West Hollywood.

If you want to go seriously French, try the posh L'Orangerie in West Hollywood, La Cachette in Century City, Aubergine in Newport Beach, and new contender Melisse in Santa Monica. Polished bistro fare can be had at Pastis and Mimosa in Los Angeles, Cafe des Artistes in Hollywood, Lilly's in Venice and Chez Mimi in Santa Monica. For Lyonnaise bistro fare at bargain prices, Bouchon on Melrose Avenue is the place.

L.A. has about as many Italian restaurants as Milan or Rome. A few to try: Drago in Santa Monica, Posto in Sherman Oaks, Trattoria Tre Venezie in Pasadena, and Remi in Santa Monica. Brentwood's Vincenti is the most elegant and most authentic, and at Alto Palato in West Hollywood, you can get the best thin-crusted pizzas this side of Italy. Capo in Santa Monica is chef-owner Bruce Marder's take on Italian cuisine.

Dim sum makes a superb fast lunch. Find it at Empress Pavilion in Chinatown, among others, or drive 15 minutes east of downtown to Monterey Park and its vast Cantonese seafood restaurants, most of which offer dim sum every day at lunch. Ocean Star and Empress Harbor Seafood Restaurant are just two.

For vibrant south of the border fare, consider La Serenata, the city's premier Mexican seafood restaurant just east of downtown, the edgy Border Grill in Santa Monica, downtown's Ciudad for its appealing mix of Latin dishes, and the beloved El Cholo for its generous platters of Mexican American food. Guelaguetza has terrific Oaxacan market food, while La Brea's Sonora Cafe delivers a Southwest slant.

Los Angeles boasts world-class sushi, too, from Matsuhisa in Beverly Hills and Nobu Malibu, Katsu on 3rd and Restaurant Katsu in Studio City, Sushi Roku in L.A. and Santa Monica, R-23 near Little Tokyo, and of all places, The Hump at Santa Monica Airport.

About that Thai Elvis: He holds forth at Palms Thai Restaurant in Hollywood. And those ribs? Hit Philip's near Leimert Park.

One more tip: Philippe the Original, where the French-dipped sandwiches make the best under-$5 meal in town.

Addresses, hours, Page 22.


"After all the hustle and bustle of the

convention, go to Granita or Nobu--both in Malibu. Make sure you hit the beach. You can't come to Los Angeles and not go to the beach."


Restaurateur (who happens to own Granita)

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