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ANNUAL RESTAURANT ISSUE : Cover Story

Cheap Eats

Our Critics' Top Picks That Don't Cost a Fortune

June 23, 2002|S. IRENE VIRBILA and MARTIN BOOE and LINDA BURUM and BARBARA HANSEN and MAX JACOBSON and HEATHER JOHN and CHARLES PERRY and JESSICA STRAND

The hip and the healthy pack into [AMMO], where sleek tables and concrete floors provide a backdrop for stylish comfort food. Summer dinners include spaghetti with Japanese baby eggplant with a fresh mozzarella and roasted tomato sauce and a salad of red endive, frisee and mache. But the most irresistible offering is available only at weekend brunch: freshly squeezed juice made from Granny Smith apples, lemons and ginger. Dinner entrees start at $14. Fresh-squeezed juice, $4. Ammo, 1155 N. Highland Ave., Los Angeles; (323) 871-2666.--H.J.

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Changing seasonally, the compact menu at [BRITTA'S] may rove from pasta to pot roast, circle back to warm goat cheese and then head home with duck confit. Eclectic, yes, but the baseline is the best of fundamental American culinary values updated with international influences. Entrees start at $11. Britta's, 4237 Campus Drive, Irvine; (949) 509-1211.--M.B.

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It's easy to get sidetracked by the exotic grills and Peruvian criollo dishes at [CEVICHE DEL REY]. The restaurant boasts seven ceviches, the best of which is the zingy, clean-tasting tiradito, an elegant version that's almost a sashimi. Halibut is sliced to near translucence and lightly marinated in lime. Tiradito, $13. Ceviche del Rey, 7404 Florence Ave., Downey; (562) 806-4033.--L.B.

*

The specialties at [NU-Y] are the Vietnamese eight-course fish dinners, which are more a tapas spread than a glutton's feast. Dainty fresh and fried fish spring rolls arrive with dipping sauces and the familiar herb-lettuce-rice paper-noodle quartet. Diners can roll or swish as their pleasure dictates while devouring the marvelous fish salad, assorted leaf-wrapped grills and tamarind-drenched fish fingers. Fish dinners, $14 per person. Nu-y, 10830 Warner Ave., Fountain Valley; (714) 963-1700.--L.B.

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If you're looking for authentic home-style Greek cooking, the venerable and family-run [CHRISTAKIS] is the place. The piece de resistance is the rack of lamb ($29). Marinated in white wine and oregano, it's tender and juicy and almost enough for two. For dessert, be sure to have the galactobouriko--clove-infused custard baked in a sheath of filo dough. Entrees start at $8. Christakis, 13011 Newport Ave., Tustin; (714) 731-1179.--M.B.

*

Great flame-broiled, Mexican-style chicken is the stock in trade at [CHARO CHICKEN], where the crew slathers beautifully blackened pieces with a thick lemon garlic butter sauce. Sides--particularly whole pinto beans a la olla and adroitly seasoned Spanish rice--are impeccable. Half chicken with two sides, $8. Charo Chicken. Eleven locations, including the original at 333 Main St., Seal Beach; (562) 594-0909.--M.J.

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For 16 years, owner Suk Kyong Kim has coddled Korean customers at [CHIN GO GAE]. Her tender black goat is the prescription. Infused with vibrant red pepper and masses of garlic, it's either grilled table-side or simmered in deeply flavored bubbling broth. Great handfuls of brilliant fresh greens follow the meat into the pot, and every bite is paradise. $26 for two. Chin Go Gae, 3036 W. 8th St., Koreatown; (213) 480-8071.--L.B.

*

[CLEMENTINE] serves unusually sophisticated salads and sandwiches. Classics such as salmon with creme fra'che, egg salad with watercress or turkey and sprouts on wheat are particularly good. And save room for owner Annie Miller's desserts, especially the oatmeal-raisin cookies and Moravian sugar bread. Salads and sandwiches, $5 to $10. Clementine, 1751 Ensley Ave., Los Angeles; (310) 552-1080.--C.P.

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Who knew? There's a crepe cult in Japan, and now it's here. [CREPE IN THE GRIP] serves wrap-style crepes with fillings ranging from teriyaki to ham and cheese to sundae-like fruit and ice cream mixtures, all presented in a bright, youthful atmosphere. Entree crepes, $4. Crepe in the Grip, 715 W. Las Tunas Drive, San Gabriel; (626) 282-5265.--C.P.

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Enter [SASOUN BAKERY] and the warm, comforting aroma of bread overtakes you. In the morning, choose from the sweeter breads, such as tahineh and the small cornet-shaped date choereg. As the day progresses, offerings turn from sweet to savory with breads such as lemon-flavored spinach or the paper-thin lahmajoon spread with a layer of finely ground spicy lamb. Breads, about $1. Sasoun Bakery, 5114 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood; (323) 661-1868.--J.S.

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With its wild tiki bar and jungle vibe, [DAMON'S STEAKHOUSE] is as retro-Polynesian as an aloha shirt. Go for the petit filet steak lunch, which includes a salad with the restaurant's famous creamy orange dressing, and a choice of fries, rice or tomatoes. Try it with a Damon's mai tai. Petit filet steak lunch, $10, mai tai, $5. Damon's Steakhouse, 317 N. Brand Blvd., Glendale; (818) 507-1510.--B.H.

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