Soki soba at Habuya in Tustin features noodles, crisp vegetables and a pork… (Glenn Koenig, Los Angeles…)
The wealth of Southern California's restaurant scene doesn't lie just in big-name, fine-dining places. There may be no other area in the country that can compare when it comes to the number and variety of treasures that offer really delicious food at often amazing prices. These are some of our favorite Finds of the year. There's Iranian, Mexican, Japanese, Chinese, Thai and even an experimental sushi fusion restaurant located in a hamburger stand. Now that's L.A.
Asal Bakery & Kabob Strangers chatting in line outside Asal Bakery & Kabob are all jonesing for a taste of the same thing: warm sangak, a floppy, chewy yard-long sesame-encrusted flatbread pulled from the fiery depths of a floor-to-ceiling oven whose constant muted roar dominates the Woodland Hills Persian cafe and bakery. Whether soaked with kebab juices at dinner or slathered with cultured cream and honey for breakfast, the lightly singed sourdough breads, slightly puffy with steam, serve as the heart of every meal here (sangak is to Iranians what baguettes are to the French).
Daily soups are vegetarian and often topped with a swirl of kashk, creamy house-made yogurt whey. Ash reshteh, bean and lentil soup flecked with masses of green herbs, has tart back notes and a topping of minty oil swirled with kashk. Simple grills arrive with panache, accompanied by baby lettuce salad lightly filmed with a bright-tart house dressing. Saffron-kissed game hen is moist and crisp. Koobideh, sausage-shaped, onion- and garlic-infused ground beef, bests the greatest hot dog, while the lightly marinated chicken or salmon wrapped in sangak make celestial Persian sliders.
20008 Ventura Blvd., Woodland Hills, (818) 436-2353.
Got Sushi? Truffles shaved onto wild-caught yellowtail sashimi or kanpachi nigiri splashed with black caviar might begin your omakase at Got Sushi? Or the chef might enrobe supple ribbons of pristine snapper in creamy cured uni brightened with the sharp citrus snap of yuzu and house-made soy sauce. Close your eyes, and for a moment it's easy to forget that this tiny sushi bar is squeezed into a corner of King's Burgers, a fully operational burger joint in Northridge.
With its vintage beige leatherette tuck 'n' roll booths and faux wood-grain Formica tabletops, the classic setting is visually perfect for a place known for enormous breakfast burritos and fully loaded pastrami burgers. These gut-busters still draw a loyal crowd to King's. But so does a wild array of raw fish creations fashioned by the owner's son, sushi chef Jun Y. Cha, an alumnus of Sushi Roku, Katana and a handful of other high-profile sushi havens, who agreed to help his dad spiff up King's menu about three years ago. These days, customers have several menus to choose from, including a standard sushi selection and a list of modern Japanese sashimi plates and exotic rolls, along with Cha's Asian American-inspired fast food.
9345 Reseda Blvd., Northridge, (818) 885-6456.
Guisados Ricardo Diaz is on his way to building a culinary empire with Mexican restaurants that innately reflect the attitudes and fluctuations of the Angeleno appetite. Three years ago, Diaz and his in-laws opened Cook's Tortas in Monterey Park. And now Diaz and business partner Armando De La Torre's new Boyle Heights taqueria shares a similar universality. Here, guisados achieve ascendancy; these are humble stews and braises that you'd otherwise most likely find simmering atop a home stove.
Guisados' menu is designed to change every other week. But, De La Torre says, there are already some tacos too popular to be replaced. One is the calabacitas, a succotash of corn, zucchini, tomato, onions, peppers and a few crumbles of cheese. The tinga is equally indispensable. Chicken is stewed with onions, cabbage, chorizo and chipotle until its fibers unravel into smoky strands. Try the steak picado too, a bed of beans, caramelized onions and peppers supporting a heap of skirt steak streaked with creamy avocado salsa. And there's definite depth to Guisados' mole poblano.
2100 Cesar Chavez Ave., Los Angeles, (323) 264-7201
Habuya If there's one thing Mayumi Vargas wants everyone to know about her native Okinawa, it's the island chain's affinity for pork. And at Habuya, Vargas' new Okinawan restaurant in a hidden corner of a Tustin mini-mall, pork is a uniting force. There are pork ribs, with brawny slabs of meat thick as a Little Leaguer's baseball bat. But the soki soba is all about the bones, marrow-filled ribs stewed until they can be eaten.