Good Ethnic Food in Southbay
Any suggestions for the best ethnic food restaurants in Manhattan, Hermosa, Redondo, Torrance areas? Good service and ambience too.. I know that 'ethnic' is broad, but I am open to any cuisine, as long as it is the best of whatever it is!
For good ethnic food in Southbay, your best bet may be outside of the beach cities. There is a heavily Japanese area in Gardena...I love Spoon House for Japanese spaghetti, Kanpachi for sushi, and Beard Papa for creampuffs for dessert. But do a search for "Japanese" and "Gardena" on this board, and you will get a lot of recs. Similarly, Lomita is a good area for Chinese food. I like PCH Chinese, but there are lots of good options...do a search for "Chinese" and "Lomita." In the beach cities you mentioned, I like El Gringo for Mexican (Hermosa location), a little hole-in-the wall. Although as I think about it, I don't think any of these places meet your criteria for good service and ambience, just good food in settings that are clean but by no means nice. Another thought is Akbar for Indian in Redondo beach. It has excellent service and a better ambience than the others I've mentioned. Somehow good ethnic food and ambience don't seem to go together very often. Oh, and definitely go to Musha in Torrance...it serves a big menu of Japanese offerings and has both great food and a nice, friendly ikazaya atmosphere. Oh, and there's Gina Lee's Bistro in Redondo, great Chinese fusion in a very nice setting with excellent service.
Addi's Tandoor and Red Fort both offer better value and better food - my most recent meal at Akbar was very disappointing - small portions of underspiced food and pretentious service. The wine list is great at Akbar, sure, but Addi's has some decent bottles. Red Fort has some interesting wines too, but the staff are all Sikhs who don't drink, so they are no help at all with pairing.
I actually had the Lunch Buffet at Red Fort yesterday. I arrived at 1:00 p.m. by myself and a newspaper.. The staff was very nice and the food tasted pretty good. Nice spice and flavor. Only dissapointment was that the food looked "tired" in the buffet line. I had to stir up many dishes as it had a protective layer of crust forming on several of the curries. The lamb was very flavorful and the garlic nan was good, hot and tasty as well. The room is large and only 3 tables were occupied. Looks like they need some business. Allot of hype on yelp about this place. perhaps its because they are a "sponser"
Actually, I agree that Akbar was underspiced the last time I was there...but the flavors were still very good. I tried Addi's a couple of times and the chicken was extremely overcooked and dry. Akbar is right by where I live and works for me, and if I feel like I change I drive to the Little India area of Artesia, which is just 30 minutes on the 91 on weekends.
Nicole has started you off with some great recs. Probably the most recent ethnic place causing a huge buzz in the South Bay is Yakitori Bincho at the Redondo Beach Pier. I haven't been - yet - but some seriously heavy-hitters of Japanese cuisine have and their reviews alone have boosted this once-obscure true hole-in-the-wall to A-list status. Do a search on this place and you should get at least three very thorough reviews. Print at least one of these out and bring it with you if you feel it will help you order, or you can ask the chef to do omakase-style.
I've mentioned several times when folks inquire about South Bay recs, especially ethnic, that Lomita is a relatively small area but offers some good choices. At least a half-dozen decent Chinese along two to three blocks of PCH (that would be great in most other parts of the US), including Regal Palace and PV Palace. Again - these are decent at best if you compare these to most places in the San Gabriel Valley. I haven't been to PCH Chinese Restaurant in ages, but I've heard they've slipped far after a change in ownership.
If you're looking for Japanese, Gaja Moc does (or actually you do) okonomiyaki (mostly kansai style) and yakisoba, some fun side dishes and Japanese parfaits. Il Chianti is Japanese-style Italian, which is actually pretty good. The menu is heavily dosed with seafood options and the atmosphere can best be described as somewhat over-the-top Louie Prima. Next door to Gaja Moc is Patisserie Chantilly, probably the best Japanese-style French Patisseries that I've been to. Many like Beard Papa's cream puffs - that's fine. But do yourself a huge favor and try Chantilly's. In the same mini-mall is Eboshi noodles - pretty good ramen. I've found that these three places are heavily visited by Japanese expats. If you can speak some Japanese, it may or may not help. If you spout out any Japanese and look the part, the rapid-fire Nihongo responses from those working at these places will stab you like a thousand knives...
Katty corner to Gaja Moc and Chantilly is Kotosh at Kamiyama, a very good Peruvian Restaurant. Pervuvians incorporate foods and techniques from many cultures, but are particularly fond of potatoes, seafood, rice and chicken. If you are as well, give this cuisine a whirl.
Hawaiian cuisine (called "Grinds") is strong in the South Bay, and I would consider Bruddah's the place to go for the closest experience to what I remember having almost daily as a kid in the Islands. Gardena Bowl, Ono, and Bob's are also good. The Loft offers Hawaiian food with better seating accommodations, but I feel the food doesn't have the same down-home taste of these smaller places that have a strong local presence.
If you include Lawndale in the South Bay, then Al Noor is fantastic for Pakistani cuisine, and El Pollo Inca has a restaurant on Hawthorne which uses a wood-fired oven to roast their chickens. Other than that, I personally find El Pollo Inca to be somewhat pedestrian compared to smaller Peruvian restaurants like Kotosh and El Rocoto. Like most who have eaten Peruvian food, I really enjoy salsa aji. Kotosh and El Rocoto do great versions, and El Rocoto does a salsa rocoto (red) as well. El Pollo Inca's version is far too watery and flavorless from going overboard on the lettuce.
My favorite Korean quick-fix is Kyochon fried chicken at the Freshia supermarket in Torrance. Their chicken is particularly noted for having a nice garlicky batter and (usually) moist tender meat. They also have a version where the standard fried chicken is brushed with a spicy bbq sauce-like glaze resulting in a Korean-style Buffalo wing. Soon tofu is popular and I've eaten at Lee's in Gardena and Cho Dang Soon Tofu in Torrance. I have little experience with soon tofu but these two places hit the spot for me.
Japanese noodles are huge in the South Bay. Ramen shops are pretty easy to find - udon might not be as easy but far easier and better than most other parts of LA. I'm a noodle novice, especially when compared to Rameniac (I'm on the floor, kow-towing to his website) - check out his site for truly expert advice on this topic, as well as some good tongue-in-cheek. I've already mentioned Eboshi in Lomita. You might also try Asa Ramen in Gardena, and the famed Santouka Ramen at the Mitsuwa food court in Torrance. Udon is covered well by two places: Kotohira and Sanuki no Sato in Gardena. All of these noodle houses offer some great sides as well. Most do good to great versions of gyoza - when you walk in, look around to see what others have ordered - if it looks good and you see it on more than one table, most likely it's worth ordering.
Poster Exilekiss recently wrote up a Japanese-style steak house in Rolling Hills - The Steak House. They serve Japanese grade A5 Wagyu beef. If you're into the real thing, this is probably the place to go on a relatively smaller budget than some of the better known steakhouses in LA.
It's probably obvious at this point that the largest share of ethnic eats in the South Bay is Japanese-related. If you want to emerse yourself in all things edible from Japan, head over to Mitsuwa, Marukai or Nijiya supermarkets. All three are good, but Marukai is like the Costco of Japanese things with a broader selection. In general, if you can't find what you want at any of these three places, then it will be tough finding it anywhere else.
And to add just one more place to your exhaustive list, Belacan Grill if you are looking for Malaysian food is pretty darn good, (especially when you consider you're in the So. Bay). If the weather is hot consider having an Ice Kacang (shaved ice dessert) after your chili crab, et al. have been consumed. It's both delicious and refreshing.
IMHO, no comparison - Belacan Grill and Banana Leaf are two different animals. I don't want to snub Banana Leaf - it has its place. The food at Banana Leaf is good for what it is, but I think most who are from or have been to Malaysia or Singapore would be very sad if they were told that this is the best representation of their cuisine that LA has to offer. IMO, it needs a lot more soul, but I feel that Banana Leaf may purposefully be pulling back on the mojo because ingredients like belacan, sambal, and dishes like curry fish head and belacan kankung might be too much for the average Farmer's Market crowd to deal with. The family that started and runs this operation spent lots of years in Singapore - they know the food. I feel their intent is to introduce eaters to something that is tamed down from the "real" thing. It's been a few years since I last ate there, but having tried Banana Leaf a few times, I thought it was just good enough to hold me over. The atmosphere at the Farmer's Market food court is vaguely similar to what one experiences back in Singapore/Malaysia's hawker centers, but that's where the similarities end.
Belacan Grill on the other hand is as dissimilar in atmosphere as one could get from what one experiences in SE Asia hawker centers - it's an actual sit-down restaurant that the owners invested some dough in prettying the place up. The food is very respectable by LA standards, and the menu can be quite extensive - but even this menu will have some catch-all generic dishes like kung-pao fill-in-the-blank. And by wearing that restaurant name, they're proud to scare those away who might be somewhat timid about spooky edibles like fermented shrimp paste. Just about everything that we've tried here hasn't lost too much in translation in its crossing the Pacific.
I try not to be too severe in comparing either Banana Leaf, Belacan Grill, or any other place that offers this general Southeast Asian cuisine to its counterparts back home. Aside from ingredients that are found only over there, the SE Asian hawker centers are made up of various counters, each of which offers a very limited menu. In this arena, specialists rule, as generalists would die a quick death. Each hawker has built a certain level of credibility based on their specialist skills. Hainanese Chicken and Rice is sold by counters that sell nothing but this one dish. How well a perfect wonton noodle soup can be built is humanized by the queue of hungry and eager customers that wait at the empty spot where the master with the stainless steel cart will pull up and sell his specialty for only four hours out of the day. The family that offers the most intense yet flavorful sambal where the dried chillies and shallots are hand sorted, and the heads and entrails of the dried anchovies that go into the condiment have been meticulously removed to avoid any potential gamey bitterness, offer their product only once a week at the night market of one neighborhood in Kuala Lumpur. Word of mouth is the best marketing tool, and this family's reputation created the buzz that never dies. Spread this on toast, stir it into laksa, or break out the wok and pay tribute to this artisan product in a huge platter of sambal prawns. A sturdy loaf of bread is used to wipe up every bit of sauce and washed down with a nice cold soy bean drink.
There is no way that an enterprising restauranteur offering a broad menu could compete against such a strong collection of individuals displaying their excellence. Yet here, I think the opposite is true, as to offer just one or two, or even a few dishes wouldn't be economically viable. The cuisine is almost unknown here, so a whole collection of dishes must be offered to hopefully create a sanctuary to those familiar with the food, as well as peak the interest of those who aren't.
What really impressed me about Belacan Grill was that the food feels very authentic. When I'm in the mood for non-Japanese Asian, many of the other offerings in the Torrance area don't really give me the sense of authenticity or are aimed at a substantially lower quality level. You do pay a bit for the quality as the portion/price ratio is not nearly as good as at, say, Seafood Port which is not far away.
I'm no expert on Malaysian food, but I did spend 2 weeks eating my way through Malaysia/Singapore last year and have been to some Malaysian restaurants in various US cities and Belacan Grill gets really high marks in my book.
One thing that I'll mention is that "authentic" does not mean it's for everyone. The name of the restaurant refers to a fermented shrimp paste which has made apperances as a weird food in "A Cook's Tour" and on Andrew Zimmer's show. Not all the dishes have exotic ingredients, but I think the people who will enjoy Belacan Grill the most are those that, well, like belacan. :)
I'm hesitant to make suggestions on dishes since a lot of my favorites are shaded by a nostalgia factor. I'm Taiwanese and dishes like the salt fish mee hoon remind me of similar dishes in Taiwan. The belacan kangkong(it's kong xin cai in Mandarin) I also really enjoy. I like the Nasi Lemak just because it's so very Malaysian.
Whatever you order, I suggest ordering coconut rice with it instead of just regular steamed rice.
This is a great list! Includes some great places I forgot to mention as well as some places I'll have to try. You included one of my favorites--Kotosh at Kamiyama in Lomita. No ambience, but *great* ceviche and good tiradito. Also reminds me that I forgot to mention Kamiyama in Manhattan Beach (they used to have the same owner, but not anymore)....a great place for sushi take-out if you are in the mood for creative rolls rather than traditional sushi. I really love their hot night roll. The sushi chef is really friendly, and the prices are low considering the quality. They have very limited seating, but this is basically a take-out place.
Thank you... It humbles me to even be on the same page as you...
I'm the flipside of you - I haven't tried Al Watan, but will put them on my list... I chose Al Noor based on J. Gold's writeup from years ago... and he did mention Al Watan. Grilled meats and fresh-baked bread - what could be more basic yet so satisfying? What sealed the deal for Al Noor was the mention of Chicken Tikka - something my wife misses horribly from past trips to Dubai... Al Watan is on our list... thanks!
Black Bamboo In Palos Verdes is worth the drive, they offer some awesome Fusion rolls, excellent sushi, and tempura to die for. The owner Jason is very friendly and eager to please.
724 Yarmouth Rd, Palos Verdes Estates, CA 90274
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For Pakistani and Indian, I find Al Watan in Hawthorne to have more helpful and friendlier service along with great food. They also have lunch and dinner specials (combo plates) good for newbies or just a quick solo meal.
Strangely Vietnamese hasn't been mentioned. There are a number of good pho places in the HGL triangle; my favorites are Pho Hoa, Huang Vi, Saigon Dish and Pho Hong Long. IMO the only decent banh mi is made at Tapioca Xpress, still not up to Lee's or other Little Saigon 'standards'.
Licha's in Hawthorne may be the only D.F. style Mexican restaurant in the South Bay.
Korean restaurants may be as common as Japanese in Gardena but get surprisingly little coverage here. We're all waiting for someone with the right background to expose this area big time! I'm also not an expert but I've had tasty soon tofu and kind service at King Tofu House.
If you could consider American BBQ 'ethnic' then your top choices should be Jaybee in Gardena or Bodacious Q in Carson.
Yes, Hawthorne and Lawndale ARE part of the South Bay. Don't forget Carson or San Pedro either.
Pho Thai Long is better than Huang Vi, better than any other South Bay Vietnamese with the possible exception of Saigon Dish. (Saigon Dish might have better Pho, but Thai Long has a much more larger and more interesting menu.) The service at both establishments is friendlier than the usual surly service, but the staff at Saigon Dish speak more English.
Pho Thai Long has a site at http://www.hawthornevietnameserestaur...
I can't find a website for Saigon Dish. Alas, neither serve Banh Mi.
Also in the area is Mi Ama, excellent Peruvian and Colombian on Prairie - they don't seem to have a website either. Great food, friendly but slow service.
Annapurna Garden on Hawthorne was very good for South Indian the last time I was there - their site seems to be down at the moment. The place next door, Inca Gourmet, has good Peruvian food, usually served buffet style, but you can order from the menu.
I like Little China for Korean - style Chinese food, exuberantly flavored Northern Chinese dishes. They're on Western just north of 182nd in Gardena - no website.
For Korean BBQ in Gardena, Yellow Cow is the best! The menu is badly organized, but the banchan is big and varied, and the meat is high quality. When I go with one other person, one orders a Pa JJun (seafood pancake), the other gets barbecue, and we share. Website is at
Ahhh, Jaybee's BBQ - must go back there soon, it has been too long. Thanks for reminding me, DiveFan
WOW! Thank you all for the great response. I have to choose one place to go tomorrow night and now I have the task of figuring out which my first of many escursions out for great food will be, I can't wait... again, thank you for all the recommedations!
Lemon Tree in Torrance looks like it changed owners. We tried to go a few weeks ago and found it closed. We went back on Monday for our Bibimbap fix. When we walked in there were new people working there with a new menu. They still still serve dolsot bibimbap with side dishes. The bibimbap was very good. The side dishes are traditional with more seafood mixed in to the kimchi. The service was good, but then again we were the only people there at 5:30. It was good enough to recommend. The sign outside still said "Lemon Tree", but the bill had "Korea Garden" across the top.
24416 Crenshaw Blvd # 1
Torrance, CA 90505