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Jul 29, 2008 03:15 PM

For Jolly: assuaging disappointment

Jolly, in the banh mi thread ( expressed deep sorrow at moving to Los Angeles from SF and expecting wonder and excited to explore and getting disappointment. Jolly is now eating at Chipotle. Fie, fie on Chipotle. My heart weeps. Jolly, the Chowhound community owes you to get you back up on your feet.

First, where are you located, and what are you disappointed in?

I heard you express disappointment in: Central American, Persian. What else?

Some sure-fire suggestions:

For some reason, none of the Persian places in the Westwood area stand out to me. The Lebanese-Armenian place, Sunnin, on the other hand, bends my mind backwards. I worship at the feet of the cooks. Avoid: shawarma. Get: lebneh (whipped cheese) (ask for it with fresh garlic), fried cauliflower, that tomato-eggplant substance, falafel, the thing made of meat and cracked bulgher pounded together, and the best b'tilla in town. Phyllo dough, chicken, cinnamon, nuts.

The other Armenian favorite for me is Skaf's Grill - in Glendale and in the Valley.

Central American: there are lots. I'm currently engaged in trying to eat at every single Salvadorean place in East Hollywood. The gold standard is still Atlacatl, on Beverly. Get: pupusas, empanadas (plaintains filled with condensed milk and deep fried, sort of an ur-Twinkie), casamiento (best rice and beans and fresh crema ever), fried yucca topped with fried pork rind, and chilate - plantain and yam stewed in honey, with atole.

For an aside, in the Latin-American world, try Peruvian - Mario's Peruvian is my longtime favorite - for perfect fried squid and seafood saltado, along with Pollo a la Brasa on 8th and Western for wood-fired chicken, but the new contender, that I've been to only once, is Puro Sabor, which is spectacular.

Tell the rest of your disappointment, and we will provide.

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  1. Agree on Sunnin (the fried cauliflower, I forgot about the fried cauliflower!!). Skaf's is also delicious -- I like the NoHo location better than Glendale despite the total lack of decor -- but it's Lebanese. Get anything from the special daily menu (at NoHo only, I think) and you're good to go.

    If you're up in the Valley anyway, my vote for Peruvian is Las Quenas on Sherman Way and Bellaire; for chicken it's Super Pollo on Van Nuys Blvd. and, um, Hamlin I think. I hear that the cook from Las Quenas has moved to Van Nuys and opened Puro Sabor which has got some Chowhound love and which I may try tonight.

    3 Replies
    1. re: Das Ubergeek

      Check the board - I just posted on Puro, which is a brilliance.

      1. re: Das Ubergeek

        Once you go to both, you'll have to give us a Las Quenas vs. Puro.

        1. re: Thi N.

          I'm definitely going tonight... I'm actually back in the Valley for the next few days.

      2. I went through a similar East Hollywood Salvadoran obsession. I've always thought Atlacatl is a bit overrated. They do okay versions of lots of things, but I don't think they offer the best of anything.

        The best pupusas in LA are a few blocks west of Atlacatl at La Nueva Flor Blanca, north side of Beverly, just west of Normandie...the pupusa revuelta there is a wonderous thing. La Pupusa Loca at Melrose and Santa Monica Blvd. also has excellent Salvadoran food.

        2 Replies
        1. re: sku

          Yeah - you know, I've tried about 15 random Salvadorean places and Atlacatl's been the winner so far. I've been to La Pupusa Loca only once (last week) - and it shocked me - freaking great. Pupusas and other masa affairs weren't quite to the Atlacatl masa mastery - but empanadas were on a new level of glory. I only hesitate to mention because I've only been once and only had three things.

          What else should I get therE?

          I'll try La Nueva this week.

          And another note on Atlacatl: I kind of forget about it, but I tend not to like the standard main dishes (chicken, meats, etc.) as much. It's all about the things listed under Salvadorean specialties: pupusas, chilate. Oh, and an intensely corn-bomb of a corn tamale.

          Also an entirely distinct, dense horchata, very laden with spice.

          I'll stand by Atlacatl waving the flag until the day I die. But it is true: the empanadas at La Pupusa Loca were a level above.

          1. re: Thi N.

            At Pupusa Loca, the thing to get are the rice pupusas as opposed to the traditional masa pupusas. Their crispy, chewy texture is outstanding. They also have great platanos and a fabulous zapote liquado.

            Here's a link to a review I did last year which is pretty much still valid. My best discovery since then has been Golfo de Fonseca on 6th Street which has excellent gorditas and a great yuca y chicharron (I find Atlacatl's too greasy).


            Oh, and one of the things I do think Atlacatl does really well is pan con pavo (turkey sandwich drenched in au jus).

            And for corn tamales (tamales de elote) you can't do better then Panaderia Salvadorena, with branches on Beverly and 6th, though they aren't fried there.

        2. There is no disappointment greater than not finding the desired satisfying food and leads to manic depression. I am reduced to eating at Chipotle, a former McDonald's restaurant. As I've posted in the banhmi thread, I am exploring what is good around Weho. I do like Peruvian and enjoyed Pollo a la Brasa but am anxious to try Puro Sabor. My mouth waters with anticipation.

          I did try Sunnin and did have shawarma and didn't go back. I'll try the other stuff and see if I like them. I have been making my own persian food at home which is tedious and odious yet necessary if I want some decent shish kebab, rice,or stew with all the fixin. Basil, mint, cheese, spring onions real sumac mmm I think it is too expensive at the rest. for what they give. Skaf's Grill sounds interesting.

          I enjoy Salvadorean and I will definitely try Atlacatl. I am also going to try some recs for Oaxacan as well.

          Are there any SF mission style burritos in LA?

          This is all I can think of for now but will post when I can think of more.

          26 Replies
          1. re: Jolly

            Are there any SF mission style burritos in LA?


            1. re: Jolly

              For some reason shawarma and kebab are weak items at Sunnin. Her heart's not in it. A lot of people I think go in, try that, go home. Also, the little phyllo dumplings kind of suck.

              Other good things there, now that I'm thinking about it: cold lentil with carmelized onion. And anything on special, *especially* squash stuffed with meat. It kind of hugs your heart.

              My favorite place for shwarma Hollywood-esque is Arax Falafel, on Normandie and Santa Monica. Spectacular falafel, spectacular shawarma.

              Also WeHo adjacent is Fairfax Village, which has one really good Yemeni(?) place: Shula and Esther's, which our estimable Jerome pointed me too. Shockingly good meats. People seemed to be sucking down soups with zest, too.

              Does Fairfax Village count as WeHo? There's good stuff.

              There's the whole Jewish section of Pico - I really liked Magic Carpet, though I haven't been in years, but I'm told there's even better.

              Little Ethiopia: Meals by Genet for sublime glory, Merkato for chilled out meaty tastiness and seared raw beef sandwiches.

              There's a good Uzbeki restaurant on Sunset. I think it's called Uzbekistan.

              No on mission-style burritos. For an LA-style burrito, go to El Gran Burrito at midnight on a weekend night (high turnover!) and get a carna asada burrito. Fantastic beans.

                1. re: Thi N.

                  Sadly, Uzbekistan is closed too. For Mission-style burritos, I think Senor has a pretty good approximation. Just make sure to get it to go so it comes wrapped in the requisite tin foil.

                2. re: Jolly

                  Incidentally, next to Sunnin is Ambala Dhaba, the only great Indian restaurant north of Little Artesia that I know of. (Though i hear that Woodlands opened up a branch in the Valley.)

                  It's southern. Don't get northern tomato-based curries or masala whatsits. Get hyperdabi chicken (chicken day-long-marinated in yogurt and spices, then tandoor roasted to a Higher, Moister Dimension), anything with goat, ambhala vegetables, ambhala fish, and, in general, anything Southern. Pretty good chaat, though not as good as Indian Sweet and Spice on Los Feliz Blvd., and a pale shadow of Artesia's Surati Farsan Mart.

                  1. re: Thi N.

                    Lebanese AND South Indian in West LA? While I don't share Jolly's depression about having to drive for food in LA, I feel like you all have been holding out on me! (or I haven't read the boards carefully enough)...

                    But is Ambala Dhaba really Southern? When I do a search, I find only a few brief mentions of Ambala Dhaba on the boards, and it is referred to as Northern (as is an apparently related restaurant of the same name in Artesia.) In fact, the name implies that it is northern: Ambala is a district of Haryana, a state in Northern India (near Punjab), and Dhaba is apparently a truck stop type of restaurant common in India...

                    Prior mention of Ambala Dhaba:


                    I have also been consistently underwhelmed with the Persion restaurants I've tried on Westwood...

                    Sunnin Lebanese Cafe
                    1779 Westwood Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90024

                      1. re: Servorg

                        How bizarre that a restaurant with a menu more than half Southern would name the restaurant after a mountain that's in the extreme north -- it would be like having a grits-and-barbecue type place called "Yankee Doodle's".

                        1. re: Das Ubergeek

                          Annapurna is a sanskrit word meaning "full of food" or more commonly, "Goddess of the Harvest" and that's why they have choosen that name. Nothing to do with the mountain.

                        2. re: Servorg

                          Have you tried both? I like Ambala about 10x as much as I like Annapurna, but others I've known like Annapurna.

                          1. re: Thi N.

                            Hi Thi. I like some of the things at Annapurna better (like their dosas for instance). I like Ambala for their chicken dishes (which Annapurna obviously doesn't offer) and some of their other meat dishes, like their goat dishes. My wife, being a dedicated omnivore, likes Ambala better and so I tend to get food from Annapurna when I am eating solo.

                            1. re: Servorg

                              It's true - Ambala isn't that great for dosas. Have you been to visit the godhead dosas of Artesia? Udipi Palace, Tirupati Bhimas?

                              The best LA-local dosa i think is probably the Sweet & Spice on Los Feliz Blvd. by the 5. Significantly better than either Ambala's or Annapurna.

                              1. re: Thi N.

                                I don't recall seeing any dosas on the menu at any of the three locations of Ambla Dhaba that I've been to. I have found the food, in general, at the Artesia location of Udipi Palace to be pretty good but much prefer the dosas at Woodlands (Artesia and Chatsworth) and everything that I've had at Tirapathi Bhimas in Artesia to be crafted with both artistry and a love of the cuisine!

                                1. re: sel

                                  There's a good chance I'm confusing misremembering dosas into Ambala Dhaba... my brain is pretty fried right now.

                                  How's Woodlands right now? It used to be my favorite restaurant in Artesia a few years back, but around the time they expanded, the Artesia locatino tanked hard for me, twice in a row. I've been meaning to go back ever since, but about then I discovered Tirupathi.

                                  Incidentally - I'm not sure why it isn't a constant chorus on these boards, but Tirupathi Bhimas is completely and totally stunning. That cream of wheat savory thing? Jesus. (Though right now I'm kind of addicted to Surati Farsan, but that may be partially because of the mild obsession I have with their sev khamani, or it may be because I had about 25 trips in a row to Artesia where I would only eat at Tirupathi.)

                                  What're your Tirupathi favorites?

                                  Udipi - while most of their cooked dishes aren't operating at nearly the level of soul-complexity as Tirupathi, some of their dosa shells are special - especially some of the more oddball batter. Theirs is my favorite dosa made from cream of wheat/farina batter.

                                  1. re: Thi N.

                                    Yea,the paradox is that the more ya delve into academia the more ya fry the neurons! Anyway, I haven't been to the Artesia branch of Woodlands in over a year as a project that I worked on was only a few minutes from their Chatsworth location. They became a regular lunch place for me and I would meet GF after work for their 'All You Can Eat Dosa Night' which is better than thought it would be. They got a new manager some time back, told me that he was the chef at the Artesia location, and the quality of the food improved considerably. He even added these chilies, marinated in yogurt and sun dried before a dip in the deep fryer that upon first taste were a moment of funky/hot/salty bliss! Buffet quality inproved, Dosas freshly made and delivered to the table seconds after prep in the kitchen; gotta go again soon! The Madras Masala Dosas here are the Dosas of my dreams.

                                    Tirupathi Bhimas is one of my favorite South Indian places. I enjoy the Andhra Spicy Thali because there are a bunch of tastes, textures and flavors and if you ask for 'Andhran hot and spicy' they will prepare it as requested and not dumb down the flavors. I get a kick out of it when the host asks me if I want a refill of any of the dishes. I liked the one dosa with sambar that I had there, don't recall which one, note to self - try some new stuff and report back! I also liked their new 'meat place' downstairs the one time that I tried it, need to go back tho. And Saffron, next door to the 'meat place' for Kulfi/Ice Cream after is good.

                                    I do love Surati Farsan Mart but have not tried much of their savory snack items beyond veg Samosas. I have really enjoyed their sweets though, my closest friend was born and raised in India and I bring boxes of sweets to his house and to his parents ( ~ 90 y.o. Burmese mom and Pakistani dad that live next door) which take them all back to the sub-continent, at least food memory wise!

                                    Udupi Palace was pretty good but again it's been too long since my last visit. Uthappam with Chilis was good and so were the dosas but I again can't recall which ones I had.

                                    I don't really have a hierarchy of favorites. It is either a place that I want to go back to which I guess puts it into a favorite category or I don't feel like returning. Ambla Dhaba, Tirupathi Bhimas, Surati Farsan Mart, a couple of other only one visit so far places in Artesia were good but very different and I'll return to them all!

                                    I have moaned before on this board that my favorite food from the Indian Sub-Continent is found up north in San Francisco's Tenderloin/Tandoorloin, especially Lahore Karahi (I have driven six hours more than once to eat here) and others in that area and the South Bay. But I will mention one place AGAIN that is my current favorite Pakistani hole in the wall/dive (and I mean that in a good way) called Tawakal Tandori - Halal Restaurant in Chatsworth. Owned by an Afghani guy, Abdul, that was raised in Karachi, Pakistan. Nihari, Karahi Gosht, Eggplant (ask for it spicy/hot) a transcendent veggie dish, Tandoori Chicken and Kabobs always moist and flavorful, good and worth the drive from where ever!

                                    Tawakal Tandori - Halal Restaurant
                                    21617 Devonshire St, Chatsworth, CA 91311

                                    1. re: sel

                                      I'm with you on the "spicy Andhra thali" at Tirupathi Bhimas -- it's a great way to get the best of all worlds, though you should order a dosa and maybe one other thing, then split it with another person. The dosas are... perfect. Crispy where they should be, soft where they should be, perfect fluffy curried potato filling (on the masala dosa, obviously).

                                      My obsession at Tirupathi Bhimas is the peas with coconut.

                                      1. re: sel

                                        I will *definitely* go to Tawaki Tandori.

                                        If you've only tried veg samosas, you have not had the heights of Surati.

                                        I have recently figured out the perfect order for two, for a balance of all flavors:

                                        Khasta Khachori (bhel puri crossed with pani puri, but instead of little or medium sized puris, it's all in two massive thick crunchy wheat puris)

                                        Shrikand puri (soft, perfect puris with a thickened whipped perfectly sweetened yogurt, and pistachios. shockingly good)

                                        Sev Khamani (currently my favorite thing - steamed, almost polenta-like chickpea thing, topped with crunchies - dense, instense flavors)

                                        And then something potatoey - like a good dosa, or fried potato balls. Or there's also those glossy, slippery chickpea-flour noodles that I can't remember the name of. Those are great.

                                        + Faloodeh drink

                                  2. re: Thi N.

                                    I've only had the chana batura at India Sweets and Spices and I personalyl thought it wasn't as good as my fave at Artesia's Ambala Sweets and Spices. Frankly, the food doesn't look all that great in general, and the hippie quotient is rather high. Reminds me of Berkeley (shudder). At least it is close to Porto's.

                                    1. re: choctastic

                                      The IS&S in Los Feliz and the one in Venice are a bit... hm... high on the squick factor. The one on Topanga Canyon and Sherman Way is the best, though the one in Tustin is opening the hot-foods section soon so will report back.

                                      1. re: Das Ubergeek

                                        I was at the Sherman way store about a year ago and the food (I think I had a bhel puri and some other stuff) was really terrible. The one in Tustin always has had a hot food section (you're talking about the one on Newport and Walnut, or is there a new one I don't know about?) I've had a variety of things for lunch there and so far it's mostly been passable, not outstanding.

                                      2. re: choctastic

                                        Yes: Artesia's is better. Absolutely. And Artesia's Surati Farsan Mart is even better than Artesia's Ambala Sweet. But India Seet and Spice are shockingly good.

                                        Tip: skip the steam-table items, and go for items cooked in the back - dosas, uttapam. Shockingly good for non-artesia.

                                        Hippies - no hippies
                                        Who cares?
                                        The uttapam is great.

                                        1. re: Thi N.

                                          Surati Farsan Mart is one of my favorite places, but I was only talking about the chana batura and in that case, Ambala Sweets and Spices happens to have my favorite version. I love how they spice the chickpeas.

                                          I have had some of the items cooked in the back and I wasn't shocked at the goodness. YMMV I guess.

                                          I only care about hippies because it's generally a sign the food is going to suck. You never see hippies at Surati Farsan Mart.

                                  3. re: Thi N.

                                    Ambala Dhaba also makes some great kulfi and a killer pistachio shake. Their chutneys are good too.

                                    Way back there used to be a veggie Southern place on Santa Monica Blvd near Bundy called Madhu's Dasparakash but alas it is no more.

                                    For really veggie Indian, Triuphhai Bhimas should fit the bill nicely. It's in Artesia, Little India area.

                                2. re: susancinsf

                                  Yeah, I'm not the world's most brilliant on regions, geography, and the actual precise area for everything, but the menu seems very southern to me - and the best stuff is southern. Like Hyderabadi chicken - that's right outside of Andhra Pradesh, right?

                                  Anyway, my very favorite restaurants in Little India are Surati Farsan Mart and Tirupati Bhimas and Radjhani, but Ambala Dhaba comes in really, really close (maybe it ties with Radjhani?), and can certainly hang with the rest of the hardcore Artesia crowd.

                                  Anyway - I forget about metnioning Sunnin and Ambala Dhaba, because all of my westside friends I mention them to become such instant regular intense customers that I take it for granted that everybody knows about it. They're *the pair* for Westwood-esque dining, for me. Lemme put it this way: I live right on top of Little Armenia, and a quick skip away from Glendale. My girlfriend works in Glendale. We go to Sunnin a lot. We make excuses to go Westside to go to Sunnin. I love Armenian. There are probabably 3-4 restaurants that are in the running for the best Armenian I know, but Sunnin is probably, if I admit it in my soul, my true favorite.

                                  Again: avoid kebab, avoid shawrema. Lebneh, fried cauliflower, falafel, that eggplant-tomato thing that sounds like muhamdramama something, and the Thi's Favorite B'stilla.

                                  Also, in that vein, vaguely, there's Jasmine, on Sepulveda south of Washington. J. Gold wrote it up a while ago, and he's completely right - it's an excellent halal burmese place disguised as an Indian restaurant. Great "biryanis" - lamb, chicken. Intense hits of spice paste. Good meat-stuffed breads.

                            2. Shahrzad flame has great polos, estamboli polo, albaloo polo etc. Javan has great kebabs. Canary Chicken house has good ab goosht/dizi as does the place in glendale i wrote about (search canary chicken on this board).

                              For ice creams there's gul-e bulbul on westwood blvd and mashti malone on la brea between hollywood and sunset.

                              shamshiri chain has decent fesenjan. The sandwich place around the corner from soleil on westwood is pretty and the food is good.

                              I like the faloodieh at gul-e bulbul and at Shahrzad flame. The torshi are GREAT (homemade) at Canary. The bread is great at Shahrzad as is the shirazi salad, which is weak at Canary.

                              I think there's a world of difference.

                              Shawarma - still love the Carnival on woodman in the valley (between moorparkand ventura). Marouch for general lebanese, including the raw kibbeh.

                              i am done
                              (also the dizi is a lot like the xi'an paomo in principle).

                              3 Replies
                              1. re: Jerome

                                Is Gul-e-bulbul on Westwood also known as Star Market? If so, yes. Fantastic ice cream.

                                You know, Jerome, I've been to every place you've mentioned and happened to have not gotten the thing you mentioned. I had kebabs at Sharzad, polo at Javan, and sandwiches at Canary. I'll go back.

                                Have you been to Skaf's? Currently my favorite raw kibbeh around, including Carnival's and Marouch's. A beautiful tang and creaminess...

                                1. re: Thi N.

                                  carnival doesn't do raw kibbeh - maybe you mean carrousel? get the torshi at canary. skip the salads. And they're open until 3am - get the dizi - see my other post - worht it.

                                  Canary has some good kebabs.

                                  Star market sells some of gul-e bulbul products. But they've opened up their own place on Westwood, up near pomodoro on the west side of the street just across and up from the borders. Good.
                                  NOt the same variety as mashti malone but pretty good, esp the packed items.

                                  1. re: Jerome

                                    Jah - I mean Carrousel.

                                    Awesome on Gul-e bulbul. I'll go... maybe today...

                              2. Mexican at Chipotle? Is that Mexican?

                                If you are in WeHo, it isn't that far to head down SMBlvd. to El Gran Burrito (on the corner of Vermont). That is our late night go to place when we want something quick and cheap. Tacos are still $1 and I believe they are open all night. Their Al Pastor isn't as good as it used to be, but it is still tasty. My wife loves the Lengua!

                                It's hard to knock a place where we can eat for around $7 (for two). Take that "Dollar Menu"!

                                BTW, people love to bag on LA. But I love ethnic food and there is a long list of amazing places (from all over the world) I love and a long list of places I still want to try. I"m proud to EAT here.

                                5 Replies
                                1. re: bsquared2

                                  Another quick and cheap place that is somewhat further is that Best Fish Tacos in Ensenada place on Hillhurst. $1.50 for a taco laden with freshly fried fish or shrimp (I only like the fish one) and all the salsa and finely shredded cabbage you can ladle on.

                                  1. re: choctastic

                                    BFTiE is my absolute favorite spot for fish tacos. I vastly prefer it to TBE.

                                    It's a different, lighter batter with an overall smaller bite size feel (compared to TBE), and has an absolutely delicious radish relish. My only qualm is the salsa/radish relish has way too much water content, so you MUST order them one at a time (the proper old school BFTiE way) and drain immediately, and then consume.

                                    I do think the TBE ones are more "authentic", I just like the BFTiE ones better.

                                    1. re: ns1

                                      I haven't been to Tacos Baja Ensenada, but agree that the salsa is watery, though I kind of like that. In any case, I usually get 2 tacos and that's one of my favorite $3 meals in the city.

                                      1. re: choctastic

                                        I can't stop at 2. I usually eat 3 and then half of my girlfriends. His horchata is great as well.

                                        1. re: ns1

                                          I always go for one taco at The Best Taco in Ensenada on Hillhurst in Los Feliz, Then go to the counter for another one and then another one. So three of those suckers and a soda pop, possibly one of the best, if not the best $5.50 place in town.