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Restaurant recommendations, new openings, and highlights from the LA Chowhound community.

Chinese Lamb Kebab Quest

A long, sad quest for decent yang rou chuan, or lamb kebabs, has finally been fulfilled for sgvfoodie. At 818 ShaoKao, the lamb kebabs are pretty good eating, but the rest of the menu is of the Beijing/Tianjin variety rather than Uighur.

818 ShaoKao [San Gabriel Valley]
818 E. Valley Boulevard, San Gabriel

Board Link: Chinese Lamb Kebabs Yang Rou Chuan

The Lebanese Pizza Variations

Al Sanabel is “another of those beautiful discoveries that make Brookhurst Street the Chow axis of Orange County,” says Das Ubergeek. It specializes in sfiha, a kind of Lebanese pizza that’s really close to lahmajoun. But where the Armenian flatbread typically comes topped with minced meat and tomato, Al Sanabel’s sfiha is available in a dozen or more varieties.

And they’re incredible, especially the cheese and za’atar (a tangy blend of dried herbs and spices). “It was so good that I am sitting here at 21:01, just over two hours after I ate it, thinking about how I can wangle my schedule tomorrow to be able to go have one for lunch,” Das Ubergeek says.

Cheese and spinach is similarly good, and so is the well-spiced lahmajoun. The yogurt-pomegranate combo, though, might be too tangy.

Each sfiha is about the diameter of a CPK pizza, but rolled or folded in half so it’s more like a calzone. One is enough for lunch, especially with a dip or a small salad. Two is a full-on meal.

Sfiha with just za’atar and oil is $1.25; most are $2.75; “the works” is $3.50. There are also decent falafel and hummus, for $4.75 and $3.99 respectively for a plate with extras like pita and pickles.

Al Sanabel Bakery [Orange County]
816 S. Brookhurst Street, Anaheim

Board Link: Explorations on Brookhurst: Al-Sanabel, Anaheim

Eating (at) Crow, and Liking It

Comfort food taken to the next level, that’s what gastropubs are about. Like bangers and mash, where the sausages are from Fra’ Mani. Or french fries, cooked in duck fat. A pot of cucumbers, turnips, and asparagus deliciously pickled in a house-made brine.

This is what you’ll find at the Crow Bar, which opened last fall and is already bringing in well-heeled but raucous crowds of Corona del Mar hipsters on weekend nights.

It does justice to a Cubano sandwich and also ahi niçoise burger, says TheManning2. There are some great cheeses, paired with fruit compote. And of course, beer—a selection much like what you’d find at the encyclopedic BevMo!, including Pasadena’s own Craftsman beer.

There are inventive twists too, like the dessert “not just a ding dong,” which is an intensely chocolaty homemade version of the cream-filled minicake.

Most entrées are under $20; dinner could run $40 to $70, but you could just as well have a draft beer and a burger for less than $20.

The Crow Bar and Kitchen [Orange County]
2325 E. Coast Highway, Corona del Mar

Board Link: Review: The Crow Bar and Kitchen - Corona Del Mar

A Time to Worship Fried Fish

It’s Lenten season, and it’s the time for a fish fry. And what better place to find a Lenten fish fry than church? Dommy says her multiethnic church mixes it up, and is currently doing Cajun fish fries.

That means snapper and catfish in cornmeal batter (go for the catfish), with lots of Louisiana hot sauce. Those church ladies have got it goin’ on—the coating is great and crispy, the fish moist and fresh.

Sides are pretty industrial, but the potato salad is good, perked up with some pepper and, of course, hot sauce.

A fish plate with sides and soda is $7; a few extra bucks gets you dessert, like sweet and fluffy banana pudding.

Fish fry happens on Fridays, 4 to 7 p.m. Good Friday features Mexican ladies with homemade ceviche.

Holy Spirit Catholic Church [Mid-City]
5300 W. Pico Boulevard, Los Angeles

Board Link: Holy Spirit Church Cajun Fish Fry

A Slice of Chicago

The Inland Empire is getting a much-needed injection of Chicago pizza goodness with a new location of Rosati’s, a Chi-town chain. Despite Chicago’s rep with deep-dish pizza, Rosati’s actually specializes in the thin-crust variety.

The owners of the Corona place are native Chicagoans, reports Dlish, and they’re having Chicago sausage brought in.

Rosati’s of Corona [Inland Empire]
2150 California Avenue, Corona

Board Link: Chicago pizza chain opening in Corona - Rosati’s

Seven Courses of Goat, Including Blood

You know the Vietnamese seven courses of beef? Well, modernist has sniffed out seven courses of goat at Binh Dan. Grilled goat sausages with goat fat is just incredible, and there’s also a dry-fried goat curry and a soupy goat curry. There are a couple of so-so soups, both similar, and then there’s jellied goat blood.

It’s like tangy Jell-O, topped with peanuts and cilantro. “You put it on a rice cracker and squeeze some lime on it,” says modernist. “The acid immediately liquifies the Jell-O and bright red blood begins to dribble into your rice bun noodles like you just got punched in the nose.”

Despite the grandiose sound of “seven courses of XX,” modernist assures us that this is a typical hole in the wall, with guys playing Texas hold ’em on a laptop at the cashier counter, groups huddled around hot pots, and lots of beer being consumed.

Binh Dan Restaurant [Little Saigon]

10040 McFadden Avenue, Westminster

Board Link: more for goat lovers! (eating the meat) Binh Dan Restaurant

Spicy, Pungent Tastiness (with a Cherry on Top)

There are mind-bogglingly great dishes at Szechwan Best, according to TonyC.

Fen zhen pork with taro is pork short ribs seasoned with five-spice powder, each bite packing a punch of texture and taste. “You have the creamy taro, with the mushy yet particled house-made ‘fen’, the porkiness of the steamed short ribs and the crunchiness of the cartilage all in one mouthful. Tastewise, there’s a light dose of five-spice, matched with excess of crushed Szechuan peppercorn and chili oil all intertwined with the distinct taro sweetness.”

Crispy pungent duck is braised, then deep-fried—better than anything at Sam Woo, continues TonyC. With the sweet hoisin/sesame oil dip, it kicks the ass of any Peking duck.

More reasons to love Szechwan Best:
• Buy one, get one free Budweiser before 7:30 p.m.
• $6 daily specials including: Monday, ma po tofu with fish fillet; Tuesday, sizzling rice with seafood; and Wednesday, the excellent ma la fried lamb chop.
• “Prodigious use” of Szechuan peppercorn (ground and whole) and chile pepper flakes (oil and paste).
• Personalized hot pots for two.

And there is also a mysteriously great culinary adventure: “Eye of the dragon” sticky rice, which is red bean paste wrapped in savory stewed pork belly, topped with maraschino cherries, itself on top of glutinous rice.

In all, the Szechuanese dishes are tasty and thoughtfully prepared, and you’re sure to find something new. See the original thread for a translation of the Chinese specials board.

Szechwan Best [San Gabriel Valley]
621 W. Main Street, Alhambra

Board Link: Eye of Dragon Sticky Rice @ Szechuan Best

Isaan that Great?

Are you still waiting for Renu Nakorn to reopen to get a fix of northern Thai cooking? Cancoon churns out some fine Isaan food, including sai krawk isaan—a type of sausage, 100 links of which are hand-stuffed weekly by Eddie and his family, says TonyC. Laotian soup with kabocha, lotus root, bamboo, and more sets a high standard for 2008.

Renu Nakorn should be reopening in late February, says russkar, who in the meantime has been hitting Tropika instead.

There’s also Renu Nakorn’s perennial rival, Thai Nakorn.

Renu Nakorn [Little Saigon]

13019 Rosecrans Avenue #105, Garden Grove

Cancoon Thai Food [710 Corridor]
9887 Alondra Boulevard, Bellflower

Tropika [Orange County]
17460 E. 17th Street, Tustin

Thai Nakorn [Orange County]
11951 Beach Boulevard, Stanton

Board Link: Oh Renu Nakorn, how I miss you

For Date Night in Little Saigon, Xanh Bistro

Culinary instructor Haley Nguyen just opened Xanh Bistro in Fountain Valley. It’s a small, rather upscale place with good food, although the staff is still a bit green, says whiteonricecouple.

Claypot white fish is moist and delicious, with garlicky mustard greens. Banana blossom salad is tossed with a thrillingly bold, sweet-salty-sour dressing, and served with chicken skewers infused with lime leaves.

Green mango salad with shrimp is enjoyable, and tender short ribs come with a well-placed touch of five-spice powder, says bsquared2.

Cold soy milk with toasted rice is like Vietnamese horchata, and the dessert menu features dishes such as chocolate soufflé with ginger ice cream (needs to be ordered early). Vietnamese coffee, unfortunately, is a little weak.

Xanh [Little Saigon]
16161 Brookhurst Street, Fountain Valley

Board Link: Xanh Bistro - New Vietnamese in Fountain Valley

Great Peruvian Food Down South

When it comes to Peruvian food, many Angelenos know only Mario’s, which is fine but often overcrowded. For Peruvian food that’s just as good or better, with Chinese or Japanese flourishes, head on over to Gardena.

Kotosh at Kamiyama does all the standard Peruvian dishes, but the preparation and balance of flavors are far better than Mario’s, says bulavinaka. Sudado mixto (steamed seafood in tomato-onion sauce) and pescado a lo macho (deep-fried fish in spicy sauce) are plate-lickin’ good, and the salsa aji is beloved by all. There’s also a sushi bar.

El Rotoco’s focus is Peruvian-Chinese dishes—tallarins, chaufas, and saltados—but the execution is also superior and the menu varied. If you like seafood, go for the jalea or picante de mariscos (mixed seafood with potato and hard-cooked egg, made in a thick, rich, milky sauce).

Nino’s Place is a Peruvian joint that also does some Mexican food. It’s small, the folks are nice, and so far the food is promising, says velozo155: suprema de pollo, breaded (or grilled) chicken breast with flavorful rice that seems like it’d been simmered in broth; and arroz con pollo, chicken with herbaceous, spicy rice. Salsa aji comes on the side. Daily specials, about a dozen of them, run $6.50.

El Virrey does really good sudado de mariscos and picante de mariscos, and has friendly service.

Mario’s Peruvian [Hollywood]
5786 Melrose Avenue, Los Angeles

Kotosh at Kamiyama [South Bay]
2408 Lomita Boulevard, Suite #C, Lomita

El Rocoto [South Bay]
1356 W. Artesia Boulevard, Gardena

Nino’s Place [South Bay]
16104 S. Vermont Avenue, Gardena

El Virrey [South Bay]
1353 W. Rosecrans Avenue, #5, Gardena

Board Links: Mario’s Peruvian

El Virrey–Gardena (Comida Peruano Mariscos)

Nino’s Place in Gardena (Comida Peruano y Mexicano)