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

Awesome Burger and Good Cheesesteaks at Philly West

“From the outside, Philly West is just another westside storefront,” says PaulF. “The street’s a little too bright in the sun, the BMW-Hyundai ratio along Westwood tilts dramatically in favor of the Germans and not the Koreans.”

But inside, it’s a hidden gem of a bar, pleasantly dark, plenty of sports memorabilia, a couple of TVs—and a great, great burger.

The bartender is as affable to newbies as to regulars—and there’s a guy who looks like he’s been sitting on his stool since Goldwater ran for president. It’s a mixed crowd, with some guys in construction garb and others in suits, their ties flipped over their shoulders to chow down on their sandwiches.

“In a world that’s been lessened by the ubiquitous pre-made beef patty and the set in stone sesame seed bun, the Philly West burger is an original,” says PaulF. The bun is a chewy, tasty sandwich roll; the burger, obviously hand-formed, is topped with perfectly grilled onions.

The burger itself is strongly beefy, flame-broiled with a nice but light char on the outside; it’s soft and juicy inside. OK, it could use a bit more salt and pepper, but a little of each “would elevate this sandwich to near-legendary status.” The half-pound burger is about $5 without cheese.

Fries are very good, and so is the Philly cheesesteak (there are several iterations). The menu overall looks pretty appealing, including a made-to-order egg salad.

Oh, and very key for Westwood: This place has a parking lot.

Speaking of Philly cheesesteaks, shenry is sad to report the closure of Markie D’s. After 20-plus years in the food industry, Markie is hanging up his grill spatula and moving on. There will be new owners and a similar menu but different recipes.

That leaves the aforementioned Philly West as probably the best purveyor of cheesesteaks on the Westside, says nosh.

SauceSupreme guesses his default will now be Big Mike’s. It serves a mean beef sandwich, confirms DiveFan.

Philly West Bar & Grill [Westside–Inland]
1870 Westwood Boulevard, Westwood

310-474-9787

Big Mike’s Philly Steaks [South Bay]
507 Main Street, El Segundo
310-726-9638

Board Links: For Nosh: The Philly West Burger
Markie D’s–Philly Cheesesteak–Closed

Honduran Food Hits the Spot

The tasty comfort food at Honduran restaurant El Katracho is enough to console Diana for the loss of a beloved Ethiopian restaurant that once occupied the same space.

First out are hot, thick chips drizzled with a light tomato sauce and sprinkled with what looks and tastes like Parmesan. Also for starters try a baleada—a thick Honduran tortilla folded over beans, onions, and cream, or, for breakfast, eggs, beans, and more. The warm, lightly charred tortilla goes great with the flavorful beans.

Honduran fried chicken is juicy beyond belief and deliciously seasoned, with a thin crust. It comes with lightly fried plantains (the not-sweet kind) and cabbage salad. You’re likely to get either a leg with thigh or breast with wing, so if you have a preference, you’d better specify.

Marinated shrimp come nestled in cabbage salad and some white rice drizzled with sauce, with tortillas on the side. The shrimp are juicy and flavorful, cooked just right.

“My husband’s chicken came with a massive pile of lightly fried plantains and more of the cabbage salad,” says Diana. “[T]he crust on the chicken wasn’t overly thick (this is what we both prefer, we’re not into thick crusty chicken, usually).”

The menu has a lot of appealing soups, including conch. Mango margarita (blended) tastes of fresh mango purée, and if you’re with a group you can get a bucket of six beers for under $20. There are also other margaritas and fruit juices.

El Katracho Restaurant [San Fernando Valley–West]
14838 Burbank Boulevard, Sherman Oaks
818-780-7044

Board Link: Review: El Katracho Honduran in Sherman Oaks/Van Nuys

Another Seasonal Treat at Donut Man

The fresh strawberry-stuffed doughnuts at Donut Man in summer usually get all the attention, but Moomin says the autumn special is definitely another for the annual list: “An unglazed raised donut with about six ounces of rich tart cream-cheese and pumpkin puree, blended with still visible speckles of pie spices. A very, very good way to start the day.”

Donut Man [San Gabriel Valley]
915 E. Route 66, Glendora
626-335-9111

Board Link: Pumpkin Cream Cheese Donuts at Donut Man

It Tastes So Good, Who Cares If the Calories Are Empty?

So it’s your birthday, and you want to pig out. Where do you go? If you’re ipsedixit, you head to 85 Degrees Celsius teahouse, which is no less than a Taiwanese culinary crackhouse (and open till 1 a.m.).

Don’t look for traditional Taiwanese pub food—there are no oyster omelets, tsong-tzi, stinky tofu, or mi-feng. Instead, you get updated Taiwanese food for a younger clientele that favors JDM cell phones and the Mercedes G-class.

And what does this group eat? Brick toast sweet butter is like a cream puff without the puff: a thick slice of white bread coated with butter, sweet condensed milk, and coconut crème. Oh, and then more butter, and powdered sugar. Popped into the toaster oven, it comes out piping hot, way better than a doughnut but just as sinful.

Squid jerky is deep-fried squid, coated with a sweet sauce that might as well be opium—it’s that addictive.

To drink, there’s plum Coke: “Think Coke made with sweet and savory plum juice.” If you can.

85 Degrees Celsius [San Gabriel Valley]
425 W. Valley Boulevard Suite 101, San Gabriel
626-282-8688

Board Link: Today, I want to discuss junk food … Taiwanese junk food to be exact.

Chowhound Also-Rans

Nearly 90 people (and counting) have weighed in on their favorite restaurants that fly under Chowhound’s radar. That’s way too many to sum up here, so go check it out!

Board Link: Restaurants you love that are rarely mentioned on Chowhound

Asa Ramen, Straight Outta Japan

Asa Ramen just opened in Gardena, and rameniac says he hasn’t been this excited since Santouka came to town.

This isn’t the “old guy with a cauldron” brand of ramen shop—it’s a rustic-modern place of the style that’s all the rage in Japan.

The ramen is superbly well crafted, with “a proprietary hakata-style noodle that is light years away from anything the other ramen shops have in town.” It’s not quite orgasmic yet, but the place hasn’t been open a month, and it’s second only to Santouka (gachimai thinks it’s even better).

Portions are on the small size and pricey, even by Japanese standards. Two bowls with a few toppings plus takoyaki and a beer run more than $30.

The restaurant itself is also very small, with just three tables and an eight-seat counter. There’s no sign out front; the shop is boarded up by day, and a large wooden board gets flipped out at night to indicate it’s open (hours are 6 p.m. to 2 a.m.).

Asa Ramen [South Bay]
18202 S. Western Avenue, Gardena
310-769-1010

Santouka [South Bay]
21515 S. Western Avenue, Torrance
310-212-1101

Santouka [Orange County]
665 Paularino Avenue, Costa Mesa
714-434-1101

Santouka [Westside–Inland]
In Mitsuwa Marketplace
3760 S. Centinela Avenue, West Los Angeles
310-398-2113

Board Link: ASA RAMEN–brand new hidden gem (review)

New Sushi Spot Has Creative Flair

The new Hashigo Sushi is a worthy destination in Huntington Beach, says kingkong5. Head chef Koji formerly owned Koji’s in Hollywood and at the Block on Orange, and he worked at Wasa Sushi on the Bluffs in Newport Beach.

Grab a seat at the bar in front of Koji-san or Shin-san, and let them work their magic. A request for Shin-san to be creative yields impressive results: seared yellowtail belly nigiri, topped with jalapeño slices and soaked with ponzu; Spanish mackerel with its deep-fried bones on the side; creamy, blood-red, melt-in-your-mouth bluefin tuna; and crisp geoduck, tasting like the sea. Ankimo is marinated before steaming to remove any liver taste and served with ponzu sauce—superb. Rib-eye steak comes wrapped around asparagus, dressed in its own juices, and topped with fried shallots.

Special rolls: White kelp salmon roll includes crab and cream cheese with crunchy white seaweed, wrapped in cucumber skin instead of nori. Spider roll is tasty and soft-shell crab delicately fried, without a hint of grease.

The place seems to do well with frying: Tempura and fried sesame chicken are also done quite nicely.

For dessert, the kitchen has something called the Hashigo roll: like an egg roll filled with chopped Granny Smith apples, served with caramel sauce and ice cream.

The space is dimly lit and has modern décor; the sushi bar seats about 20, with tables for 40 more.

Hashigo Sushi [South Bay]
18685 Main Street, Huntington Beach
714-848-1111

Board Link: Hashigo Sushi (huntington beach) new!

Tuck into a Taiwanese Banquet

Chef Eric, formerly of Tsuru and currently heading the kitchen at May Garden, is a wonder and worth more than he charges, says Pei. She had a great Taiwanese banquet at his new restaurant.

Round up a group and make sure to call ahead for the banquet option, or you’ll end up eating orange chicken and other Americanized offerings. Standout dishes include deep-fried seafood rolls, freshly boiled mochi, squid rolls with masago and seaweed, Taiwanese sticky rice, and Buddha Jumps Over the Wall. russkar loves the giant sashimi platter and lobster or shark fin soup.

The price can be anywhere from $30 to double that, depending on what you order. Getting lobster or shark fin soup can make a huge price difference without a huge taste difference, cautions Pei.

May Garden [Orange County]
1400 SE Bristol Street, Santa Ana
714-751-9229

Board Link: May Garden (Santa Ana)

Totally Hot for Ankimo

hrhboo tasted her way through some of the best sushi spots in town, looking for the perfect ankimo experience. The best bargain? The stunning ankimo nigiri at Echigo: “The slices were so big that they didn’t fit on the rice, so about 1.5 inches were cut off the ends and served on the side. Really, really delicious, and a bargain at $5.” It’s a worthy second to the incredible stuff at Sushi Zo, which is also warm and naturally textured—sliced off the lobe, not molded.

The famed Echigo lunch special, now $12, is very fresh and very good: salmon, snapper, tuna, albacore, and yellowtail nigiri, and a blue crab hand roll. The nori is beautifully toasted and crisp, the rice warm and loose. But vinosnob comments that the sauces that accompany almost every piece of nigiri overpower the butteriness of the fish.

Kiriko is a different kettle of fish—or rice, actually. The fish is stellar, but the rice is not warm. Nigiri includes some unusual options like barracuda and bonito, both excellent, and the house-smoked salmon, absolutely sublime. Ankimo here is more like a pâté, served cold.

Lunch omakase also includes a blue crab hand roll, miso soup, and a salad—a lot of food for $32.

Echigo [Westside]
12217 Santa Monica Boulevard, Los Angeles
310-820-9787

Sushi Zo [Westside]
9824 National Boulevard, Los Angeles
310-842-3977

Kiriko [Westside]
11301 W. Olympic Boulevard #102, Los Angeles
310-478-7769

Board Links: Ankimo at Echigo…Wow.
Ankimo at Kiriko…not so much.

The Bistro that Launched a Thousand Corny Thread Titles

David Myers’ new restaurant, Comme Ça, already has generated tons of buzz on the boards. As a classic bistro/brasserie, it fills a niche in LA.

It has had a bit of a schizo personality in its initial days, though—Woolsey’s review begins: “Comme Ça has the best-smelling bathrooms in all of Los Angeles. The toilet chambers have a beautiful floral-citrus perfume pumped in, as well as soft, strange, almost fairy-tale music. The men’s and women’s toilets share a unisex wash area, where the beds of the sinks are lined with river rocks.”

But while loving attention has been paid to certain areas of Comme Ça, others seem like they were just slapped together; the bucketlike stainless-steel chairs at the tables by the bar and the white plastic gardenlike chairs were cited by several. And though dishes like the roasted bone marrow appetizer are meticulously thought out, the desserts are complete afterthoughts.

The best bet on the traditional menu is probably the steak frites—everyone loves the french fries, which have a meaty flavor that recalls the old McDonald’s fried-in-beef-tallow version (Julia Child’s favorite). French onion soup is just as it should be: a superb onion concentration with sweet undertones, along with rich strings of Gruyère.

The aforementioned beef marrow, served with oxtail jam, is gelatinous and creamy, and the rich oxtail jam is flavored with orange peel. Salmon with gnocchi parisienne is nicely seasoned and excellent, duck confit with red cabbage is very good, but the spätzle is kinda bland. Crispy skate grenobloise is also a standout.

The real star here could be the cheese bar, authentic to the point of putting off other diners with its stench.

Bouillabaisse has impeccably fresh whitefish, shrimp, and mussels but lacks depth of flavor; so does coq au vin. Sepia (cuttlefish) provençal is drowned in a sweet tomato sauce that’s more like a jam. Bouef bourguignon is oversalted.

Service is great, very attentive—if a little too enthusiastic. Everything on the menu, according to the servers, is the best in town.

The wine list doesn’t thrill anyone, and the bartending situation is a bit odd—there’s no cocktail list, but the resident “mixologist” will mix anything to meet your mood. Could be nice if you’re in the mood—or, if you’re not into the interactive thing, not.

The dessert list seems pretty much copied from Boule, for better or for worse.

Dinner for two runs about $150 with tax.

Comme Ça [Mid-City]
8479 Melrose Avenue, Los Angeles
323-782-1178

Board Links: Ça Va
Un Billet Doux pour Comme Ça
Comme Ca
Comme Ca Just Say Ahhhh…...