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

Fragrant Green Pandan Waffles

Aromatic pandan leaf is like the vanilla of Southeast Asia. It’s a natural partner for coconut, and has a whiff of pine as well as a kind of muskiness to it, says bulavinaka.

Green waffles might sound like something out of a Dr. Seuss book, but sweet, fragrant pandan waffles are a popular Vietnamese treat. It’s absolutely essential to get them hot out of the iron. At Van’s, they’ll make your waffles to order, and that’s the only way to go, says Professor Salt.

Oh, and while they have pandan waffles at Lee’s, no one orders them—for a reason. The neglected waffle iron is never hot enough when they pour in the batter, and the result is pathetically limp and dry.

Van’s Bakery [San Gabriel Valley]
860 E. Valley Boulevard, San Gabriel
626-288-7272
Map

Board Links: Looking for Pandan waffles in SGV

Incan Flavor on the Westside

A new Peruvian place has opened in West L.A., called Qusqo. The name is the Inca version of Cuzco, the closest city to Peru’s famed Machu Picchu.

The local delicacy in Cuzco is actually roast guinea pig, but that doesn’t matter much here—Qusqo specializes in seafood, and it’s sparkling fresh. Ceviche, shrimp chowder are excellent, as are the grilled or baked fish mains.

For appetizers, the tamales, potato cakes, and couscous salad are all good bets. Even a green salad stands out with crunchy-fresh corn and beautifully ripe, creamy avocado, according to Bria Silbert.

The restaurant has a cool, arty vibe that goes with its alter ego as a gallery (if you like the art on the walls, you can buy it). It’s a small place, though, with room for about 25 inside and a few more outside.

Qusqo Bistro & Gallery [West L.A.]
11633 Santa Monica Boulevard, Los Angeles
310-312-3800
Map

Board Links: Quspo—new restaurant?

Carne Asada with Attitude

Basically a taco table on steroids, Baja Rosarito offers up chilaquiles and other breakfasts in the mornings; various caldos de res; combo plates with chiles rellenos, tacos, or enchiladas; and, gloriously, burritos.

The carne asada burrito, at $4, is powerful stuff, easily the best broncosaurus has had in years. Crema is by request—get it. The extensive condiment bar holds two salsas, guacamole, a salsa verde, mounds of spicy carrots, and green salad.

Baja Rosarito [South Bay]
4500 W. Imperial Highway, Hawthorne
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Board Links: Sensors detect excellent carne asada burrito

Phoenicia Returns to Its Lebanese Roots

About 15 years ago, the owner of Phoenicia, the warm and welcoming Ara Kalfayan, was doing California cuisine. Then he changed the restaurant to Kix. About six months ago, it became Phoenicia again, but this time serving Lebanese-Armenian food.

For sheer variety of well-done dishes, including an exceptionally smooth kibbeh nayeh, and topnotch service, this place is a winner, says ttriche.

The Arz meze selection is a positive feast: warak enab; kibbeh nayeh; hummus; baba ghanouj; tabbouleh done right, a salad of parsley with some fine bulgur sprinkled in; falafel; soujouk; two kinds of madammas; and a few more.

The falafel may be more ethereal at Sahara, the soujouk more lemony at Carousel, and the prices lower at both, but Phoenicia makes for a great dining experience on the whole, suited for dinners with the parents or business travelers (they’re open till 11 p.m. even on Mondays). On Friday and Saturday nights, there’s live entertainment.

Phoenicia [Eastside]
343 N. Central Avenue, Glendale
818-956-7800
Map

Sahara [Eastside]
2226 E. Colorado Boulevard, Pasadena [Eastside]
626-795-6900
Map

Carousel [Hollywood]
Hye Plaza
5112 Hollywood Boulevard, Los Angeles
323-660-8060
Map

Carousel [Eastside]
304 N. Brand Boulevard, Glendale
818-246-7775
Map

Board Links: Phoenicia in Glendale—Lebanese with a flourish

Eastern Sprawl

There’s a new Indonesian restaurant in town, in the shadows of the Duarte Inn, where an Indonesian food fair dusts it up every Saturday. On other days, Manja Resto represents just fine, says Vegasbuff.

The lontong cap gomeh ($6.95) is a virtual smorgasbord in a bowl. There’s beef rendang, long-simmered till tender in coconut milk—it’s spicy, with a hint of sweetness. Chicken stewed in a flavorful but mild yellow curry broth is infused with flavor down to the bone; sticky rice and a hard-cooked egg rolled in spices and deep-fried round it out.

Chicken marinated in sweet soy sauce and hot chile sauce (ayam bakar kecap manis, $6.75) is sweet when it first hits your palate, then warms up a bit with subtle spice. Covered in sweet chile sauce and fried shallots, it’s not overly spicy (there’s sambal oelek on the side if you want to heat things up).

And Indonesian fried chicken (ayam goreng garing, $5.95), lightly battered, is tender and juicy underneath its crispy—not oily—crust. No spice on this one at all; condiments are at your discretion.

Service is very friendly, resembling the Olive Garden ads in this one way: When you’re here, you’re family.

Manja Resto [Inland LA]
1206 E. Huntington Drive, #A, Duarte
626-359-7564
Map

Indonesian Food Fair [Inland LA]
Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Duarte Inn Parking Lot
1200 E. Huntington Drive, Duarte
Map

Board Links: Manja Resto (Indonesian) – Review
Indonesian Food Bazaar this Saturday in Duarte

Shop Till You Bap

Good food at the mall? Hell yeah, if you’re talking about the Koreatown Plaza. Bon Vivant hit this place with some friends and tried a variety of dishes.

Chew Young Roo specializes in Chinese-style dumplings, hefty things that are more like steamed bao. They’re made to order, and the fresh dough is stuffed with a flavorful mix of vegetables, including leeks and onions sautéed in garlic and ginger, and crunchy celery.

Bibimbap is the star at Gamja Bawi, and the staff may try to steer you toward the plain ol’ number one bibimbap. Resist! Dolsot bibimbap, in a hot stone bowl, one-ups the regular kind with a tantalizing crust of browned rice around the edges. Beef is richly flavored, and a variety of vegetables and a freshly cracked raw egg are perfect for mixing up into a yummy mess along with some sweet-hot chile sauce.

Plaza offers naeng myun, or cold buckwheat noodles, in a chilled beef broth. The flavor is delicate; you might want to amp it up with some vinegar and mustard.

Each of the dishes was about $7.

Koreatown Plaza Food Court
[Koreatown]
928 S. Western Avenue, #300, Los Angeles
213-382-1234
Map

Board Links: REVIEW (w/foodie cam!): Koreatown Plaza’s Food(ie) Court

Trek to Pasadena for a Himalayan Feast

The menu at Tibet Nepal House can be overwhelming. With dozens of dishes, half from Tibet and half from Nepal, it’s hard to know what to choose. So pleasurepalate sat down with the restaurant’s owner to plan a Himalayan feast.

Results: mostly fabulous, with a couple of dull exceptions. Standouts included:

Yak momos, or dumplings, are surprisingly tasty, and nicely seasoned—they’re great on their own or with the accompanying sauce.

Chicken breast can be dry as a bone, but after soaking in sour cream and Himalayan spices, the kukhura sekuwa is moist and tender, with sweet-hot flavor. Another chicken dish, chyamtango pujaari, gets pumped-up flavor from dry chile, cumin, garlic, and Nepali spices.

There’s good stuff for vegetarians, too. Tofu saag is basically a nondairy version of saag paneer, with fried tofu soaking up the flavor of puréed, spiced spinach. The ginger hits you hard in Arun Valley saag, bok choy also cooked with garlic, onion, and celery, which tastily balance out the ginger in the end. The chef has an interesting way with mustard greens, as well, cooking them with cabbage, tomato, and spices in a dish called goodruk. The bitter greens go well with the tomatoes’ acidity.

Tibetan bread is whole wheat, but don’t kid yourself it’s healthy—it’s deep-fried, not baked. But it’s always fun to eat light-crispy fried dough, right? Another whole wheat bread, chyamtange dhopzi, is more like bad pita.

And house-made rice pudding is a winner of a dessert: light, creamy, and just sweet enough.

Set menu, prearranged, is $35 per person.

Tibet Nepal House [Eastside]
36 E. Holly Street, Pasadena
626-585-9955
Map

Board Links: “Himalayan Feast” at Tibet Nepal House (review+pics)

When You’re Craving Pasta in SGV, and Not Mian

The sign for Red Tomato Spaghetti House is in English and Chinese, but the menu is straight-up Italian, a nice option for San Gabriel Valley dwellers, says Chandavkl.

OK, so there are a handful of Chinese dishes, like Hainanese chicken, and you can get Japanese tofu pasta if you want it. But farfalle with crab and corn, a special, compares well with a favorite dish at Farfalla, and the owner emphasizes that they make their own sauces. The pasta selection is fairly standard—linguine with clams, fettuccine Alfredo, lasagne, ravioli, spaghetti Bolognese—about 15 choices in all.

Appetizers are a bit more eclectic, but the chicken quesadillas and smoked salmon carpaccio are pretty tasty.

Entrees are $6.95 and $7.95 at lunch, $2 more at dinner; appetizers are $4.95 to $6.95; and the portions are generous.

Red Tomato Spaghetti House [San Gabriel Valley]
125 N. Garfield, Monterey Park
Map

Board Links: Red Tomato Spaghetti House in Monterey Park

Indian Mangoes Are Finally Here

The first mangoes to be legally imported from India have arrived on our shores, but even if you manage to score some, the waiting isn’t over.

Professor Salt was among the first in line, forking over $35 for a dozen of what are supposed to be the world’s best mangoes. Do they live up to the hype? Since they’re shipped green, we’ll have to wait to find out. Even ripe, though, they won’t quite be as good as the tree-ripened fruits back in India.

Devraj “Dave” Kerai, owner of Pioneer Cash & Carry (the biggest grocer in Little India), says he was determined to be the first to carry the mangoes in the Los Angeles area. The next shipment should arrive Thursday or Friday, and sell out by Saturday.

The high price, determined by the high cost of air freight, probably won’t drop much in the future. But look for more varieties grown in Mexico.

Pioneer Cash & Carry [Little India]
18601 Pioneer Boulevard, Artesia
562-809-9433
Map

Board Links: Mangoes from India

Surprisingly Authentic Foo Chow

Foo Chow is one of Chinese food expert Carl Chu’s favorite places. Get over the tourist patrons and the Rush Hour tie-ins, and order from the Special Style menu—the rest is “gwai lo fodder,” says Will Owen.

Foo Chow is known for its Fuzhou fish balls, with a core of ground pork. You can order them in soup—cfylong says his wife, who’s from Fuzhou, buys them to make at home. The restaurant also has weekday lunch specials starting at $2.99.

Thinly sliced pork comes in a red wine sauce that tastes like something a very good French chef might make if he were stuck in a Chinese restaurant: rich and smooth, with more than a hint of five-spice powder. Deep-fried boneless eel is colored an alarming magenta, but it’s light, tender, and utterly greaseless, not sweet at all.

There’s more than a little mystery in “fried seafood and meat with vegetable.” What’s the vegetable? Where’s the meat? The sauce is standard but satisfactory; the seafood is quite good.

Foo Chow–style cabbage with noodles isn’t that distinctive, but it’s tasty enough to make you clean your plate.

Foo Chow [Chinatown]
949 N. Hill Street, Los Angeles
213-485-1294
Map

Board Links: The Wayback Machine: Foo Chow in Chinatown