K: Khua Kling
The mind-bendingly spicy cuisine of southern Thailand is at the heart of the epic 130-plus-item menu at Jitlada (lunch for two $25), a cozy Thai Town canteen whose fiery khua kling (a turmeric-charged dry curry with beef or diced pork) will cause you to see through time. Relief comes in a cooling order of khao yam, a fragrant salad of rice, lemongrass, Kaffir lime, green beans, and sour mango.
The original Lotería stand is a landmark at the Third Street Farmers’ Market; the newer Lotería Grill (lunch for two $24) serves the same note-perfect tacos in a sit-down setting. You’ll want a brace of the cochinita pibil (marinated pork, slow-roasted in a banana leaf ) and, if available, two of the phenomenal lengua de res (tender stewed beef tongue in tomatillo sauce), chased with a michelada or a bottle of Mexican Coke (made with real cane sugar, not corn syrup).
For all the salty margaritas in Los Angeles, the city’s cocktail scene is fast-improving. Restaurants like Rivera and Comme Ça have raised the bar with inventive (but never frivolous) drink menus. Alongside them has emerged a new breed of serious cocktail dens, the sort that craft their own bitters and chip their own ice. Kick or cap off your night at the rum-crazed Tar Pit, noir speakeasy The Varnish, or Copa D’Oro, where head barman/savant Vincenzo Marianella creates custom-blended drinks—you choose the base ingredients—using fresh fruits and herbs from the nearby farmers’ market.
N: Nancy Silverton
You knew the L.A.-born-and-bred Nancy Silverton could work magic with flour and an oven (she introduced artisanal sourdough to the city at La Brea Bakery and was head pastry chef at Spago before that). And you knew she had a way with melted cheese (who else could have made Campanile’s Grilled Cheese Nights the hottest ticket in town?). So when Silverton teamed up with Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich to create—heaven help us all—a pizza parlor, you kind of knew it would be great. But not this great. Silverton’s astonishingly flavorful pies are worth every second of the two-hour wait at Pizzeria Mozza (dinner for two from $75)—whether it’s the squash blossom–tomato-burrata combo or the masterpiece of gooey Stracchino, shaved artichokes, olives, and lemon.
L.A.’s most artful sushi chefs tend to toil in the least-artful-looking sushi bars, usually tucked inside anonymous strip malls—to the point that sushi snobs are rightly suspicious of anyplace fancier than a Pinkberry. The two best and least assuming: Kiriko (omakase dinner for two $160), in the Little Osaka enclave off Sawtelle Boulevard, and Sushi Zo (lunch for two $120), in sleepy Cheviot Hills. Kiriko isn’t even listed in Zagat, but chef-owner Ken Namba is a master of all things salmon: he gently smokes his Vancouver Island wild king salmon over applewood and then pairs it with the collar, seared to a gorgeous, glistening gold. At Sushi Zo, an omakase lunch might start with yuzu- and spicy radish–dressed Kumamoto oysters, then proceed through sea urchin and squid “noodles” (the squid formed into perfectly al dente capellini) and slices of translucent, ruby-red Hawaiian tuna that glisten like tropical fruit.
P: Persian Food
The city nicknamed Tehrangeles is home to the largest Iranian community outside Iran. Emigrés have settled all over L.A.’s west side—a significant percentage of the students at Beverly Hills High are of Persian descent—but it’s in the cafés and kebab houses of Westwood Boulevard that the diaspora regroups. Elegant ladies and men in Bijan bond over piping-hot lavash bread and savory gheymeh bademjan (eggplant stew) at Shamshiri Grill (dinner for two $44), while the younger set noshes on baguettes piled with salad olivieh (a Persian childhood favorite of diced chicken, potato, egg, and pickles) at nearby Canary (sandwiches for two $16). On Fridays, cockle-warming abgoost is the daily special at Attari ($10.50): a bowl of hearty lamb, tomato, and bean soup accompanied by sprigs of tarragon and mint, raw onions and radish, warm barbari bread, and a tongue-tingling sour torshi (minced pickle). Sprinkle in some Farsi gossip and a melancholy ballad by Googoosh (the Persian Streisand) and any homesick exile would swear she was back in Esfahan.