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Eating Downtown and in Mid-City

You got your crack alleys and tent cities, as well as wannabe artists in lofts and longtime Chinatown and Little Tokyo residents. It's supposedly getting cooler-but people have been saying that for years. Santee Alley is like NYC's Canal Street. There...
January 1, 2000, 12:00am

You got your crack alleys and tent cities, as well as wannabe artists in lofts and longtime Chinatown and Little Tokyo residents. It’s supposedly getting cooler—but people have been saying that for years. Santee Alley is like NYC’s Canal Street. There are design schools and LA’s “fashion district.” People still go here to buy drugs. Lots of day workers hang out waiting for work at Pico. There are plenty of hardworking people trying to get by; conversely, there’re plenty of lazy people dumping trash everywhere. Too bad.


TACOS TUMBRAS A TOMAS

Cheap, ginormous fish tacos with crispy cabbage and fish that’s neither spoiled nor soggy?

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Machaca

and

al pastor

? Sign us up. Tip: There isn’t really a line at this stall, you just sort of have to shove your way up to the front and either speak Spanish or make eye contact with one of the servers to place your order. 317 S. Broadway, Ste. C 9-10, Grand Central Market, Downtown, 213-620-0477.

GUELAGUETZA RESTAURANT

Guelaguetza is a little mini-chain of Oaxacan restaurants. Lots of people, even in LA, don’t know what Oaxacan food is. It’s a part of Mexico, but do not go here and be all, “Yeah, gimme a bean and cheese, and a couple of those cheese enchiladas.” No. The dishes are deep and smoky, with lots of

mole

and raisins and strong spices. The

champurrado

is out of this world, and make sure to get the hot chocolate with milk if you want it super-rich, with water if you don’t. And, no, we have no idea how to pronounce “Guelaguetza.” 3014 W. Olympic Blvd., Koreatown, 213-427-0608.

Hop Louie

HOP LOUIE

This place is known more for being a bar where the younger bartender kicks you down with free drinks all night if you kick him down with coke, and the older bartender is a cranky asshole who forgets how much liquor he’s pouring into your drink so you’re left with an almost clear vodka-orange. But believe it or not, they actually have a Chinese restaurant here too where you can gorge yourself on cheap and greasy lo mein before getting liquored up and playing Paula Abdul and Great White on the jukebox all night. There’s also a wishing fountain next door where you can “wish” that you won’t be pulled over for a DUI on the way home. 950 Mei Ling Way, Downtown, 213-628-4244.

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LITTLE ETHIOPIA

We’re only going to mention a couple of restaurants by name on the small stretch of Fairfax known as Little Ethiopia (which, aside from restaurants, basically consists of a bunch of shops with Rasta flags in the window pumping Bob Marley and burning incense outside, along with the odd Hasidic junk shop thrown in for good measure). They’re all somewhat interchangeable, but the general consensus is that Merkato and Meals by Genet are the best. If you’ve never had Ethiopian before, it’s basically plates of vegetables and meats with sauces (DO NOT eat those green peppers in the sauce! It’s like taking a blowtorch to your tongue, then grinding a lit cigarette into it, and then taking a swig of boiling water) and a spongy, bread-like pancake called

injera

that you use as a spoon (it really expands in your stomach, so be careful). The honey wine is like dessert wine, and if you order coffee they’ll bring it to you in a whole set, which the menfolk are not permitted to touch; the womenfolk have to serve. You also sit on these extremely uncomfortable wooden horses instead of seats. Turkish hackers like to hack into the restaurants’ websites, particularly Merkato’s. Little Ethiopia starts on Fairfax where Olympic and San Vicente cross and continues on for a couple blocks.

ONDAL 2

Hello, I’m looking for some spicy crab soup, do you have any? And sautéed octopus? Yes? Well, I will take those as well as

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kimchi

, and please serve that with your oily rice—it compliments it nicely. And I promise to scrape my serving skillet clean. Thank you! 4566 W. Washington Blvd., Mid-City, 323-933-3228.

PATINA

People love this place because it’s in one of the most architecturally interesting buildings in the city, the Walt Disney Concert Hall. The menu is standard upscale: caviar, foie gras, lobster tail. A good place to take the parents when you want to fool them into thinking you have a “real” job. 141 S. Grand Ave, Downtown, 213-972-3331.

R23

It’s more than worth it to cross Alameda and venture into the deserted “art district” just outside Little Tokyo. The place may look shitty on the outside, but inside it’s like a New York loft with cardboard chairs—all exposed brick and pipes and cooling ducts. The portions are generous for a Japanese joint, especially the requisite miso cod and lobster tempura. R23 also has

nigiri

sushi, which is usually one piece of mouthwatering, buttery fish—no baked volcano rolls here! 923 E. 2nd St., Downtown, 213-687-7178.

TOMMY’S ORIGINAL WORLD FAMOUS HAMBURGERS

The original Tommy’s has one of the best chili cheeseburgers in the world. That’s right, we said it. Besides the chili cheeseburgers, you should get the chili-cheese fries, the chili-cheese hot dogs, and some tamales to top it all off. Maybe with chili and cheese on them. 2575 Beverly Blvd., Westlake, 213-389-9060.

THE VEGGIE GRILL

Who knew you could find such awesome veggie food in El Segundo? There are the usual standards that veggie restaurants must think all veggies love (as if there’d be a hippie-vegetarian sit-in if they didn’t include them on their menu) like sweet-potato fries and Portobello-mushroom burgers. But there’s also corn chowder, faux carne asada, and carrot cake with fake cream cheese. So put on your Birkenstocks, jump into your Prius, and hit the mini-mall. 720 Allied Way, El Segundo, 310-535-0025.

CARRIE TUCKER