Looking for more reasons to love L.A.? Just head to your local newsstand (or computer) to browse the latest “Best of L.A.” issue from the always eclectic L.A. Weekly. These are a few of my favorite things… well, eight favorites. (For 12 more, check out last year’s Best of L.A.) – D.B.S.
Best Filipino Fried Chicken: Max’s of Manila
Ever try fried chicken with banana sauce? That’s how it’s done at Max’s of Manila, a restaurant chain with more than 100 branches in the Philippines and several here, including Glendale and the City of Industry. You’ll find Filipino staples, including pork adobo, crispy pata, lumpia and pancit — but the fried chicken is the “superstar,” says a server. Don’t expect crunchy breading or adobo seasoning, just moist, tender chicken fried in its own skin to a golden, not-too-oily crisp. For a complete Filipino meal, top the chicken with banana sauce (considered the Filipino ketchup), pair it with garlic rice and choose purple yam ice cream for dessert. Max’s opened in 1945 as a shack in Manila catering to American soldiers. Today it’s known as “the house that fried chicken built,” and the spacious, comfy eateries are beloved by Filipinos as a national institution. 313 W. Broadway, Glendale. (818) 637-7751, maxschicken.com. —Daina Beth SolomonMax’s of Manila
Glendale, CA 91203
See also: Exploring the Philippines in Occidental’s Backyard (Occidental Weekly) and Best Taste of the Philippines: Eagle Rock Plaza (LA Weekly Best of L.A. 2012)
Best Old-School Chinese Diner: Paul’s Kitchen
“This is a chop suey restaurant,” says the server at Paul’s Kitchen, handing over a dish of fried wonton strips. “Very traditional.” In the tradition of Americanized Cantonese food, that is. Since at least 1946, Paul’s Kitchen in downtown’s Garment District has served chow mein, almond chicken and egg rolls. It counts Tommy Lasorda among its fans (proof: the seven-item “Tommy Lasorda Special”), many of whom have frequented the spot for 30 or 40 years. Not much has changed over the decades. Behind the lunch counter, kitschy memorabilia packs the shelves, and framed Dodger headshots from 20 years ago line the wall. Families sit at booths alongside a lattice painted Barbie-pink, eating shrimp in lobster sauce off plates decorated in an Oriental floral pattern. Paul’s antique cash register is for cash alone — and you probably won’t be the first diner here to make a meal off spare change. 1012 S. San Pedro St., dwntwn. (213) 749-5004. —Daina Beth Solomon
1012 S. San Pedro St.
Los Angeles, CA 90015-2316
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Best Mariachi Restaurant: El Mercadito Mariachi Restaurant
At El Mercadito Mariachi Restaurant, food takes second place to the music: mariachi bands in snazzy cowboy suits blasting exuberant tunes on trumpets and guitars and violins. You likely will find not one but two bands crooning at once, battling for applause by playing at deafening decibels. They perform on stages designed to resemble, respectively, a tropical Incan temple, a quaint colonial village and a seaside hacienda — the better to remind you of Mexico. (The fajitas, enchiladas, birria and foot-tall ceviche platters might do that, too.) Be sure to visit on weekend afternoons, when the scene is bustling and lively, and save time to stroll the two lower floors that comprise El Mercado de los Angeles, a vast Mexican marketplace. Dozens of vendors hawk merchandise ranging from pumpkinseed mole to pink snakeskin boots — and even mariachi CDs. 3425 E. First St., Boyle Heights. (323) 262-4507,elmercaditorestaurant.com. —Daina Beth Solomon
3425 E. 1st St.
Los Angeles, CA 90063
BARS & CLUBS
Best Little Tokyo Bar: Far Bar
Three hundred whiskies and 100 beers, 40 of them Japanese craft brews. Spirits and cocktails, sakes and wines. Asian-inspired foods such as Kobe beef hot dogs and wasabi fries. All this, inside an 1896 building adorned with a two-story-tall sign that declares “CHOP SUEY” in red neon. Far Bar, the site of a popular Chinese restaurant from the 1930s to the ’90s, now is Little Tokyo’s ultimate watering hole. Where else can you choose from eight varieties of the high-end Hitachino beer? Or sip a flight of Pappy Van Winkle bourbons? The dining room was renovated recently (complete with five wide-screen TVs and an 18-seat bar), but it has kept the varnished-wood booth partitions from its Chinese-diner days. Just outside, the patio — a skinny alley enclosed by tall brick walls and festooned with twinkly string lights — is quickly becoming Little Tokyo’s worst kept secret. 347 E. First St., Little Tokyo. (213) 617-9990,farbarla.com. —Daina Beth Solomon
347 E. First St.
Los Angeles, CA 90012
SHOPPING & SERVICES
Best Women’s Clothing Swap Shop: Give + Take
Tired of last summer’s lacy frock? You could blow a paycheck on a new one at the mall. Or you could trade the old one for a new one — or flower-print jeans, or strappy teal sandals, or a lacy black dress — at Give + Take. Located on a pleasant retail strip of Ocean Park Boulevard in Santa Monica, Give + Take bills itself as a “swap shop” with a fast-flipping inventory of cute and stylish women’s apparel. Shoppers pay $30 a month for membership, but otherwise, clothes are the only currency. The cuter the clothes you ditch, the more trading points you earn — and you can keep the new loot or trade it again the next day. It’s a way to save money, co-owner Celina Burns says, and save the environment to boot. 1740 Ocean Park Blvd., Santa Monica, 90405.Giveplustake.com. —Daina Beth Solomon
1740 Ocean Park Blvd.
Santa Monica, CA 90405
Best Japanese Bookstore: Kinokuniya
Since opening in Tokyo 85 years ago, Kinokuniya has brought its Japanese aesthetic to bookstores worldwide, including branches in L.A., San Francisco and Portland. The 6,300-square-foot store in downtown’s Little Tokyo district attracts Japanese Americans and American Nipponophiles alike with thousands ofmanga titles in English and Japanese, dozens of Japanese fashion magazines, and a bilingual book section admired for its array of art, architecture and design volumes. You’ll find fiction, too, especially by Japanese and Japanese-American writers, from best-selling novelist Haruki Murakami to L.A. writer Naomi Hirahara. Don’t be surprised to find English-language books by Neil Gaiman, Jeffrey Toobin and Sonia Sotomayor alongside cat-themed humor, and don’t miss the L.A.-centric bookshelf. Wanna splurge? Browse aisles of pens, notebooks, stickers, greeting cards and origami papers decorated in vibrant designs ranging from cutesy to chic. 123 Astronaut E.S. Onizuka St., #205, Little Tokyo, 90012. (213) 687-4480, kinokuniya.com/us/. —Daina Beth Solomon
123 Astronaut E. Onizuka St.
Los Angeles, CA 90012
ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT
Best Historic, Controversial Mural: America Tropical
Even a $10 million restoration couldn’t bring America Tropical back to life — not completely. The 80-foot-long mural painted at Olvera Street by legendary Mexican muralist David Alfaro Siquieros is smeary and pale, a ghost of the past in burnt browns and moss greens. But we are lucky to have it at all: The painting was whitewashed by shocked officials shortly after its 1932 creation. They had expected a joyous, carefree “tropical America,” but Siquieros delivered the incendiary image of an indigenous Mexican worker lashed to a double cross beneath a fierce eagle. A mural observation deck opened a year ago along with the America Tropical Interpretive Center, a two-room museum dedicated to the piece’s controversy and legacy. The mural’s colors may have faded, but history is well illuminated. 125 Paseo de la Plaza, dwntwn., 90012. (213) 485-6855, americatropical.org. —Daina Beth Solomon
125 Paseo De La Plaza
Los Angeles, CA 90012-2932
Best Free Downtown Performance Series: Tuesday Night Cafe
Little Tokyo’s Tuesday Night Café performance series can be counted on to deliver eclectic entertainment — from spoken word to hip-hop dance, improv comedy to folk singing — and admission is free. But there is another reason that downtowners and L.A. art lovers of all stripes have been devoted to TNC for 15 years now: The café strives to represent and celebrate L.A.’s cultural diversity, especially by promoting artists of Asian and Pacific-Islander descent. Each first and third Tuesday during the summer, the brick courtyard outside the Union Center for the Arts (built as a church in 1922, and home to East West Players and L.A. Artcore Center) transforms into a stage where amateur and professional performers alike share their talents — sometimes personal stories and social messages, too — with audiences of up to 200 cheering guests. During TNC’s off-season, director Traci Kato-Kiriyama runs workshops through her umbrella organization, Tuesday Night Project, continuing her mission to fuse arts with social activism, enriching L.A.’s underserved communities and the city as a whole. 120 Judge John Aiso, dwntwn., 90012.tuesdaynightproject.org. —Daina Beth Solomon
Tuesday Night Café
120 Judge John Aiso St.
Los Angeles, CA 90012