These dining gems are proof that good things can be found in unexpected places, from dynamite Mexican food at a gas station to authentic Thai at a swap meet.
Gas station: Cilantro Mexican Grill
Head to an unassuming Chevron station in North Hollywood to find Adolfo Perez cooking up Mexican fusion fare that far exceeds its humble surroundings. Tortas, tostadas, and tacos are brightened with house-made sauces like serrano pesto and pineapple salsa, while the luxe surf-and-turf burrito is stuffed with grilled shrimp and carne asada. 7214 Whitsett Ave., North Hollywood
Office building: Deli-In
Shoehorned into the ground floor of a Koreatown office building, this generic-looking bodega has more than the standard supply of bagel sandwiches, hot coffee and cigarettes: It’s where trilingual (Spanish, Korean, and English) owner Peter Kim and his matronly kitchen staff serve some of the city’s finest pupusas (topped with pickled curtido slaw) and home-style Salvadoran breakfast plates. 3456 1/2 Wilshire Blvd., Koreatown
Swap meet: Kim Thai Food
To find what might be L.A.’s most authentic and aggressively spiced northeastern Thai food, you have to navigate through La Fiesta Swap Meet to the rear food court, where chef Khanhthong “Kim” Siharath prepares specialties from Thailand’s Isaan region, like hand-chopped duck larb, grilled sour sausage, and fiery chile dips called nam prik. It’s as close as you’ll get without a plane ticket. 12727 Sherman Way, Ste. B07, North Hollywood
Hospital: Appu’s Cafe
On the ground floor of Long Beach’s Woodru Medical Center, Vinod Venkataraman’s café is a beloved purveyor of vegetarian Indian cooking that offers deeply satisfying curries made with spinach and lentils, saffron-colored basmati rice bowls, and zesty chai tea infused with lemongrass. 3816 Woodruff Ave., Long Beach
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