Peruvians express the same affection for chifa, a subset of Chinese food brought to the South American country by Chinese immigrants, that many Americans share for chop suey. Nelly Tam Li and her family, owners of Ming Yuen in El Monte, operated a Chinese restaurant in Lima for 20 years. Now they serve chifa cooking in L.A., from arroz chaufa (fried rice) to lomo saltado (wok-fried beef) to kam lu wantan (pork wontons in ginger-tamarind sauce).
Malaysia is renowned for its hawker stalls: curries and roti bread dished out from carts like funnel cakes at a carnival. That spirit is captured at Depot Bethania, stationed in a West Covina supermarket food court. Try the char kway teow, a hodgepodge of rice noodles, bean sprouts, chicken, and prawns sautéed in a searing-hot wok and suffused with soy sauce and chili.
The original Olsons opened 65 years ago. Since buying it in May, Christian Kneedler has expanded the operation by adding a sit-down café next door. The lox and pickled herring—both cured in-house—are top orders here, but don’t pass on the assortment of Swedish, Danish, and Norwegian meats and cheeses. For a true smorgasbord layer rye crackers with falukorv—a bologna-like beef, veal, and pork sausage that can also be sliced thick and fried in a pan—and västerbotten, a hard cheese that resembles a more mellow Parmesan.
Yong Su San
Few restaurants in Los Angeles place more emphasis on ceremony than Yong Su San. The ornate dining temple specializes in the cuisine of the Koryo Dynasty, a tenth-century kingdom whose capital was located in what is now North Korea’s ninth-largest city. Elaborate multicourse meals take place in elegant private rooms, concluded by a round of persimmon punch. Traditional dishes such as Kaesong-style wrapped kimchi and meatball-loaded hot pots provide a lavish glimpse into Korean history.
Omar’s Xinjiang Halal
Hailing from one of China’s northernmost provinces, the Islamic Uyghur cooking found at Omar’s Xinjiang Halal is shaped by the barren mountains of central Asia. The musky scent of cumin-rubbed lamb skewers permeates the restaurant as servers recommend bowls of bouncy hand-pulled noodles in broth, buxom meat-filled dumplings, and a house-fermented yogurt drink that’s a refreshing counterpoint to the spices.
Georges LaGuerre was born in Haiti’s northernmost city, Port-de-Paix. His eponymous restaurant pays homage to the area’s signature dish—nope, not the famous rotisserie chicken but a fritter called accra. Herring, taro root, scallions, onion, and garlic are deep fried and accompanied by a simple slaw. Order a couple to nibble before your chicken with red beans and rice arrives, and end with a cup of brown-sugared coffee scented with bay leaves and key lime.
Hà Tiên Quán
Parts of the Mekong Delta recall the swampy Mississippi. At Hà Tiên Quán in San Gabriel, the premier dish is bun mam, a thick seafood stew stocked with prawns and pork belly that’s often described as “Vietnamese gumbo.” Owner Larry Ta imports his own anchovy paste from the town of Hà Tiên for the soup; to him it’s the critical ingredient.
Less a restaurant than a market with a prepared-foods counter and a few tables, Swadesh is a hub for Bangladeshi fare. Mild yet complex curries highlight proteins such as goat, fish, egg, chicken, and beef. Curried cauliflower and stewed lentils are offered alongside less common vegetables like bitter melon, which tastes exactly as it sounds. A cup of mishti doi, a sweet, fermented yogurt similar to Mexican cajeta, makes for a cool finish.
Don’t turn up your nose at pasta bolognese from a Japanese restaurant. It’s a component of yoshoku, a uniquely Japanese interpretation of Western cuisine. European and American influences have produced such singular dishes as beefsteak demi-glace and ketchup-slathered omelette rice (omurice), both of which are extremely popular in Japanese eateries around the world. Spoon House in Gardena serves dozens of border-blurring specialties, from uni seafood gratin to corned beef and cabbage.
Huge Tree Pastry
What’s for breakfast in Taiwan? At Huge Tree Pastry the meal starts with bowls of warm soymilk—sweet or savory—and deep-fried crullers for dipping. Make like the regulars with their Chinese newspapers and order the green onion pancake with egg or the sticky rice roll with pickled greens and shredded dried pork.
MUMBAI STREET FOOD
Mumbai Ki Galliyon Se
The chaotic roads of Mumbai are lined with steaming food stalls that attract hungry members of all castes. A similar cultural convergence happens at Shruti and Sailesh Shah’s restaurant in Artesia. The menu is composed of nearly a hundred items, including dahi batata puri—hollow crackers filled with mung beans and yogurt and covered with date sauce. If you’re lucky, the chalkboard specials will feature Cauli -65: vegetarian nuggets stained fuchsia from annatto and chilies.
Perish the thought of Outback Steakhouse; if you want to sample what Australians really eat, mate, stop by downtown’s Bronzed Aussie, an expat-operated pastry shop that takes its meat pies seriously (dousing them in ketchup is perfectly acceptable). Savory sausage rolls and Lamingtons, squares of yellow cake rolled in chocolate and coconut, are as iconic as Vegemite.
You’ll recognize most of the items on the menu at this café: chicken shawarma, crispy falafel, and baba ghanouj. What stands out is the large domed oven in the center of the kitchen, which produces safeeha, flatbreads blanketed with ground chicken or salty, and crumbled farmer cheese. Accent the sizzling mezze with a splash of lemon.
Daw Yee Myanmar Café
The cooking of Myanmar, the country formerly known as Burma, shows off the influences of its neighbors: Thailand, India, and China. At Daw Yee Myanmar Café, the Burmese tealeaf salad is a colorful mosaic of fermented tea leaves layered with toasted peanuts, fried chickpeas, butter beans, sesame seeds, diced tomatoes, green chilies, and lime, all ramped up by a funky hit of fish sauce.
Al Watan Halal Restaurant
Local Pakistani fare doesn’t have a nerve center the way Indian food does in Artesia, but those seeking dishes like haleem, a chunky stew of lentils and shredded beef, make for Al Watan in Hawthorne. Flatbreads—from the simple naan to the aloo paratha, which is stuffed with seasoned potatoes—are baked in the tandoor oven, which also puts out such favorites as lamb biryani (a shank of meat atop fragrant rice). Vegetarians can indulge in aloo palak: creamed spinach with potatoes, turmeric, and other spices.
Phnom Penh Noodle
Long Beach is home to the world’s largest Cambodian population outside of Cambodia, making it our preferred destination for a bowl of aromatic rice noodles. At this bare-bones operation, the house specialty is kuy teav, noodles served “dry” or “wet,” with a hearty pork and beef broth strewn with fresh herbs, lemongrass, lime, fried shallots, and crushed chilies.
All hail the chuchucara! The platter of roasted pork ribs, empanadas, fried plantains, and toasted hominy at Silver Lake’s El Caserio is a hefty example of that country’s highland cuisine. More adventurous is the gautita, a rib-sticking stew made with beef tripe, potatoes, and creamy peanut sauce. Lap it up with a lla-pingacho, a dense, cheese-stuffed potato cake.
Balkan cuisine tends toward the starchy and comforting. The archetypal meal at West L.A.’s homey Aroma Café starts with börek, a flaky, S-shaped pastry packed with feta cheese. Follow that with cevapi, springy beef sausages on rounds of focaccia-like bread, and cap it off with a shot of Turkish coffee. Served in a traditional copper cezve, the brew is strong, bitter, and comes with a cube of rose water-flavored Turkish delight.
Fatima Marques presides over this shrine to Portugal’s pastel de nata, a golden custard tart. On the savory side there’s caldo verde (potato and kale soup), chouriço (Portuguese chorizo) with grilled onions and tomatoes, and bacalhau à brás, a sort of salt cod hash. For dessert might we suggest the cream-filled, doughnut-like malasadas?
The soda fountains and picadas (canteens) of Santiago de Chile were the inspiration for Giancarlo Aguilera and wife Cecilia Gonzalez’s Chilean sandwich shop. Chacareros are loaded with Chile’s favorite condiment, mayonnaise, along with palta (mashed avocados) and green beans. Chilean restaurants in L.A. are rare and often short-lived, so be sure to experience such soothing dishes as porotos granados—soy beans with mixed meats and vegetables—while you can.