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The Art of Eating, Part II: On the Edge of Westwood


By C. Thi Nguyen, Illustrations by Alicia Patel

Published Jan 1, 2009 8:15 AM

A year ago, Pulitzer Prize-winning food critic Jonathan Gold '82 revealed his favorite L.A. restaurants. Its success cried out for a sequel. Here then, are a few savory picks close to UCLA chosen by C. Thi Nguyen '09, a Bruin graduate student in philosophy and senior editor of Chow Digest, at the popular online food discussion board Chowhound.

The (original) Art of Eating

Read Pulitzer-prize winning food critic Jonathan Gold's take on Westwood dining.

There's a culinary dead zone around UCLA. It's like that lifeless hunk of ocean in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico — nobody knows why it's there, but it's growing, it's probably our fault, and it gives some of us the willies.

The closest spot for soul-clenchingly brilliant food is Ambala Dhaba — almost certainly the best Indian restaurant in L.A. Avoid the usual Northern Indian specialties, and go for the Southern weirdness, like Hyderabadi chicken — chicken that's marinated forever in herbs and yogurt and then roasted to a succulent, crusty wonder. Read the menu like a holy book — if you see something you've never heard of before, it's probably good. Especially if it involves goat.

Right around Ambala Dhaba is UCLA's nearest ethnic enclave — a loose Persian community that stretches outward from the corner of Santa Monica and Westwood. The happiest Persian mouthful I've had around there has been the saffron and pistachio ice cream at Super Sun on Westwood. Try it with a scoop of falludah — a cold, icy rosewater sorbet mixed with crispy noodles. If there's a better thing for the summer heat, it probably involves nudity.

The best of the Mediterranean-ish restaurants is Sunnin — a Lebanese-Armenian restaurant that serves the single greatest b'stilla I have ever had in my life. This is one funky, country-style b'stilla — a brown, round pie full of big, meaty bits of chicken, mixed with pistachios and cinnamon, all baked inside a crispy phyllo crust. I have seen philosophy professors break down into tears over this meat pie.

And here's the wild-card — the best Philly cheesesteak in Los Angeles is right in Westwood, at a little bar called Philly West. They get that fine slather of cheese-goop, covering every millimeter of meat like some sort of magical, melted pixie dust.

Hit Sawtelle, between Olympic and Santa Monica, to discover a condensed packet of Japanese intensity, with the highest density of good restaurants west of Koreatown. My favorite? Chabuya, one of the few places in the U.S. where you can get a really good bowl of Kyushu-style ramen. This is unlike the usual Tokyo ramen — instead of thin soy or miso-thickened broth, you get an intense, pure, velvety, long-simmered pork broth.

Taste for yourself:

1. Ambala Dhaba
1781 Westwood Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90024
(310) 966-1772

2. Super Sun
1922 Westwood Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90025
(310) 474-0101

3. Sunnin Lebanese Café
1779 Westwood Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90024
(310) 477-2358

4. Philly West Bar & Grill
1870 Westwood Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90025
(310) 474-9787

5. Chabuya Tokyo Noodle Bar
2002 Sawtelle Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90025
(310) 473-9834