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The Baltimore Sun

SoCal eateries that are worth a cross-town trip

A SEAFOOD PARADISE IN SAN DIEGO

You want great produce, you go where the farmers are. You want great seafood, you go to to the San Diego waterfront, a few hundred yards from the sport-fishing fleet, a few blocks from the yacht brokers of Shelter Island. Then you elbow your way to the counter of Point Loma Seafoods.

Besides peddling fish to be cooked at home (and filleting and smoking the catches of sportfishing folk), this very busy joint serves lunch and early dinners. Tuna, scallops, crab, shrimp, squid, sushi, sashimi, chowder (red and white), clams and oysters on the half shell -- the only thing missing is abalone.

The place started as a fish market in 1963, the hot food came later, and the current building went up in about 1980. The kitchen is open from 10:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. every day but Sunday, when the cooking starts half an hour later. A few weeks ago, I had a crabcake sandwich that made my day for $12.95. The breading is light, made with sourdough. And seafood always tastes better when you can hear the seagulls.

Don't miss: the seasonal specials -- Pacific swordfish in summer; California spiny lobster from October through March. Don't be daunted by the full tables in front; there are several picnic tables tucked around the side, out of the sun. And when you get inside and hear the many harried employeees hollering out numbers, never mind. They give you a number after you've ordered, not before.

Getting there: From Interstate 5, take the Hawthorne exit to Harbor Drive. West on Harbor Drive, left on Scott Street, continue one block, then left on Emerson St. to 2805 Emerson St.; (619) 223-1109; www.pointlomaseafoods.com.

-- Christopher Reynolds

FOR DIM SUM, IT'S ABC SEAFOOD

There are few experiences as wild, chaotic and hypnotic as entering one of Chinatown's huge, busy dim sum dining rooms.

My favorite: ABC Seafood. At ABC, mirrors, tablecloths and polished brass add that veneer of elegance, but this is truly a great value. I've fed five people for lunch, with lavish spreads of crab, shrimp and lobster, for less than $50. My Cantonese is a little rusty, so I don't know the names of half the items I order. But that's the beauty of dim sum, where the food comes in little appetizer-sized portions, served from metal carts that work the aisles like bumper cars. You can sample something, then wave on the waiters to bring more and more.

Don't miss: The roast duck is sweet, juicy, fantastic (though beware of bones). Wonderfully deep-fried shrimp and crab balls, light and just a touch salty, are another favorite. Be sure to sample and explore. Try the fluffy buns stuffed with beef, known as bau. Also, the little steamer baskets full of dumplings -- shrimp and crab wrapped in translucent rice-flour skins.

Getting there: ABC Seafood is in the heart of L.A.'s Chinatown, a block from the famous Philippe's. Metered parking is usually available on the street or use the free parking lot in back. 205 Ord St.; (213) 680-2887)

-- Chris Erskine

NEED TO GNOSH? TRY BAGEL BROKER

Although there are plenty of foods worth fighting gridlock for, what about the ones that are best enjoyed while in gridlock? Bites of a hubcap-sized bagel can make the stop-and-lurch of a morning commute a bit more enjoyable.

These New York-style carbfests, available in mostly mainstream varieties such as blueberry, garlic, onion and rye, are just soft enough to soak up schmear without gumming up in your mouth. They first entered my life as a former employer's Friday morning treat -- the only job where I saw co-workers show up on time at the end of the week -- and now serve as comfort food to help me face a hectic day.

They come from the Bagel Broker, the star of a mini mall near the Grove and Farmers Market that's also home to a Subway sandwich shop and computer repair store. The Bagel Broker keeps early hours: 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Friday and 6:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. Prices are reasonable; I recently shared seven bagels and a half-pound container of cream cheese with my current co-workers for less $10.

Don't miss: Go traditional with an onion bagel -- just the right mix of slightly charred yet still chewy onion flakes -- smeared with veggie cream cheese. Or go all in with an egg-and-cheese bagel sandwich.

Getting there: The mini mall is at 7825 Beverly Blvd., just east of Fairfax Avenue. The parking lot leaves something to be desired, as do the handful of metered spots. Because seating is limited, make it breakfast-to- go, or park at the Grove and Farmers' Market and eat on the walk back to your car.

-- Whitney Friedlander

THE TACO YOU'LL NEVER FORGET

Order the carne asada taco at Carnitas Michoacán. Actually, order three or four of them. They're delicious, but rather small, so it might take a few to fill you up. At $1.35 each, though, you can still get a hearty meal for about five bucks. The nachos grande, though a little too cheesy, is excellent as well. All the menu items go for less than $5, so you get a tasty deal no matter what you order. Carnitas Michoacán is hard to miss: It sits in a bright yellow and red building on a corner. The inside is just as festive, with an image of the Virgin Mary resting casually against one wall and a painting of a grazing cow against the opposite wall. Those who dine in bus their own plates, so don't be surprised if a few of the tables are a little dirty. People come here for the food, not the ambience.

Don't miss: Carnitas Michoacán is on Broadway, Lincoln Heights' main street and a hotbed of taco shops in northeast Los Angeles. If you've got the time and the belly, go taco-hopping. Good spots to check out, all up the road from Michoacán, include El Tarasco, King Taco, Taco Bravo and La Chapilita. If you want to cook your own tacos, Lincoln Heights has a number of meat markets. El Rancho Meat Market, in particular, has excellent carne asada.

Getting there: Carnitas Michoacán, 1901 N. Broadway.

-- Jason La

THE RICE IS BROKEN - AND THAT'S A GOOD THING

Com Tam Thuan Kieu specializes in broken rice (com tam in Vietnamese, hence the restaurant's name). Broken rice is exactly what it sounds like: rice grains that have been fractured into smaller pieces during processing. It tends to be slightly drier than regular rice and mixes well with sauces. The best dish to order here is the charbroiled chicken over broken rice. It's moist, flavorful and comes with pickled vegetables and a light pork soup. The charbroiled beef and pork chops aren't bad either. The egg rolls are excellent and, unlike at many Vietnamese restaurants, they're made with rice paper wrappers, giving them a soft and crispy exterior. The ambience is low key and the clientele is mostly from the area. Don't expect attentive waiters or exotic Asian décor. What you do get is cheap food and quick service. Rice dishes are about $5 or $6, and you get more than a belly- full. On most nights, you can get a table right away, but the weekends tend to be a little more crowded.

Don't miss: Thuan Kieu is in the San Gabriel Valley, where cheap, delicious Asian restaurants are plentiful. More eating spots to try: Golden Deli on Las Tunas, Kang Kang Food Court on Valley and Ba Le on Atlantic.

Getting there: Com Tam Thuan Kieu, 120 E. Valley Blvd., San Gabriel; (626) 280-5660.

-- Jason La

ECHO PARK'S MAGICAL TREATS

Ever wonder which magical baking wizard is behind the luscious lemon ricotta and bacon and pepper jack muffins on display at Intelligentsia Coffee & Tea at Silver Lake Junction? Delilah, that's who. Go straight to the source, a quaint yellow cinder-block cottage a few blocks north of Sunset in Echo Park, for cream cheese-frosted red velvet cupcakes, Coca-Cola bundt cake, 'smore brownie bars and rich pecan bourbon pie. Roll out of bed a bit late? For brunch and lunch, there's house-made quiche and egg salad sandwiches with home-fried chips that will make Mom jealous. Oh yeah, the coffee ain't bad, either.

Don't miss: Cherry lemonade. Banana pudding. Grab a table outside and keep your eyes peeled for hummingbirds. Lunch is served Wednesday through Sunday.

Getting there: From Sunset Boulevard, head north on Echo Park Avenue. Keep left at the Y intersection and start looking for parking. The MTA's Dash Pico Union/Echo Park line also passes by. 1665 Echo Park Ave., Los Angeles; (213) 975-9400, www.delilahbakery.com

-- Andrew D. Nystrom

EGGSACTLY WHAT YOU NEED AFTER A LONG WEEK

Talk about heaven on a bun, except khachapuri (sometimes spelled kachapouri or khachapury) is more like heaven in a bun. It's a combination of crust (shaped like a little gondola), feta, mozzarella and eggs that look poached and stare up at you from their bed in the gondola. Which sounds both disgusting and like a heart attack waiting to happen. I promise it's not the first; I make no guarantees about the second, especially if you order a big one ($7.50) from Pizza Boy in Glendale.

Don't miss: The thrill of eating this comfort food at home. You can eat in at Pizza Boy, but there's something delightful about taking your secret shame with you. Besides, if you can't finish it, you can always refrigerate it and have it for breakfast.

Getting there: From California 2, exit at Colorado/Broadway and turn left. 1321 E.Colorado St., Units C and D; (818) 247-5555, www.pizzaboy.us. -- Catharine Hamm

DINNER AND A BOLLYWOOD SHOW FOR $7.99

Las Vegas it isn't, but the price is right. At Samosa House in the Westside's Mar Vista area, $7.99 buys you a vegetarian Indian lunch or dinner and endless entertainment in the form of a stream of Bollywood movies and music videos playing on a big flat-screen TV.

Lunch and dinner are self-service from a small hot table.The best deal, $7.99, is a combination plate. You choose three dishes, such as cheese paneer, spinach and jack fruit; riata and two pieces of flat bread are included. The mango lassi ($2.99) is pretty great too. Both the divided plate and flatware are recyclable and eco-friendly.

What you won't find, among the bare tables and bright lighting, is romantic ambience. But then, you weren't really planning to take your first date to a $7.99 dinner-show, right?

Don't miss: The Bharat Bazaar, a cornucopia of Eastern Indian groceries, imported British treats and fresh produce that adjoins the food area. Browsing the wire shelves is like taking a trip around the world.

From Britain, you'll find Tiffany digestive wheat biscuits and Tetley tea to drink with them. From India come jars of ghee, the clarified butter that's a national cooking staple; all manner of curry pastes; dozens of ready-to-eat entrees in vacuum packs; and toiletries such as hair oil. The colorful packaging alone is worth the trip.

In a small refrigerated case, you'll find coconuts and taro root along with more pedestrian items such as green peppers. Against one wall are family-sized packages of dal (lentils), rice and other grains.

Getting there: From the 405 Freeway, exit west on Washington Boulevard. Samosa House is at 11510 W. Washington Blvd. Open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. seven days a week. (310) 398-6766.

-- Jane Engle

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