The Sturgeon King, Take 2
New Yorkers suffering L.A. culture shock can seek comfort food on the fifth floor of the Barneys New York department store in Beverly Hills. The elevator doors open and voilà -- a Barney Greengrass on the Left Coast. This authentic -- and expensive -- New York deli not only air-delivers its renowned smoked sturgeon and Nova Scotia salmon direct from the Big Apple, but it has even bejeweled the swanky lunch spot with subway-style tiles. You'll have to move quickly to get a coveted table on the outdoor terrace -- all those power lunchers from the entertainment industry won't hesitate. The raison d'être dishes here are the Nova Scotia salmon (or sturgeon) scrambled with eggs and onion, cheese blintzes, and chopped chicken liver sandwiches -- all washed down with New York-style seltzer water on tap. It's open Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday from 8:30am to 6pm; Thursday and Saturday from 9:30am to 7pm; and Sunday from 9:30am to 6pm. 9570 Wilshire Blvd. (at Camden Dr.), Beverly Hills. tel. 310/777-5877.
Star Search: The Ivy League
If you're searching for incognito celebrities dining among us common folk, casually stroll past the elevated sidewalk patio at the Ivy, 113 N. Robertson Blvd. (btw. 3rd St. and Beverly Blvd.), West Hollywood, around 1pm. On a sunny day, the odds are good (though the goods may be odd). If that doesn't pan out, walk over to the Palm, 9001 Santa Monica Blvd. (btw. Doheny Dr. and Robertson Blvd.), West Hollywood, and order an iced tea at the bar followed by a long, leisurely trip to the risqué bathroom.
I'll Take the Fifth…Taste
Since opening its original location on La Brea in 2009, Umami Burger, 850 S. La Brea Ave. (tel. 323/931-3000; www.umamiburger.com) -- named after the fifth taste profile, savory or "umami" -- has become something of a cult classic, spawning sister restaurants all over the city. While the signature burger remains the most popular, I'm partial to the smoky triple pork burger (ground pork, chorizo, and applewood-smoked bacon) topped with manchego cheese and pimento aioli. The menu varies slightly at each location, as does the availability of beer and wine verses a full bar (the tiny original will remain alcohol-free). Be sure to try the sweet potato fries, too. Also at 1520 N. Cahuenga Blvd., Hollywood (tel. 323/469-3100); 4655 Hollywood Blvd., Los Feliz (tel. 323/669-3922); 500 Broadway, Santa Monica (tel. 310/451-1300); and 12159 Ventura Blvd., Studio City (tel. 818/286-9004).
Truck It: The Food Truck Revolution
Over the past few years, a food truck trend has swept L.A. Once known as "roach coaches" (no explanation necessary), this latest wave is actually quite upscale. It totally makes sense for a city with great weather year-round, a dedicated car culture, and a longstanding love for authentic taco trucks. The only downside is that most don't answer their phones (or even have land lines), so the only way to find out where they'll be at any given time is via the Internet or Twitter. The brand credited with founding the phenomenon is Kogi (www.kogibbq.com), which specializes in Korean fusion food. Think Korean short rib tacos and kimchi quesadillas. One surefire way to sample a number of outlets at once is via the monthly first-Sundays Truckit Fest at Union Station (www.truckitfest.com). My picks include Gourmet Genie (www.gourmetgenietogo.com) for nicely spiced lamb sliders; Global Soul (www.globalsoultruck.com) for the savory "shrimp toasties"; and India Jones (www.indiajoneschowtruck.com) for flavorful chicken tikka masala.
We'd be remiss not to mention all the new eateries at L.A. LIVE, the high-voltage (literally; there are giant LED screens lighting up the courtyard), massive complex that opened near Staples Center and the Los Angeles Convention Center at the end of 2008. Sure, most of the restaurants are chains, but at least most are local chains, and, really, we're just glad to have so many options for lunch and dinner in the area now. The famed Latin music mecca, the Conga Room, relocated here, and with it came Boca (tel. 213/745-0162; www.congaroom.com), a pan-Latin dining room that looks into the nightclub and is a great option for dinner and a show. Rock'N Fish (tel. 213/748-4020; www.rocknfishlalive.com) is a popular steak and seafood restaurant from Manhattan Beach; don't miss the Navy Grog, a potent rum drink. The Farm of Beverly Hills (tel. 213/747-4555; www.thefarmofbeverlyhills.com) has comfort food and lighter fare like salads and sandwiches, all made with seasonal ingredients. The largest Katsuya (tel. 213/747-9797; www.sbe.com/katsuya) in L.A. opened in spring 2009 and is a stylish spot for sushi (the baked-crab hand roll is dynamite) and well-crafted, fresh-fruit cocktails. A Trader Vic's (tel. 213/785-3330; www.tradervicsla.com) opened in 2009, and while it isn't as tiki-rific as the original, it's great to have a second location for Scorpion Bowls and pupu platters. Wolfgang Puck Bar and Grill (tel. 213/748-9700; www.wolfgangpuck.com) showcases the celebrity chef's simpler side. Rosa Mexicano (tel. 213/746-0001; www.rosamexicano.com) brings surprisingly excellent Mexican cuisine from New York. There's also a Lawry's Carvery (tel. 213/222-2212; www.lawrysonline.com), New Zealand Natural (tel. 213/748-4696; www.nznusa.com) ice cream, a huge ESPN Zone (tel. 213/765-7070; www.espnzone.com), Fleming's Steakhouse and Wine Bar (tel. 213/745-9911; www.flemingssteakhouse.com), a Yard House (tel. 213/745-9273; www.yardhouse.com) for beer and bar food lovers, and of course a Starbucks.