Great Restaurants No One's Heard About

One of our Free Lunch commenters clee920 felt that there are many "hole-in-the-wall-mom&pop restaurants with AMAZING food that get ignored/overshadowed by the fancy schmancy". Do you agree? We'd love to hear about great restaurants in your neighborhood that people should try.

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wow where do i start? i guess i'll have to start with my favorite. i found 'sungbookdong' one day after a long day at work when i was craving some good ol' fashioned home cooked korean food without all the MSG and other additives that many korean restaurants put in their food to enhance the taste. it's a tiny place in an unassuming plaza with a handful of tables squeezed into it's tiny interior. the food is simple yet delicious and it really tastes like my grandmother or mother made it. the waitresses are kind and remind you of korean aunts/mothers/grandmothers always giving you extra helpings and encouraging you to "put some more meat on those bones". makes a girl feel at home! they have a variety of traditional dishes that everyone, meat lovers and vegetarians alike, can enjoy and experience a true home-cooked korean meal.
there is also a tiny restaurant (im noticing a pattern) run by a middle aged couple located up on western called 'dduhrak' that specializes in spicy octopus & seafood dishes. they give you a lot of side dishes that are equally delicious as the main dish and they never hesitate to give you more if they notice that you ran out. the dishes range from stews to pan fried (called "bokkeum" in korean) and you can choose the level of spiciness (i like mine super spicy!). the best part is after the main meal, they take the dish back and recreate it into an asian fusion fried rice mixed w/ toppings of your choice. at the end of your meal, the sweet lady always gives you little "yogurt" drinks on the house to help you digest and wash everything down. it's hard to describe but once you taste it, i KNOW you'll keep coming back for more!
lastly is another mom & pop shop down on olympic that specializes in traditional korean noodles & dumplings. you can choose chicken broth (to die for) or a clearer lighter broth made from anchovy & vegetables (don't knock it till you try it! not "fishy" tasting at all) that's very good for digestion and settles your stomach after a week of eating heavy food. the noodles are perfectly chewy and yet you don't leave feeling weighed down and lethargic. the dumplings are juicy and delicious with their homemade sauces. the portion sizes are large enough for two to share and they never give you the "eye" for sharing one dish with a girlfriend (like some other restaurants do). the kimchi here is EPIC. it's easy to find kimchi all around koreatown but the kimchi here is similar to the kimchi my grandmother makes at home with a strong kick but not enough to overpower the delicate taste of the soup & noodles. i come here when the weather is cold and i need to be warmed up. the friendly staff also makes the entire experience even more enjoyable.
there are so many other restaurants that i have in mind (one that even has AYCE korean bbq AND decent sashimi) but i don't want to write an essay (which i already did) but these restaurants are prime examples of how many of these little shops are overshadowed by big restaurants like "tahoe galbi" or "chosun galbi"--two big korean restaurants that i've noticed have been getting a lot of american media coverage lately. i admit their food is pretty good, but both places are usually too pricey for me to eat regularly and i feel like it's more presentation than taste that these places focus on. bigger doesn't always mean better. oftentimes i find the food to be a little too salty or "MSG-y" which tastes good when you eat it but leaves you feeling gross as you walk out of the restaurant. also, at the big chain AYCE bbq restaurants, the vegetarian options are slim and usually not worth your money. the restaurants i mentioned above are more flexible to dietary limitations in my opinion and because they don't make big batches of certain dishes, i feel like they're more accommodating to special dietary requests. i hope in your series, you are able to cover affordable, authentic, and delicious restaurants that can be regularly enjoyed by everyone.

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I imagine people have heard of this place, but I have to big up one of my favorite restaurants in Los Angeles, Ethiopian place called Awash - 5990 1/2 W Pico Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90035. Unassuming place with great, inexpensive food, also always full of other Ethiopian folks. (Always a good sign!) Go with the fish and vegetarian plate. Also, they have a widescreen and the owner is always posted up at the back watching the Lakers and the occasional Premiership game.

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totally agree with you. if people of that country aren't eating there, there has to be a reason why. i remember i went to a "5 star rating by yelp" gourmet taco joint in a heavily hispanic neighborhood and noticed that they walked AROUND the restaurant to a tiny authentic cart on the corner. lol.

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Even among the vegetarian crowd, Vinh Loi Tofu in Reseda deserves a lot more attention. Kevin and his family make tofu and other fake meats (if you're into that kind of thing) from scratch and the menu is chock full of amazing dishes, from binh mi to noodles.

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Thank you for the recommendations. We'll definitely keep these in mind for our new web series Free Lunch - http://www.kcet.org/socal/freelunch/

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The following suggestions were posted on Facebook: Sugarfish in Marina del Rey. Cafe Bizou and Sitar Indian Cuisine in Pasadena. Cafe Alegria in Silver Lake. And La Casita Mexicana in Bell.

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The following suggestions were posted on Facebook: Ginormous Biscuits & Gravy from Gaffey Street Diner in San Pedro. 2 will fill you up til dinner! Good Udon Soup doesn't hurt either @ Kura Sushi on Sunset!

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Personally, I would like to try a Chinese food restaurant here in the San Gabriel Valley where I live. There are SO many hidden gems.

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So there are a ton of brilliant places to go for lunch. Diego, I'm just giving a few spots - but could go on for a while if you'd like. I'm a chef and my kitchen is on the east side of town - so my mind thinks about restaurants that aren't far from where I work. Here's a few places to get the wheels turning!
1) Sotto Restaurant in the old Test Kitchen Space. Steve and Zach are talented chefs who I believe are making the best pizza Los Angeles currently has to offer. Now they're open for lunch - and with a well-considered wine list (natural wines from southern italy as well as a few from California) people should really know that it's an available lunch option. http://www.sottorestaurant.com/
2) Go down to Artesia and walk to the second floor of this somewhat hidden Gujarati Thali Indian restaurant called Rajdhani. After being to India - this is the closest place I've found to the food I've had there. It's quiet amazing...http://www.yelp.com/biz/rajdhani-artesia
3) Cooks Tortas A staple. A favorite. In Monterey Park where you wouldn't necessarily think the best sandwiches in Los Angeles are...but, yes....they're there. http://www.weezermonkey.com/2010/05/conquering-cooks-tortas.html

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Whoah! That's some wayyy left field answers. Cool! I happen to work relatively near Rajdhani, and live very close to Cook's. Rajdhani also serves a complete Jain offering, in case anyone else reading is interested in that diet.

Cook's Chef also owns soon-to-reopen Dorado ceviche bar up the street on Atlantic, as well as Guisados in Boyle Heights.

That said, I don't think the other responses satisfy the criteria of "No One's Heard About". Sotto is on every foodiot blog/twitter, etc. Seongbukdong, which clee920 covered, has 197 yelp reviews. Ttu Rak has been blogged: http://sinosoul.com/2011/05/tttu-rak-k-town-all-that-is-wrong-with-korean-food and Olympic Noodle's anchovy kalguksoo has.. 90 Yelp posts? With a Chow post that dates to 2003. La Casita has been on KCRW/LAMag/LAW repeatedly, and they've been on plenty of Latino TV segments. SugarFish's uhm... a slammed chain.

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Sinosoul. I love you. Yes, Sotto is on every food blog --- but lunch is a pretty new thing for them (May 19th) and not too many people have written about it. After going to a Una Pizza in SF though, I may have a hard time eating at Sotto w/o thinking about the pizza from up north.
Maybe we should do one of these videos together. Like Click and Clack from Car Talk. Let's just go to Mini Kabob in Glendale. Food GPS has written about it (http://www.foodgps.com/mini-kabob-glendale/), it has 141 reviews on YELP http://www.yelp.com/biz/mini-kabob-glendale but it's still a mystery to me and right next to my kitchen. Or Eatalian in Gardena (http://www.yelp.com/biz/eatalian-cafe-gardena?rpp=40&start=40&sort_by=relevance_desc) with 356 reviews on Yelp because it must be closer to your work and, yes, still a mystery to me!

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Thanks for the great recommendations Jessica and SinoSoul, we have some following up to do.