BEST 4: SILVER LAKE & LOS FELIZ
The specialty at The Kitchen (4348 Fountain Ave.; 323-664-FOOD; $10-$20) is generous portions of "nouvelle diner" food (half-pound cheeseburgers cozy up to grilled portabello mushrooms), served in a graffiti-splashed room that opens late and attracts a pre- and post-party crowd. Combine it with a visit to Akbar next door (see bars).
Ay caramba! El Conquistador (3701 W. Sunset Blvd, 323-666-5136; $11-17) has an intimate, fiesta-kitsch ambience, flamboyant host, massive margaritas, and plates like chicken in mole, in addition to the usual tacos, enchiladas, and such.
Vermont (1714 N. Vermont Ave; 323-661-6163; $15-28) was the first restaurant to bring fine dining to Los Feliz's main drag, Vermont Avenue. That was over a decade ago, and it's still worthy for a low-key atmosphere, pastas, lunchtime sandwiches and salads, and main courses like pepper steak all prepared and served with care.
Caf? Stella (3932 Sunset Blvd; 323-666-0265; $18-32) offers French brasserie-style cuisine in a casual, indoor-outdoor caf?; setting and tenders beer and wine to dinner patrons.
BEST 4: DOWNTOWN
Lesbian chef Susan Feniger and her business partner Mary Sue Milliken are TV's "Too Hot Tamales" and the force behind Ciudad (445 S. Figueroa St; 213-486-5171; $16-28). The flavors, from across Latin America, are as bold and bright as Ciudad's d?cor. If you don't know what tamarind, yucca and chimichurri are, you'll find out. Tuesday nights: Paella on the Patio.
Don't be intimidated by the approach to R-23 (923 E 2nd St; 213-687-7178; sushi $4-12, other plates $12-16, in a warehouse-looking district surrounded by artists' studios. Inside, it's a super-stylish sushi joint (you sit on cardboard chairs designed by Frank Gehry), in a spot-lit, art gallery setting, all of which draws a celebrity clientele.
Among the dozens of restaurants in L.A.'s Chinatown, Empress Pavilion (999 N Hill St; 213-617-9898; dinner entrees: $8-$26, average per person for dim-sum: $10-15) proves that size does matter. Its massive room seats hundreds at a time, and on weekends every seat is taken during dim sum brunch: shrimp har gao, bbq pork buns, and dozens of other dumplings and small plates. Dinner: Peking duck and elegant seafood.
And if you like your meals with a side of history, Phillippe the Original (1001 N Alameda St; 213-628-3781; $3-8) has been around since 1908; it invented the "French dip" technique for roast beef sandwiches. Order one (or any of dozens of other sandwiches and salads) from the counter, sidle up to a table on the sawdust-covered floor, and wash it down with nine-cent coffee. No, really.
BEST 4: L.A. CLASSICS
Across from the Westside Pavilion shopping mall, the Apple Pan (10801 W. Pico Blvd; 310-475-3585; $5-$7) is legendary, serving great hamburgers and apple pie at counter seats surrounding the grill, with the feel of a country roadside diner.
Canter's Deli (419 N. Fairfax Blvd; 323-651-2030; $8-16) is a 24-hour deli/coffee shop and anchor of this historically Jewish district. It is the center of the universe at 3 a.m. Pacific time, filled with people of all persuasions, including its fair share of homos, supermodels, slackers, and Aunt Muriel.
La Serenata de Garibaldi (1842 E. First St, Boyle Heights; 323-265-2887; $10-$21) serves the city's best Mexican food in a slightly scary neighborhood east of downtown. Take your notions of down-market Mexican food and abandon them here; the cooking is elegant and almost French in its use of sauces.
El Coyote (7312 Beverly Blvd; 323-939-2255; $4-16) opened in 1931, and sometimes it seems that people have been waiting for tables ever since. No matter, order a margarita, sit back and take in the frilly skirted waitresses, mind-boggling showcase of tchotchkes, and crowd that's like a melting pot of this melting pot of cities. The food is proof you can't spell "Mexican" without "can," though if you stick to fresh-cooked dishes like fajitas you'lo fine. Best night fo a istors: Thursdays, a fun, flirty scene.