1120 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica
(310) 394-7804; www.toirockinthaifood.com
Daily, 11 a.m.-3 a.m.
Nestled in the Santa Monica section of Wilshire, Toi is well camouflaged, its small front belying the impressive amount of space within. A huge portrait of Jim Morrison stares down at you as you eat, surrounded by all kinds of movie and music memorabilia.
As Star Wars: Episode 1 played in the background, my date and I started in on our steamed chicken dumplings in a slightly spicy Thai sauce. The dumplings had a great consistency, marrying the chicken with the crunchy vegetables that was a taste explosion. The sauce was so good I started dipping the raw vegetables that garnished the dish into it, just to find another vehicle for it into my mouth.
I knew walking in that I absolutely couldn’t order Pad Thai. I have a small problem with ordering Pad Thai every time I’m even in the vicinity of a Thai restaurant, so I compromised.
It’s not like there weren’t another 10 variations on a noodle-y theme on the menu, not to mention the vegetarian curries that also hold a special place in my heart. But noodles it was to be, so how about Thai Spaghetti?
Delicious. It was very saucy, which I love, with abundant shrimp and chicken tossed into the mix to let you know that they were, indeed, on the ingredients list. It’s always nice to have chunks big enough that you can discern their origin, which is not necessarily common in the world of generic Thai food.
The spicy fried rice with chicken was far superior to a recent excursion with order-in Thai food, in that, my mouth did not need to be treated for third degree burns. Toi knows how to use spice for flavor rather than sadism.
The best part by far, however, was that for the reasonable prices, you get a whole lot of food.
Toi has a second location at 7505 1/2 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles.
8020 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles
(323) 653-5858; www.swingersdiner.com
Daily, 6:30 a.m.-4 a.m.
I don’t know what to say about Swingers except that it’s the greasy spoon without the grease. Swingers is the diner for people who hate diner food but secretly wish they could be Michael J. Fox in Back to the Future, pounding down a cup of coffee with their tofu breakfast sauté.
Basically, it’s Los Angeles’ answer to Denny’s. And Denny’s got schooled.
I stare at this menu for a long, long time. The problem is this: I’m not a vegetarian, but I love vegetarian food. I’m also convinced that there’s no superior meal to breakfast. Italian food falls into my down home cooking category in a way that Americana never did. This menu encompasses them all and the proverbial bag of chips.
My eating partner had no such difficulties. There was a steak with fries. Enough said.
To play devil’s advocate and form a tag team culinary duo, I go for the hummus wrap and let the games begin.
Hummus is one of those foods that you really can’t mess up. Or I suppose you can, but nobody who has a restaurant on Sunset Boulevard does. Therefore, delivery on a good hummus wrap requires something a little extra in the way of flavor and texture.
This wrap crunches. It also comes with its own yogurt-based dipping sauce that adds a necessary tang to the creamy smoothness of the hummus itself. A fine innovation is the inclusion of a quinoa side dish for an additional shot of protein and nutty joy that anybody with a vegan diet will appreciate.
That which they did for hummus, Swingers manages on an old classic as well. Beneath the charbroiled crust with real grill lines and seasoning was pink, beautifully rested meat that you could actually cut with the knife provided rather than a wicked serrated edge.
So props to Swingers for managing to, well, swing both ways.
Swingers has a second location at 8020 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles.
8653 W. Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles
(310) 652-6104; www.cravingsrestaurant.com
Mon-Fri, 11 a.m.-midnight; Sat & Sun, 9 a.m.-midnight
Cravings’ location on Sunset allows for indoor and outdoor seating and excellent people watching opportunities that make for great conversation. I must warn you, the food is not cheap, but the food is fabulous.
From appetizers to dessert, Cravings will get you the freshest flavors and ingredients this side of the Mediterranean. The requisite focaccia bread with its zingy olive Tapenade alone is enough to tantalize taste buds. The trick is to stop eating that before the first course comes out.
True to its culinary roots, Cravings begins our romp through its menu with thin slices of eggplant wrapped around a ricotta and fresh herb mixture, smothered in a creamy tomato sauce. You know you’ve found a good Mediterranean restaurant when the eggplant doesn’t chew like an old rubber tire.
My date’s pizza is so cheesy it has to be eaten with a knife and fork. The toppings are perfectly balanced, and the crust is pure Italy, where bread is thick and pizza crust isn’t.
I go for the fettuccine with vodka sauce and fresh salmon, which impresses me not only with the hearty chunks of salmon but also with the restraint the chef shows with the sauce. It coats every strand but does not puddle at the bottom.
Cravings is a diamond in the rough when it comes to pairing fresh ingredients with classic dishes to put an interesting twist without bogging it down in taste bud-complication.
419 N. Fairfax Ave., Los Angeles
(323) 651-2030; www.cantersdeli.com
Open 24 hours a day
Just down the road from The Grove, Canter’s is a 24/7 bakery and deli that stays true to its roots and makes everything on site, from its corned beef to the bread that they serve it on. Speaking of the corned beef, it’s excellent. My companion and I also try the Reuben sandwich and corned beef hash.
Reuben sandwiches are those heart-attack-on-a-plate concoctions that would make me want to die and go to heaven. The meat is piled on at least an inch and a half high and topped with gooey Swiss cheese and sauerkraut. This is no wimpy sandwich.
The corned beef hash is a meal that’ll take you from breakfast to dinner. A healthy helping of perfectly fried up hash is accompanied by a bagel with cream cheese and eggs, served up any way you like.
The bakery’s cookies are amazing – from Mexican wedding cookies that explode in your mouth with buttery goodness to flaky elephant ear cookies and others with enough chocolate to blow your mind.
Other Late Night Options:
Bossa Nova (bossafood.com), Fred 62 (fred62.com), La Cabaña (lacabanavenice.com), the Pantry (pantrycafe.com)