We like to think of our Annual Guide to the Best of (Jewish) Los Angeles as kvetch-proof. Our writers and editors provide personal favorites that are so idiosyncratic and eclectic that it's hard to argue. ("No, that's not the best place to buy a $50 set of used Talmud, this is!")
Our contributors are out there -- in the community, in the neighborhoods, off the beaten track -- and their choices not only reflect the varied tastes of our staff, but the great diversity of L.A. Jewish life. Year after year, by the way, Los Angeles is still our "Best Jewish City."
Best Places to See Jewish Opera: Los Angeles and Long Beach
Thanks to maestro James Conlon and his "Recovered Voices" project, Los Angeles Opera has become the go-to destination in this country to see fully staged productions of works suppressed by the Nazis. This year's fare included the one-act "The Broken Jug" by Viktor Ullmann, who composed the piece just before he was interned at Terezin (he died in Auschwitz in 1944). Conlon aims to stage one such opera per year to help "right musical wrongs" -- Walter Braunfel's rarely performed "The Birds" is planned for 2009. Meanwhile, the iconoclastic Long Beach Opera had such a successful run with its re-staging of Grigori Frid's "The Diary of Anne Frank" (performed in a parking garage to evoke the claustrophobia of Anne's attic) that a second production was added this month.
Los Angeles Opera, 135 N. Grand Ave., Los Angeles.(213) 972-8001.
Long Beach Opera, 507 Pacific Ave., Long Beach. (562) 432-5934. .
-- Naomi Pfefferman
Best Really Jewish-Themed Plays Now Around Town (or, At Least, Some of the Many)
If you're in the mood for a long weekend of Jewish theater (you'd have to start on a Thursday), check out Jennifer Maisel's "The Last Seder," in which the family patriarch has Alzheimer's, the pregnant lesbian daughter brings her life partner and another daughter shows up with a guy she met at the train station, among other intrigues (at the Greenway Court Theatre through July 27). Then there's Naomi Newman, of San Francisco's acclaimed Traveling Jewish Theatre, who'll play a Holocaust survivor recounting her long life (traversing the 20th century) in Martin Sherman's solo show, "Rose" (among Rose's adventures: visits to a hippie commune and to a West Bank settlement), at the Odyssey Theatre (July 5-Aug 31). "The Accomplices," by former New York Times political reporter Bernard Weinraub, spotlights what the United States government and American Jews did -- and didn't do -- to help Jews fleeing the Nazis, at the Fountain Theatre (July 12-Aug. 24). The satiric "Adam Baum and the Jew Movie," directed by Paul Mazursky, is at the Hayworth Theatre through July 20. Watch these pages for more shows as they hit town. Greenway Court Theatre, 544 N. Fairfax Ave., Los Angeles. (323) 655-7679. Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 477-2055. Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave., Los Angeles. (323) 663-1525. Hayworth Theatre, 2509 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 389-9860.
Best New Literary Salon:Town Hall's Writers Bloc
A decade ago, Andrea Grossman started Writers Bloc in her Beverly Hills kitchen; over the years, the salon has hosted pop-culture-meets-literati conversations between the likes of Norman Mailer, Elmore Leonard and Erica Jong. This past year, the venerated series merged with Los Angeles' 70-year-old Town Hall Los Angeles program to form (what else?) Town Hall's Writers Bloc series, which has made a splash with authors from Salmon Rushdie to angry Jewish comic Lewis Black. Stay tuned for best-selling author Paul Auster ("Brooklyn Follies") who will talk about his war-themed new book, "Man in the Dark," later this summer.
Town Hall Los Angeles, 515 Flower St., Los Angeles.
Best (Sinfully Rich) Persian-Infused French Bakery: Mignon
When I see a bakery with a French name in the Valley, it's a good bet it's Persian. One example is Mignon Bakery (mignon means cute in French). The aroma of fresh pastries baking and the owner's warm smile make Mignon a delightful stop on a shopping trip to Valley Produce, a favorite market among Israelis. Although there are French items, so far I've focused on the Persian pastries, and all that I've tried have been fresh and of good quality, from saffron-glazed turnovers with almond-cardamom filling to tasty cinnamon-walnut baklava to exotic sweets like cardamom-flavored chickpea balls. There are a variety of Persian cakes and pastries, like delicate Yazdi cupcakes, syrupy fried pastries and gata, a rich round breakfast bread. This is the only place I know to get fresh barbary bread, the long, oval ridged Persian bread. Like baguette, it has a pleasing crust that's most delicious when just baked. If you want some, come early -- they disappear quickly. Try not to eat the whole loaf before you get home! Mignon Bakery, Valley Produce Plaza, 18353 Vanowen St. Suite G, Reseda. (818) 774-9920.
— Faye Levy
Best Place to Learn Persian and Hebrew While Drinking Blended Coffee: The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf
The L.A.-based Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, whose stores are certified kosher throughout Nevada and Southern California, draws a wide range of customers who enjoy drinking a blended beverage and maybe picking up a new language. At many of the stores, from Pico-Robertson to the Westside to Ventura Boulevard, you can hear Persian-language speakers and Hebrew speakers mingle over mochas. Just plop in a corner and see if you can follow along. As an added bonus, the purple straws and yummy pastries have been joined by challahs, available for order and pickup right at the store. For locations, visit coffeebean.com.
-- Shoshana Lewin
Best Way to Visit the World of Krusty the (Jewish) Clown: The Simpsons Rideat Universal Studios Hollywood
Homer, Marge, Bart and the rest of the family have recently moved from Springfield to Universal City. The six-minute simulator attraction took the site once occupied by the "Back to the Future" ride -- and completely changed the look of the theme park's upper lot. The ride takes you into the crazy world of Krusty (a.k.a. Herschel Shmoikel Pinkus Yerucham Krustofsky) through a visit to the very low-budget Krustyland. But there's a hitch: Sideshow Bob has escaped from prison and can't wait to get revenge on Krusty and the Simpsons. After riding Krusty's "
Upsy-Downsy Spins-Aroundsy High-Flying Teen-Operated Thrilltacular" (his words), stop by the Kwik-E-Mart for a souvenir. 100 Universal City Plaza, Universal City.
Best Way to Walk in the Footsteps of Hollywood's Jewish Legends: The Forecourt of the Stars at Grauman's Chinese Theatre
In front of the world-famous Grauman's Chinese Theatre you'll see not only the footprints, but also the handprints and cigar prints of some of the biggest names in Tinseltown (let alone Hollywood heaven). Among them: Dannhy Kaye (photo, above), Kirk Douglas, Edward G. Robinson, George Burns, Steven Spielberg, the Marx Brothers, Sherry Lansing, Adam Sandler and Jack Benny. Sid Grauman's dream theater -- with its ornate temple bells, pagodas and giant Heaven Dogs from China -- opened in 1927 and was declared a historical landmark in 1968. There is no cost to visit the forecourt of the theater, but given its proximity to the Hollywood and Highland shopping complex, you'll probably end up buying something anyway.
6925 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles.
Best Bookstore to Mingle With Jewish Authors: Book Soup
This WeHo literary establishment surrounded by glitzy nightclubs is not for the claustrophobic. Crammed full of mainstream and small-press books, it also plays host to a good number of book signings and readings by Jewish writers, which take place in a teeny corner of the shop. The snug environment makes these events ideal for chitchatting with the likes of best-selling author Michael Chabon, porn star Ron Jeremy or Hollywood producer Walter Mirisch.
8818 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood. (310) 659-3110.
-- Dikla Kadosh
Hottest Persian-Israeli DJs: DJ Eliran and DJ Tal
Good-looking, successful and ambitious, brothers Eliran and Tal Rafael throw the most rockin' Israeli Jewish dance parties in town at great venues, like the Vanguard in Hollywood. Born in Israel, the young and talented music maestros served in the IDF before coming to the West Coast to "spread Jewish pride and bring Jewish people together" through their groovy events.
Best Place to Eat Falafel and Practice Coexistence: Pita Kitchen
Just like in "Zohan," most Arabs and Israelis live in relative harmony here in the United States. And one place where both break bread is Pita Kitchen, a homey Middle Eastern food stand that is regularly teeming with people of all stripes wolfing down enormous shwarma sandwiches. Customers have to fight for the scarce street parking and pay in cash only, but the quick service and delectable fare make this chor-ba-kir (hole-in-the-wall) worth a drive, even in the scorching heat. 14500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks. (818) 990-7006.
Best Place to Get Your Great-Grandmother's Dented, Tarnished Samovar Restored: Lower East Side Restoration Project
You know that rusted old samovar that's been sitting in the garage, the one your great-grandmother carted over from the Old Country and your mother later used for a planter? All is not lost; you can still bring it back to life to give your kids a genuine Russian Jewish antique that will remain a treasured family heirloom. The Lower East Side Restoration Project here in Los Angeles can replace or remake missing and broken brass parts as well as wooden handles and knobs. And, of course, everything is expertly cleaned and hand-polished. They also repair and restore menorahs, candelabra, spice boxes and other bronze, brass, iron and copper items. And they sell antique Judaica from a historic collection of items brought to the New World during the Great Immigration from the 1850s to the 1920s. (800)905-6160.
-- Jane Ulman
Best Places to See Jewish-Themed Films: Laemmle's Musical Hall 3 in Beverly Hills and Town Center 5 in Encino
Didn't get to the Jewish film festival last month or the Israeli film festival this month? No need to worry; many of those films will probably be playing very soon at one of these Laemmle Theaters, which tend to keep Jewy flicks in heavy rotation. Snack bar items include parve chocolate, bissli and bagels. OK, not really, but wouldn't that be a good idea? Musical Hall 3, 9036 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills. (310) 274-6869. Town Center 5, 17200 Ventura Blvd., Encino. (818) 981-9811.
Best Kosher-"ish" Sushi Restaurant: Crazy Fish
There's always a line outside Crazy Fish, the narrow, brightly lit sushi restaurant on Olympic Boulevard, where you hear a lot of Farsi and a smidgen of Hebrew. Maybe that's because though the place is not technically kosher -- there is no hasgachah (kosher certification) -- signs like this are posted around the restaurant: "We cook our shellfish separately from other fish." And "Our eel sauce and smelt eggs are ' kosher.'" They have the "Jewish roll:" salmon and cream cheese with white onion and smelt eggs, and the "Oy Vey" roll: salmon sushi with chopped garlic and green onion. Don't forget a breath mint on your way out. 9105 W. Olympic Blvd., Beverly Hills. (310) 550-8547.
-- Amy Klein
Best Way to Liven Up Your Friday Night Services: Shul Bands
They're hip, hot and on the rise. Rockin' Shabbat shul bands have not only reinvigorated many Friday night services, but also encouraged community integration, as band groupies shul-hop in pursuit of spiritual Sabbath sounds. On the first Friday of each month, Nashuva grooves to an ample arrangement, from the keys of a baby grand piano to the shimmering riffs of electric guitar. Friday Night Live sounds off on the second Friday, and still sings strong after a decade of Craig Taubman's pop prayers and some fresh young talent on a range of instruments. Temple Israel of Hollywood mixes blues, reggae, classical and klezmer with its all-congregant band, the Chai Tones (call for a schedule). And while IKAR doesn't necessarily front a band, they daven to the deepest drumbeats and some of the most soulful voices this side of the holy land. Nashuva, Brentwood Presbyterian Church, 12000 San Vicente Blvd. , Los Angeles. .
Sinai Temple, 10400 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 474-1518. Temple Israel of Hollywood, 7300 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 876-8330.
-- Danielle Berrin
Best Place to People-Watch for Israelis: Aroma Bakery Cafe
Some go to Aroma Bakery Cafe for the food, the deliciously thin-layered Jachnun, the pillow-puffy Samboosaks and the crispy Jerusalem Bagel toasts, but those are only half the allure of the Valley's definitive Israeli hot spot. On any given lunch hour, or even into the wee hours of the night, sexy and stylish Israeli expats congregate in droves at this ultrahip outdoor eatery that could double as a catwalk. As a see-and-be-seen sidewalk cafe with simply good fare -- and a social vibe to rival that of a nightclub -- a whiff of this Aroma is the closest you'll get to the sunny scene on Tel Aviv's beaches. 18047 Ventura Blvd., Encino. (818) 757-0477.
Best Place to Get Into a Fender-Bender With a Black Hat: Elat Market Parking Lot
The frenzied chaos that overtakes the Elat Market parking lot must be a testament to how good their groceries are. Whether it's innocent-looking Orthodox mothers (with infants in car seats) crossing off their produce list, or hungry men in traditional garb on a Talmud break, or eager yeshiva students racing for the last box of matzah, no one gets in, out of, or through the Elat Market lot unscathed. Just try to enter, exit or drive safely up Wooster Street without honking your horn, slamming on your breaks, stopping short, cursing your brains out and then, finally, getting hit -- this is what happens when Jews go food shopping. 8730 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 659-7070.
Best Place to Buy Judaica on Shabbat: Audrey's Museum Store at the Skirball
Come on, admit it: There are Saturday emergencies, when all you need is a pretty little mezuzah to gift the b'nai mitzvah with, and everything Jewish is closed. Maybe you need a pair of candlesticks, or something Hebrew and housewarming for the newlyweds. Not to worry -- Audrey's Museum Store at the Skirball Cultural Center is home to one of the city's finest Judaica shops, and, yes, it is open on Shabbat. And since you're making the tremendous trek up the 405 on a weekend, you might as well make your stay worthwhile by visiting the museum's incomparable Noah's Ark exhibit. The life-sized re-imagining of Noah's voyage on the open seas, replete with colorful and creative pairs of every biblically extant animal from the days of creation, is truly a ship to behold: think "Titanic" but with wild animals instead of rich people -- oh, and God actually saved this one.
2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 440-4500.
Best Place to Witness More Middle Eastern Coexistence
Local Israelis and Arabs agree that the Carnival Restaurant is tops for Lebanese/Middle Eastern dining. Located at the rear of a mini-mall, the place isn't much on ambiance, but after generous portions of baba ghanoush, hummus falafel, kafta kebab, shwarma and knafeh, who cares. 4356 Woodman Ave., Sherman Oaks. (818) 784-3469.
-- Tom Tugend
Best Place to Impress the Intellectuals for Your Family Simcha: UCLA Faculty Center
You don't have to be a Nobel Prize winner or even a Bruin alumnus to hold your bar/bat mitzvah, wedding or any other simcha reception at the UCLA Faculty Center on the Westwood campus. You can't beat the address for academic prestige, and general manager Ali Tabrizi makes the advance planning relatively painless. Ask for him. (310) 825-0877 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. 480 Charles E. Young Drive, Westwood.
Best Secret Dress Shop (For Shul and Jewish Affairs): Maritere's on Wilshire
A girl doesn't always like to divulge her secret bargain stores, but Maritere's is so underground that I just have to spread the word. The Koreatown clothing store's front window looks like it sells schmatte discount clothing, but after you pass the bargain racks, you'll find discounted Max Studio clothes -- dresses, cocktail outfits, suits, pants, sweaters (cashmere) -- at half the price of even the Max Studio outlet in Santa Monica. You can go -- but just don't beat me to it! 3540 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 107, Los Angeles. (213) 385-1812.
-- Amy Klein
Best New Community Multicultural Hangout Spot: Gardner Park
If you're in the "hood" and looking for a great place to take the kids without spending a dime (except maybe a couple of bucks on ice cream from the truck) head to the newly redesigned kids areas (two!) at Pan Pacific Park. Colloquially known as Gardner Park (by my 4-year-old niece), the smaller kids area, next to the Fairfax branch of the Los Angeles Public Library on Gardner Street, is situated on a combination of sand and that springy cork floorboard. It has baby swings, small slides and climbing contraptions. If you want a sand-free experience, try the upper park, off Beverly Boulevard, which has a smaller climbing complex and a larger one, as well as a sprinkler for the mermaid children. The noise level is gargantuan, with kids and parents shouting in all languages -- especially Yiddish and Hebrew, because of the location. 7600 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 939-8874. PanPacific.RecreationCenter@lacity.org.
Best Place for Communal Monthly Shabbat Dinners: Chabad of Los Feliz
There are many great Shabbat dinners around town, but if you're looking for a religious, communitywide dinner that brings in an eclectic bunch from the East Side -- actors, Israelis, people looking for a minyan -- head to Chabad of Los Feliz, which holds dinner once a month at its new(ish) center (donation suggested). The irrepressibly cheerful and welcoming Rabbi Leibel Korf will not only offer many words of Torah, but a few shots of schnapps to wash it down. His wife, Dvonye, who grew up in Morocco, cooks up a vicious traditional meal including chicken soup, gefilte fish, potato kugel and broccoli salad. If we're ever there together, I can show you my sandwich combining them all into one.
1930 Hillhurst Ave., Los Angeles. (323) 660-5177.
Best Kosher Market on Pico Boulevard Where You Can Turn
Your Cart Around Mid-Aisle: Glatt Mart
The Glatt Mart, on Pico Boulevard and Elm Drive, was just about a year old when it burned down, in December 2004, devastating the group of owners who had invested years and hundreds of thousands of dollars in designing and building the spacious and well-stocked kosher supermarket. The fire was determined to be arson, but because of a glitch in their insurance policy, the owners received only a fraction of the store's worth. Still, the five owners pooled their resources, got loans and invested $3 million in the market, and after sitting behind scaffolding for more than three years, Glatt Mart reopened in April, just before Passover. Modeled after a European supermarket, with discreet sections for the butcher, a fresh fish counter, an in-store bakery, a well laid out produce section, a computer-controlled refrigerator/freezer case and a room for candy, nuts and wine, it's also unlike any other kosher market on Pico, with aisles wide enough to fit two or even three carts side by side. While co-owner Meir Davidpour's claims of Glatt Mart being a "kosher Whole Foods" is a bit hyperbolic, Glatt Mart has many attractions: There are seven cash registers, so lines are minimal, and 25 parking spaces in back alleviate a small bit of the usual parking headache on Pico. Glatt Mart also has an extensive take-out section of prepared foods, including sushi, deli, and Persian, Israeli and American dinner items. Davidpour says the market is intended to cater to Americans and Israelis, but it does carry a wide selection of Persian foods. The entire store is under the kosher supervision of the Rabbinical Council of California. 8708 W. Pico Blvd. 310-289-6888.
-- Julie Gruenbaum Fax
Best Place to Find a 'Box o' Talmud': Iliad Bookshop
Iliad Bookshop in North Hollywood, one of the few remaining used-book stores in Los Angeles, is a funky place with a lazy cat on the counter and rows upon rows and stacks upon stacks of used books. Don't go to Iliad looking for a specific Jewish book. For that, use Amazon or, better yet, Eric Chaim Kline Booksellers, a Santa Monica-based dealer specializing in rare Jewish books that is open by appointment only. But Iliad's Judaica section -- limited to two shelves, about a third dedicated to kabbalah and the rest containing an eclectic mix -- often contains a few gems. On a recent trip, "Yiddish With Dick and Jane" sat atop a 1908 reprint of Claude Reignier Conder's "Judas Maccabaeus and the Jewish War of Independence." There were obscure books on Jews in art, music and the theater and biographies on the likes of Golda Meir and Chaim Weizmann. Leafing through the section a few years back, Jeffrey Blutinger, co-director of the Jewish studies program at Cal State Long Beach, found a small sign taped to the shelf to direct his focus to the floor, where he found a Xerox box labeled, "Box o' Talmud." It was a complete set, and it cost only $50. 5400A Cahuenga Blvd., North Hollywood. (818) 509-2665.
-- Brad A. Greenberg
Best Neighborhood to Pretend You Are in Israel: Tarzana
The mercury has moved past 100 degrees, the desert air is dry and accented with Hebrew. Chicly dressed Israelis sit on a café patio, sipping Turkish coffee and noshing on Jerusalem Bagel Toasts. This is not Israel. It's Tarzana, which a former aide for U.S. Rep. Brad Sherman, who is Jewish and represents the area, once called the greatest threat to the Jewish state. "It looks like Israel; it feels like Israel; and the people all speak Hebrew." Indeed, most American Jews, having visited Israel once or never, could be forgiven for mistaking this slice of Ventura Boulevard for the outskirts of Tel Aviv. There's a concert billboard for Mosh Ben Ari, a hookah bar and Aroma Bakery Café, filled daily with Hebrew-speaking people; Jerusalem Pizza, Shalom Pharmacy and the home office of the Council of Israeli Community; and, most importantly, Encino Glatt Market, which regularly stocks both Maccabee and Goldstar beers.