THE SPOT: Shoppers tend to spend hours in Giant Robot, the Asian-American pop culture emporium that stocks curiosities like Uglydolls and puffy sushi stickers. Good thing there's a Japanese café, GR/eats (2050 Sawtelle Blvd., 310-478-3242), right across the street, perfect for a quiet, tasty meal. Bonus: There's parking in front, a rarity in West L.A.
THE SPECS: The deep-fried, garlic-spiked tofu meatballs ($4) taste even better with the sweet, tangy chili sauce.
HOBOKEN, NEW JERSEY
THE SPOT: La Isla (104 Washington St., 201-659-8197), a family-run Cuban café near the Hudson River, attracts a mix of cops and businessmen who love the homestyle cooking -- and the fact that you can bring your own booze!
THE SPECS: Once you finally score a table, you can savor the albondigas ($8), cumin-spiced beef meatballs served in a flavorful tomato sauce with black beans and rice and plantains, in classic Cuban style.
THE SPOT: In Greektown, you'd expect to find Greek food. Dishes from the island of Cyprus are another story, and Venus Greek-Cypriot (820 West Jackson Blvd., 312-714-1001) is the only restaurant where you'll find the Middle Eastern-influenced delicacies. Sit with locals at the bar, shaped like an ancient Greek warship.
THE SPECS: The keftedes ($7.50), or pork meatballs, are made with shredded potatoes, mint and cinnamon. Dip them in the thick yogurt.
THE SPOT: Italian food came to Houston in 1945 via the late Frank "Papa" Azzarelli, a man from Palermo who was an architect of the Brooklyn Bridge. Locals flocked to Azzarelli's (17754 Katy Freeway, 832-444-7804), and the hot spot attracted celebrities like Bob Hope.
THE SPECS: Azzarelli's grandson Frank Triola uses the family recipe to make spaghetti and meatballs ($13) with beef, veal, basil and marsala-soaked breadcrumbs.
*Prices and other details were accurate when we published this article in September 2009.
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