405 N. Tejon St., 481-6888, rastapastacs.com
In early May, Rasta Pasta added a smart pasta alternative that caters to many a dietary desire. "It's low-carb, gluten-free and paleo-friendly," in co-owner Rebecca Taraborelli's words. So what is it, really? Spaghetti-noodle-width, spiral-cut strands of carrots, yellow squash and zucchini called "veg-etti," which can substitute into any dish ( $2/lunch, $3/dinner).
Since I shred my garden zucchini into angel hair each summer, I felt in familiar territory with a version of the Spicy Jammin' ($8.95, pre-veg-etti) to pair with an Iron Bird saison ($4) for last month's Pints & Plates event. To the shrimp, jerk seasoning, garlic, basil, onions and tomatoes, RP added Polidori's spicy Italian sausage for extra zest, and finished the dish with a red wine sauce and squeeze of lime (intended to play off the beer's faint citrus element). The veg-etti appreciatively lightened the affair, especially avoiding the post-pasta carb heaviness. — Matthew Schniper
1107 S. Nevada Ave., 578-1468
For over a decade, Island Grill has dished authentic Jamaican cuisine out of this tiny strip-mall space that mostly accommodates take-out orders. What's new is the takeover by new owner/chef Lateisha Scaffe, who comes out to hand off our food after five minutes and also tells me about added menu items.
I'll return for a fish dish (30-minute call-ahead requested), but for this day I dine on her satisfying oxtail and butter beans ($12). The recipe is hers, with touches from her mom and a bit of her granddad's style. ("He was a hell of a cook.") For it, she browns the meat with a caramel-coloring agent and then pressure-cooks it in water with imported Jamaican spices, plus fresh herbs and garlic. She thickens the runoff with cornstarch into a dark, inky sauce that clings to the fatty crevices of meat around the central bone. Canned butter beans and pea-flecked rice underlie the affair, with fried plantains savored last as a mini dessert. — Matthew Schniper
204 N. Tejon St., 635-3276, skirtedheifer.com
It's been a little over a year since Skirted Heifer's opening and my initial visits, when I was charmed by all of the sustainability efforts but not entirely bowled over by the burgers. Yes, I love the locally acquired grass-finished beef, but requested temperatures on the grill were inconsistent, and some garnishes' textures were off.
I recently returned to let the Classic Skirted Heifer ($6.75) act as a marker of progress. Again no pinkness could be found in my supposed medium rare patty, but thankfully flavors and juiciness remained intact. My "skirt" of seared cheddar cheese this time sported less tough edges, allowing for easier bites of the fixins-laden bun. And that bun — homemade garlic focaccia from Bambino's pizza dough — nearly steals the show, soaking up the Heifer Sauce (house ketchup thinned with mayo and dill pickle juice) to dense, spongy delight. The Springs hosts a lot of burger spots, but I'm glad this one has stamped its brand. — Matthew Schniper