Welcome to the land of endless culinary possibility
Los Angeles is anything and everything for the first time visitor. It’s the center of celebrity culture. It’s a mecca for arts, creativity, fashion, and entertainment. And it’s also one of the greatest places for food in America, mostly because of its endless variety of cuisines, but also because of incredible produce, talented chefs, and keen restaurateurs that aim to create quality dining experiences.
On a quintessential day of LA dining, you might start at SQIRL, where hip toasts and grain bowls rule. Then venture over to Wexler's Deli for a fantastic house-smoked pastrami sandwich or a beautiful lox on bagel. If you’ve got time, try a platter of Korean bossam at Kobawoo for lunch before relaxing over an amazing cappuccino at Go Get Em Tiger in Los Feliz. For an early afternoon snack, try a colorful donut at Cafe Dulcé in Little Tokyo or a fantastic glazed fritter at Sidecar Donuts in Santa Monica.
Early evening, have a cocktail at Melrose Umbrella Co. before grabbing a Thai dinner at Night + Market in West Hollywood. Afterwards, grab a taco at Tire Shop Taqueria in South LA or Tacos Leo in Mid-City before hitting a nightcap at Jones, which has a tremendous warm apple pie a la mode. Oh yeah, we hope you brought friends.
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Where to start on Eater LA’s top maps
Eater has maps galore to guide you through LA’s myriad dining and drinking spots. Here we gather the most useful maps and help narrow down the featured spots for anyone short on time.
Hottest restaurant: For a full breakdown of LA's hottest restaurants, mapped out according to location, check out the Eater LA Heatmap. At the moment, there may be no more talked about restaurant in Los Angeles than Kismet, Sara Kramer and Sarah Hymanson's sunny new Middle Eastern restaurant in Los Feliz. Others are fawning over the sky-high views and elevated cuisine of chef Vartan Abgaryan at Downtown stunner 71Above as well, but if queues are your barometer of hotness, it's Chinatown's Nashville-style hot chicken mecca Howlin’ Ray’s that sports the longest lines.
Essential restaurant: Every three months, Eater LA releases the Essential 38, a collection of important and signature restaurants around the city. However, if we think smaller, Bestia and Gjelina are the two sides of the Los Angeles essential east-and-west dining coin, with Republique sitting squarely in the middle. All three exhibit pristine California produce, pitch perfect technique, and amazing ambiances through the lens of Italian (Bestia), Mediterranean (Gjelina), and French (Republique) cuisine.
Sushi: Sugarfish is the best bang for the buck, with numerous locations around the city. South Bay gem Miura offers some of LA's greatest (and most affordable) omakase for a killer $55 while others may choose to splurge at Q Sushi in Downtown or the newer Sushi Ginza Onodera if budget is no issue. For a full map of essential sushi restaurants, check out this map.
Tacos: There are numerous taco stands around town and most of them are quite good. However, Guerrilla Tacos makes standout tacos with a chef’s flair (the truck will be decommissioned once they land their brick & mortar), while Sonoratown brings their flour tortillas and true carne asada to a busy stretch of Downtown. If you’re on the street, opt for Tacos Leo in Mid City, Tire Shop Taqueria in South LA, or Tacos Cuernavaca in East Los Angeles.
Pizza: Sotto makes the best Neapolitan pies in town while Pizzeria Mozza’s more flexible style fuses excellent ingredients and day-to-day consistency. On the Chicago-style deep dish front there's Eastside favorite Dough Box, an upstart taking hold in El Sereno. For LA's essential pizzas, check out this map.
Burger: The Apple Pan’s classic burgers cannot be beat (though Pie N’ Burger is a close second place) while the flavor bomb called the Big Mec at Petit Trois stakes claim as one of the best burgers anywhere, period. If you haven’t done In-N-Out, what are you waiting for? Here's a full listing of both iconic and essential burgers in Los Angeles.
Beer: The craft beer movement has officially taken hold in Los Angeles, with countless breweries either up and running or coming soon. There's the new LA Ale Works in Hawthorne, and the fun-and-games oriented Arts District Brewing. Oh, and if that weren't enough, Los Angeles just got its own massive new Mikkeller Bar too.
Fine Dining: Trois Mec and Orsa & Winston are the two class-leading tasting menu restaurants in town while Melisse and Providence represent a bit of the older, more established (and more expensive) guard. People who dismiss LA’s fine dining do so at their own peril.
Vegetarian/Vegan: Santa Monica option Erven has crossed the vegan divide to be one of the city's best restaurants, limitations be damned. Chef Nick Erven is doing big, tasty fast casual vegetable dining in a way that continues to draw fans.
Korean: Kobawoo and Seongbukdong put out near perfect Korean home-style cooking while and Kang Ho Dong Baek Jeong does the best overall Korean barbecue at the moment in LA. For a full guide to Korean barbecue restaurants, check out this map.
Chinese: Szechuan Impression might be executing the most consistent Sichuanese food in SGV right now while Pine & Crane prepares Taiwanese noodles, dumplings, and more in a bright, beautiful space in Silver Lake.
Japanese: Vegas transplant Raku makes the city’s best overall izakaya fare and composed Japanese bar food while Tsujita’s unbeatable ramen comes in four variations at two adjacent shops on Sawtelle in West LA. There's also a new Tsujita Ramen inside Glendale's Americana at Brand.
Coffee: Go Get Em Tiger has successfully re-thought the craft coffee experience while Cognoscenti Coffee remains Culver City’s beloved neighborhood shop — thanks to its variety of roasted beans from around the country. There are a ridiculous number of high quality coffee shops, so check out this helpful map.
Ice Cream: McConnell’s and Sweet Rose Creamery make classic and creative ice cream flavors out of California’s bounty of produce. Salt & Straw remains a favorite across its five locations: Venice, Arts District, Studio City, West Hollywood, and Larchmont.
Classic: Three spots to know about: Dan Tana’s for its epic chicken parmesan, Musso & Frank for LA’s strongest martinis, and The Original Pantry Cafe for its late night pancakes and massive ham steak with eggs.
Late Night: If you're down for a fun after drinking diner fare, you couldn't do much better than The Original Pantry Cafe in Downtown. Meanwhile, Jones Hollywood’s spaghetti with meatballs and baked apple pie are the ideal dishes to follow a night out.
A guide to LA’s dining neighborhoods
Los Angeles is a massive globally-connected city that stretches hundreds of square miles. If you think cities like San Francisco, New York, and Chicago are big, Los Angeles will dwarf them in sheer size and breadth — 469 square miles, if anyone's asking. That means traversing the various neighborhoods is an exercise in patience (especially with all the traffic). Here is a guide to LA’s 14 best dining neighborhoods, from west to east.
One of Los Angeles’ priciest neighborhoods, Santa Monica is filled with tech money, tourists, and those looking to live close to the water. It’s also a relatively diverse dining area, filled with old school bars, upscale bistros, and beachy cheap eats. Start your morning at Milo & Olive on Wilshire Boulevard for some of the city’s best pastries and brunchy fare, then transition to Italian deli favorite Bay Cities for the iconic Godmother sandwich as you make your way to the beach. Come dinnertime, you might find yourself at Jeremy Fox’s Rustic Canyon or Bryant Ng’s Cassia — or whiling away the night with a glass of wine at local favorite Tar & Roses.
Full of hip concepts and eclectic locals, Venice has an upscale oddity vibe that simultaneously promotes unique ideas and allows for priced-in creative types with money to spare. Abbot Kinney is the neighborhood’s main vein, and comes with its own ubiquitous coffee shops (Intelligentsia and Blue Bottle among them), doughnut spots (Blue Star, anyone?), and sit-down restaurants like the impossibly true-to-California Gjelina. You’ll also find genre-bending baked goods at sister restaurant Gjusta, tailored Italian fare at The Tasting Kitchen, and some of L.A.’s best Cal-Italian food at The Rose Cafe-Restaurant.
With a thriving downtown core surrounded by wide boulevard and kid-friendly side streets, Culver City is a destination for families and those wanting a more central Los Angeles lifestyle. Cognoscenti Coffee and Kogi Taqueria are easy (and less expensive) destinations unto themselves. Check out the affordable Middle Eastern fast-casual Yalla, not far from the wide patio and amazing craft beer lineup at burger favorite Father’s Office. Don’t forget Coolhaus for your ice cream sandwich finisher.
With its famous name and equally recognizable locals, Beverly Hills is a tony destination for tourists looking to score a selfie on Rodeo Drive — even as everyone else hits the off streets for a more laid-back dining experience. It’s possible to experience one of Curtis Stone’s rotating tasting menus at Maude or a comfortable dinner at the timeless Spago. You can scale up with some of the city’s best steak at CUT, or keep it easy with some people watching on the patio of the Polo Lounge on the grounds of the Beverly Hills Hotel.
The home of LA’s new Hollywood stardom and the Sunset Strip, West Hollywood is often the first place transplants and visitors check out. Go old school at Dan Tana’s after a show at the iconic Troubadour or walk down Santa Monica Blvd for a fun-filled evening in Boystown, the center of LA’s gay nightlife. Try the Neapolitan pies at Prova or the Spanish-style sandwiches at BCN. For something more elegant, there’s the lovely patio at the Eveleigh, the stunning seafood at Connie & Ted’s, or the killer cocktails at Gracias Madre.
This large swath includes the concrete expanse between Mid-Wilshire and the 10 Freeway, and might envelope Fairfax District, Beverly Grove, and Pico-Robertson. It’s also traditionally been a place for iconic LA restaurants like Republique (formerly the home of Campanile), Jar, Lucques, AOC, Mozza, and Animal. The corner of Melrose Avenue and Highland boasts the excellent Petit Trois and tasting menu spot Trois Mec while across the street Osteria Mozza, Chi Spacca, and Pizzeria Mozza represent a triad of terrific Italian-oriented restaurants by Nancy Silverton.
The mega tourist district also contains pockets full of culinary finds, especially in Thai Town and the eastern sections of this neighborhood. Start at Musso & Frank for a strong martini in a classic room, then wander over to Birch for excellent chef-driven fare and seasonally-driven cocktails. For something a little more ambitious, try Curtis Stone's Gwen on Sunset, with its meat-centric tasting menu. Or opt for a burger at 25 Degrees and a pizza at Stella Barra. For another grown up meal in Hollywood, Salt’s Cure offers chef-inspired meaty fare and great cocktails. Farther east, Thai Town offers excellent, affordable bites from Ruen Pair and Sapp Coffee Shop while Little Armenia boasts Carousel and Zankou Chicken.
Koreatown is a bustling dining corridor in the heart of LA, with hundreds of Korean restaurants, but also Salvadoran, Oaxacan (like the iconic Guelaguetza), and Bangladeshi eateries. The top Korean barbecue spots are Kang Ho Dong Baek Jeong and Park’s BBQ, though Oo Kook offers amazing all-you-can-eat ‘cue at a reasonable price. Traditional Korean restaurants Jun Won, Kobawoo, and Mapo Kkak Du Gee will taste as if you were in a grandmother’s kitchen while the late night drinking specialties of Dan Sung Sa are better for entertaining late into the night.
Silver Lake/Echo Park/Los Feliz
LA’s Eastside is getting major screen time on television and movies because of its too-cool hipster culture. While this can be maddening, it also means that some of the best culinary offerings are here. Start at Alimento or Night + Market or the leafy back patio of Cliff's Edge, or have a few oysters at L&E Oyster Bar. Both Pine & Crane and Silver Lake Ramen remain ultra popular carb depots while Guisados, Ostrich Farm, and Winsome are just a few of the better places to eat in Echo Park. Silver Lake is a bit of an older crowd while Echo Park is definitely geared toward millennial cool kids. The Eastside is also coffee central, with places like Eightfold, Intelligentsia, H Coffee House, Woodcat, and Blue Bottle caffeinating the creative types in the area.
Downtown is undoubtedly Los Angeles’ most bustling restaurant neighborhood, with everything from urban grit and hipster cool to dense cityscape and sleek office skyscrapers. There are tiny taco spots like Sonoratown, million dollar restaurant build-outs like Otium, and an endless stream of up and down-market concepts in between. Particular highlights include Charles Olalia’s RiceBar, an eight-seat Filipino rice bowl haven from a fine dining vet, and the Michelin-worthy tasting menu option Orsa & Winston. Don’t forget Grand Central Market, the century-old open air market where fledgling restaurant ideas from some of the city’s most important chefs come to thrive.
The sleepy sister city to booming Los Angeles, Pasadena is a more subdued mini-metropolis to the east. Tourists and shoppers flock to the Old Town stretch for clothing stores and big chain retailers, but just off the beaten path are where the high quality eats are. You’ll find the Italian-focused Union just a block north of the main drag, and the breakfast-heavy Copa Vida doing some of the city’s best coffee one block south. There’s also a strong array of Chinese restaurants doing hot pot, dumplings, and beyond, as well as pastries from Lincoln out in the neighborhood and burgers from longstanding icons like The Original Hat.
San Gabriel Valley
Los Angeles’ Chinese food mecca, the San Gabriel Valley is a sprawling home to hundreds of thousands of first and second-generation Chinese, Vietnamese, and Taiwanese immigrants who have come to call the area their own. You’ll find modern favorites still, like the hard rocking burgers at the food truck turned storefront Grill ‘Em All in Alhambra, but mostly the SGV is known for its noodles, dumplings, and dim sum weekends. Sea Harbour and Elite lead the pack for a lingering Saturday morning meal with families over endless trays of food, while Din Tai Fung in Arcadia still produces some of the booming chain’s best food. Don’t forget the banh mi sandwiches, Beijing meat pies, and endless hot pot places that thrive in all corners of the long, wide valley.
Another wide region that includes Torrance, Redondo Beach, Hermosa, and Manhattan Beach, plus a slew of other municipalities, the main takeaway for the South Bay is the terrific Japanese food. For izakaya fare, try Otafuku (which David Chang said he would visit regularly if he lived in LA). For sushi bars, check out Nozomi and Chitose. Yakitori is very good at places like Shin Sen Gumi and Torihei. Manhattan Beach in particular sports some fine restaurants like Love & Salt, M.B. Post, and Fishing With Dynamite, in case you need something to eat after hitting the beach.
San Fernando Valley
Occupying a wide chunk of greater Los Angeles County, the larger San Fernando Valley — or just The Valley, for short — is a mostly suburban-industrial mix of single family homes punctuated by long commercial stretches. Ventura Boulevard is the most well-known dining hub, playing host to some of the city’s best hidden sushi gems, plus newer spots like The Bellwether and Barrel & Ashes. You’ll find a meaty tasting menu on the second floor of a shopping mall at Scratch Bar, or some of the city’s best Lebanese shawarma tucked into Saj Bakery, a Northridge strip mall outfit. One of LA’s best delis is Brent’s, where pastrami is king. And only miles away is Bill’s Burgers, a pull-up shop in Van Nuys that still has the old man working the stove.
The vast swath of Los Angeles known as South LA is many things to many people, carrying with it a square mileage that’s larger than the entire island of Manhattan. Within its borders you’ll find everything from drive-thru restaurants to longstanding sit down restaurants like Hawkins House of Burgers, a cheap eats stalwart in Watts. Not far away is LocoL, Roy Choi and Daniel Patterson’s genre-bending healthy fast food franchise. Revolutionario works up some of the city’s most inventive North African tacos up on Jefferson, while Delicious Pizza on historic Adams Boulevard marries slices and soundtracks to the city’s thriving music scene. You’ll also find the city’s barbecue soul here, with places like Phillip’s (sadly Bludso's will not re-open after a shutter earlier this year). Don’t forget the neighborhood’s thriving Mexican and Central American heritage either, whether on street corners like the Tire Shop Taqueria or off trucks like Tamales Elena.
A Los Angeles dining glossary
Tacos al pastor: marinated pork packed onto a spit, called a trompo, and carefully sliced onto a tortilla. Pineapple is optional. Found in various taco trucks and shops around town. Try to get them at a place that are selling briskly. Don’t get tacos al pastor from a neglected trompo.
Korean barbecue: Thinly sliced meats, beef, pork, and chicken, but also duck, seafood, and lamb, grilled tabletop and served with a variety of banchan (palate-cleansing snacks). Premium barbecue spots tend to get most of the glory, but the reasonably priced all-you-can-eat variety are numerous in Koreatown and cost less than $20 per person.
Tsukemen: A particular style of ramen that involves dipping chewy noodles into an intensely porky broth.
Xiao long bao: Small "soup" dumplings filled with meat and broth, sporting thin skins and served at dim sum and dumpling houses around San Gabriel Valley. One of the best places to get them is at Din Tai Fung in Glendale and Arcadia.
Pupusa: a thin Salvadoran pancake stuffed with cheese, a unique green vegetable slaw called loroco, and various meats. Best when topped with a fermented cabbage slaw called curtido.
Avocado toast: A now ubiquitous phenomenon hitting tables everywhere around town, mainly for breakfast or brunch, but increasingly for lunch and dinner. It’s toast topped with avocado and usually some other toppings, from radish slivers to olive oil to red pepper flakes. Is it overpriced? Almost always. Is it delicious? Almost always.
Poke: A traditionally Hawaiian dish that takes chopped fish and mixes in soy sauce, onions, and more. LA’s take on poke involves more than just warm rice as an accompaniment. Often you can mix in avocado, kale, fried onions, scallions, fish eggs, and seaweed in a build-a-bowl style.
Acai bowl: A traditionally Brazilian snack that takes blended acai fruit and tops it with more fresh fruit. LA versions take the idea a step further with more toppings: nuts, berries, grains, and other ingredients to give the bowls an extra dose of flavor.
Wolfgang Puck: The original celebrity chef, whose restaurant empire spans the globe. He started it all at Hollywood restaurant Ma Maison and continued to grow at Spago, which still stands in the heart of Beverly Hills. Puck himself is often holding court in person at Spago or nearby at his steakhouse CUT.
Suzanne Goin: LA’s most recent James Beard Foundation Award winner, Goin runs some of LA’s finest restaurants in AOC, Lucques, and Tavern. From the school of Alice Waters, Goin incorporates mostly Mediterranean flavors into LA’s local produce.
Nancy Silverton: Founder of La Brea Bakery, as well as Pizzeria Mozza, Osteria Mozza, and Chi Spacca, Silverton represents LA’s emergence as an artisanal food hub, as well as its current status as refined purveyor of modern California-Italian cuisine.
Jon & Vinny: Short for Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo, chefs who knew exactly how to make the kind of food you want to eat, even before you knew it. They launched Animal in the late aughts, presaging the whole animal and elevated stoner fare that pervaded the city. They opened Son of a Gun before LA knew it had world class seafood. They partnered with Ludo Lefevre to open Trois Mec, Petit Trois, and Trois Familia — three of the trendiest places in town. And they debuted their signature Jon & Vinny’s on Fairfax, offering comforting Italian-American fare in a slick dining room. Oh, and they brought home a James Beard Award in 2016 to top it all off.
Reservations to make in advance
Thankfully L.A. restaurants don’t tend to be too difficult to book, especially compared to other large cities. However, there are small handful of places where reservations are strongly recommended or even required (via tickets). You’ll need to think ahead for Bestia, n/naka, Jon & Vinny’s, Maude, Trois Mec, Fishing With Dynamite, and Mastro’s Ocean Club.
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