Countless first-time visitors come to Los Angeles in search of delicious, exciting things to eat — with equal voraciousness for destinations that are unexpected and intrinsically LA. Eater LA’s restaurant starter pack is a guide to where to go for quintessential Los Angeles dining experiences: places that will give diners a taste of what Los Angeles has to offer and, inevitably, leave them wanting more.
By eating at all of these restaurants, visitors, transplants, and even longtime residents will gain a foundational understanding of what makes this city’s dining scene distinctive and special. While there are myriad other guides Eater puts together, from the Essential 38 restaurants in Los Angeles and Eater LA heatmap documenting the hottest new restaurants to dine in, to the dozens of cuisine, neighborhood, and dish maps across the city, this is the first place to start understanding the food landscape in Los Angeles.
Updated in November 10, 2023 with Pasjoli, Madre, Apple Pan, Pine & Crane, and Tuk Tuk Thai.
There are many burgers in Southern California but few boast the legacy and consistency of the Apple Pan in West LA, an institution that might be the most evocative, romantic place to experience a mid-century diner. The burgers are worth making Apple Pan a destination, if only for their bare simplicity and engineered construction. A cook spends a long part of the day shaping perfect crunchy mounds of iceberg lettuce to fit within each burger. Options of hickory or the relish-filled house sauce create deep divides among regulars. (Order whichever sounds better to you.) The soft white buns contain a juicy, griddled patty, lettuce, and, if requested, cheese, which drapes over the side of the meat like a shell. Servers run around the inner counter taking orders, hand-pouring ketchup from glass bottles, and dispensing soft drinks into paper cones held up by tin metal bases. And the fries, well, they’re fine, but you also need them with a burger order, or a tuna sandwich, or a ham sandwich stacked so high it’ll feed two people. If stomach room allows, get a slice of pie, especially the boysenberry. The Apple Pan claims “quality forever,” on its sign, and one truly hopes the restaurant lasts forever. 10801 W. Pico Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90064
Sushi comes in virtually every style in Los Angeles, from high-end omakase to casual California rolls. Sushi Gen, a bona fide classic with 43 years of history inside a Little Tokyo strip mall, has the versatility to serve $23 sashimi lunch combinations blessed with at least seven different kinds of fresh fish, but also offers omakase dinners at the counter in front of a bevy of skilled chefs. Whatever one’s preference, the quality of fish is beyond reproach. Just be prepared to wait during prime hours because Sushi Gen does not take reservations. 422 E 2nd St, Los Angeles, CA 90012
When people talk about great Korean barbecue, they start with Park’s. The longtime standard-bearer does virtually everything well, from banchan to non-grilled dishes, but the stars in the middle of every table are always pristine, well-marbled, tender cuts of beef, pork, and other meats that gain a bit of smoky flavor from the charcoal nestled inside the grills. What makes Park’s so accessible is its boisterous dining room, quick service, and quality ingredients from start to finish. One bite of the marinated short rib, dripping with fat and seared soy flavor, will convince anyone. 955 S Vermont Ave G, Los Angeles, CA 90006
Pine & Crane
The range of quality Chinese food in Los Angeles seems as staggering as the regional cuisines of China itself, with much of the best Cantonese, Sichuan, and more residing in the San Gabriel Valley. Pine & Crane’s Taiwanese noodles, dumplings, rice bowls, and boba tea could be the ideal first foray for those who are already familiar with mainstream American Chinese food but less familiar with Taiwanese specialties. Beef rolls, vegan mapo tofu studded with mushrooms, and a ground pork rice bowl work as nice entrees while crunchy marinated cucumbers, wood ear mushroom salad, and fresh sauteed greens complement on the side. Finish with a semi-sweet boba milk tea and plate of chewy hakka mochi dusted with ground peanut and black sesame for a nutty crunch. Located in Downtown LA at 1120 S. Grand Avenue or in Silver Lake at 1521 Griffith Park Boulevard.
Big Night Out
The notion of great French food has always felt elusive in Los Angeles, a city steeped in standout Asian, Italian, and Californian food from east to west. Enter: Pasjoli. Dave Beran’s Santa Monica bistro operates like a fine dining restaurant in its elegance, detailed plating, and polished dishes. It’s the kind of place where you can’t really feel overdressed, which means something in always relaxed LA. Dry-aged beef tartare comes with fragrant nasturtium pesto while scallop mousse quenelles melt in the mouth with pops of briny caviar in the beurre blanc. Entrees like butter-poached halibut are unimpeachable, but swing the pressed duck if you can, served with medium-rare roasted breast sporting crisp skin and a pan sauce of all the pressed innards. The dish is meant for two, but can easily be shared with more if accompanying other mains. For dessert, opt for the trend-setting Basque cheesecake or the off-menu pain perdu that could be the most astoundingly rich celebratory finish in LA. 2732 Main Street, Santa Monica, CA 90405.
Angelenos love Italian food, and the city’s lens of California-influenced Italian cuisine goes back decades. Chef Evan Funke takes his fervent approach to fresh pasta to its logical conclusion at Felix with pristine seasonal ingredients and strong execution. The focaccia’s crust crackles, well-dressed salads burst with citrus flavor, and the pastas are some of the best in the country, from the extruded rigatoni all’amatriciana to the hand-curled trofie with pesto Genovese. Blistered Neapolitan-style pizzas are very good, while the entrees, like the heritage pork chop and the 60-day dry-aged costata di fiorentina, bookend the substantial Italian feasts. 1023 Abbot Kinney Blvd, Venice, CA 90291
Musso and Frank Grill
Los Angeles can credit its rise as a global city to the film industry. Even before motion pictures became California’s greatest export, this classic restaurant and bar was serving hungry (and thirsty) Angelenos with its robust menu of grilled steaks, seared fish, and hearty pastas from a charming dining room. The bar area, serviced by red-tuxedoed bartenders, is the place of Hollywood lore, where stiff gin martinis and boisterous imbibers gather at all times of the day. Musso and Frank’s food might not be among the top in LA, but the sheer history of the room is truly peerless. It’s also the one place where someone wearing a cocktail dress or dinner jacket will never feel out of place. 6667 Hollywood Blvd, Hollywood, CA 90028
The second-largest concentration of people with Mexican heritage in the world lives in the Los Angeles area, which means there are regional styles represented from the San Fernando and East LA to South LA and the Inland Empire. For the past decade or so, the talented Indigenous taqueros from Mexico City by way of Oaxaca have established a formidable collection of al pastor trucks and stands serving sliced adobo-marinated pork from twirling trompos. Tacos Leo is a bit of a ground zero for the al pastor scene, its original Mid-City location since expanded to a scattered chain of trucks around Southern California. Boasting well-seasoned, tender shards of burnt orange-tinted pork, the modestly priced tacos are best when topped with tangy green salsas. 1515 S La Brea Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90019. 415 Glendale Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90026.
This wonderful, towering space is a storied restaurant venue in Los Angeles. Once Charlie Chaplin’s office spaces, and then the decades-long home of classic California restaurant Campanile and influential La Brea Bakery, it’s been a French and globally influenced all-day restaurant from Walter and Margarita Manzke for the better part of a decade. From morning to lunch, its counter service offers fresh-baked pastries and bread, salads, sandwiches, and polished comfort fare like kimchi fried rice, pupusas, and shakshuka. With open seating and a space bathed in sunlight, this bustling daytime dining room delivers effortless, fresh ingredients, and proper cooking on every plate. Come dinner, things get darker, more intimate, and more upscale with full service, stellar wine, and top-flight cocktails. The menu boasts glorious wood-rotisserie chickens, intricate pastas, and braised short ribs. Always order a slice of cake to finish. 624 S La Brea Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90036
Inglewood’s enduring soul food institution Dulan’s draws lines every day at lunch, packing takeout plates with red beans and rice, collard greens, smothered pork chops, and fried chicken from founder Adolf Dulan. This is Los Angeles soul food at its finest — rib-sticking and packed with flavor without being too heavy. Portions are always generous and fairly priced, adding to its approachability. Dulan’s is the most beloved restaurant in South LA for good reason: It embodies the essence of comforting soul food. 202 E Manchester Blvd, Inglewood, CA 90301
Oaxacan food has been an historic part of Los Angeles’s Mexican food since the early 1990s, when immigrants came to Southern California to establish Oaxacalifornia, the moniker for the city’s substantial Oaxacan community. Plenty of traditional Oaxacan restaurants abound, serving mole, tlayudas, and memelas, but Madre, owned and operated by Ivan Vasquez, feels like one that straddles the old and new with its colorful dining rooms, stellar mezcal cocktails, and heaping plates of classic dishes. Each location, from West Hollywood to Torrance to the newer Santa Clarita branch, offers slightly different menus, but expect reliable food at each one, and the attentive service to match. 1261 Cabrillo Avenue #100, Torrance, CA; 10426 National Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA; 801 North Fairfax Avenue #101, West Hollywood, CA; 27007 McBean Parkway, Santa Clarita, CA.
Taste of Tehran
Los Angeles boasts everything from Armenian and Lebanese fare to filling Persian cuisine. Taste of Tehran in West LA rides the middle ground with a fast-casual environment paired with fire-licked koobideh and chicken kebabs served with fluffy sumac-topped rice. Other worthy orders include lentil- and raisin-studded addas polo rice, crusted tahdig rice, and roasted eggplant dip. The real gems are the daily specials, from blistered whole Cornish game hens to roasted lamb shanks swimming in red broth. 1915 Westwood Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90025
Tuk Tuk Thai
Amid the numerous amazing Thai restaurants in LA, from the classic Jitlada in Thai Town to the newer but also terrific Luv2eat Thai Bistro in Hollywood, Tuk Tuk Thai manages to feel just a little more modern. Located on a sleepier stretch of Sawtelle Japantown in West LA, Tuk Tuk Thai’s street food-influenced menu ranges everything from satay and fried chicken wings in sriracha sauce to grilled fermented sour sausages. The noodle section pleases a crowd, from classic yum woon sen with sun-dried prawns and glass noodles to a punchy sidewalk pad thai with a choice of protein. All the flavors are developed, sharp, and balanced without any cloying sweetness, and the protein quality is a cut above the standard Thai takeout spot. Don’t let the millennial pink walls and murals fool you: Tuk Tuk Thai is legit. 1638 Sawtelle Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90025.
Grand Central Market
If there’s one place to get a taste of almost anything and everything in Los Angeles, it’s Grand Central Market, the city’s original food hall and one of its most influential dining destinations. Mixing old-school produce vendors and food stalls with newer restaurants, the market is a smorgasbord of Latin American favorites from Sarita’s pupusas, new-school Jewish deli sandwiches at Wexler’s, small-batch ice cream at McConnell’s, homestyle Korean dosirak (Korean bento plates) by Shiku, third-wave coffee at G&B Coffee, vegan ramen by Ilan Hall at Ramen Hood, and seasonal strawberry doughnuts at the Donut Man. Grand Central Market is the place to wander around, nibble on artisanal cheeses at DTLA Cheese, sip on fresh juices, or share a few incredible slices of pie from Fat + Flour. And the longest lines will always be at Eggslut for its picturesque breakfast sandwiches. 317 S Broadway, Los Angeles, CA 90013