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.
Pie ’N Burger
There are many superlative burger places in LA, the city that invented the drive-thru burger in In-N-Out and helped launch McDonald’s into every corner of the earth. Pie ’N Burger, in particular, advertises what it does well in its name and represents a textbook example of a Southern California burger. The burger features plush white buns, crunchy iceberg lettuce, heavy smears of Thousand Island, pickles, and deeply browned beef patties. The sum is greater than its parts, creating a timeless taste of Americana. The weathered interior of Formica countertops and vintage menus gives Pie ’N Burger the feel of a dusty roadside diner, an experience only completed by its great selection of fresh pies. 913 E California Blvd, Pasadena, CA 91106
Sushi comes in virtually every style in Los Angeles, from high-end omakase to casual California rolls. Sushi Gen, a bona fide classic with 42 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
The Chinese restaurant scene in Los Angeles has almost no limit, with a dense cluster of restaurants in the San Gabriel Valley but also standouts in every corner of the city. Start with this versatile and consistent restaurant with two handy locations: one in Alhambra in the heart of SGV and another in West LA near Century City (there’s another in Tustin for those in Orange County). The menu is wide and mostly classic Sichuan, with the spicy Impressive cold noodles or cold jelly noodles coated with tangy chile oil and vinegar that help temper LA’s constant sunny warmth. Middle courses could be tea-smoked pork ribs or cold sliced chicken, while shareable plates might be Sichuan dry hot pot loaded with chiles and tossed with shrimp or squid. The menu here is vast in order to cater to anyone, but the cooking and ingredients reflect a dining audience used to intense flavors and heat, trademark profiles of Los Angeles’s food. 1900 W Valley Boulevard, Alhambra, CA 91803. 11057 Santa Monica Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90025.
Big Night Out
Night + Market
There’s a certain category of restaurant typically associated with young, cool people who don’t mind loud music, uncomfortable chairs, and aloof service. Not to say everyone at Night + Market will get this kind of experience, but Kris Yenbamroong knows what the cool kids like these days. That means a deep menu of natural wines and takes on Thai dishes from an LA perspective, like catfish tamales and a papaya salad-topped fried chicken sandwich, but also the more straightforward pad thai, nam khao tod, and Isan sour sausage, which are among the best in town. Yenbamroong was intentional in making the colorful, brightly lit spaces resemble actual Thai street markets, which only adds to the flavor and fun. Right now the Silver Lake (Song) and Venice (Sahm) menus are a bit shorter than normal due to a recent reopening, so book a table at the West Hollywood original for the largest variety. 3322 Sunset Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90026. 2533 Lincoln Blvd, Venice, CA 90291. 9043 Sunset Blvd West, West Hollywood, CA 90069.
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: 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
There are countless incredible Oaxacan restaurants in Los Angeles, though none boasts quite the same energetic atmosphere as Koreatown’s massive Guelaguetza, with an enormous patio and raucous live music playing nightly inside its cavernous dining room. Mezcal fans will appreciate the wide selection, while cocktail fiends will enjoy the fresh, shaken drinks mixing passionfruit, mango, and pineapple. The various kinds of mole are always must-order items while the wide, tear-apart tlayudas are a perpetual crowd-pleaser. There’s really something for everyone here, from mole-covered enmoladas and tamales to a formidable tres leches bursting with rich, milky cake to share for the table. 3014 W Olympic Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90006
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
Luv2eat Thai Bistro
Featuring the largest Thai community in the U.S., Los Angeles’s traditional Thai restaurants are unmatched stateside. While East Hollywood’s Thai Town enclave has dozens of excellent restaurants, nearby Luv2eat Thai boasts one of the most reliable and crowd-pleasing menus in town from talented chefs Somruthai “Fern” Kaewtathip and Noree “Pla” Burapapituk, who prepare spicy curries (the Phuket-inspired crab curry is a highlight), saucy fried noodles, and slightly sour grilled Isan sausage. Bring a crew and be prepared to sweat out some of the intense, satisfying heat imbued into every dish. 6660 Sunset Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90028
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