Visiting LA for the first time? Just moved here with a still unloaded U-Haul? Obviously we have some opinions. Firstly, check where you parked that U-Haul - street cleaning takes no prisoners in this town. Secondly, be prepared to experience the blood-curdling rush of merging onto a six-lane freeway. Thirdly, maybe don’t do anything else but eat?
What you see before you isn’t meant to be a definitive list of this city’s best restaurants – it’s just what we’d do if we were in your shoes, if we just moved here, or were visiting with a weekend in front of us and a whole lot of options to sort through.
Let this guide lead you.
Broad Street Oyster Company is a fantastic seafood shack in Malibu that’s filled with so many oysters, mussels, shrimp, and uni you’ll wonder if their “local source” is actually the Aquarium of the Pacific. It all starts with a trip up PCH, where you’ll find stunning views of the California coastline, endless beaches, houses owned by Tom Hanks and Demi Moore, and – if you’re lucky – an appearance by LA’s infamous bumper-to-bumper traffic on the way back in. You’ll want to order a bit of everything here - oysters and spot prawns from the raw bar, a cup or two of their excellent clam chowder, maybe even a Caesar salad if you’re craving something green - but make sure to include their lobster roll. We like it served hot and absolutely smothered in butter, this luxurious sandwich is sure to impress even the pickiest seafood eaters. Yes, we’re looking at you, East Coasters.
It was the bagel that broke the internet. If you have a working Spectrum connection and an Instagram account, chances are, you’ve heard of Courage Bagels. Everyone from Tejal Rao at the New York Times to our very own Editor in Chief, Hillary Reinsberg, claims that this tiny Virgil Village shop pumps out bagels that are (gasp) even better than the ones made in New York City. Which, of course, is a really big deal if you grew up on the East Coast or, like, care about that kind of stuff. But even if you don’t, a trip to Courage Bagels should be at the top of your to-do list. The order-at-the-window spot specializes in Montreal-style bagels - a denser, crispier version than what you’ll find in New York, and are topped with unique, ingredients like salmon roe, heirloom tomatoes, handfuls of dill, or cucumbers that taste like they were just picked that morning. Lines tend to get pretty long here (we’re talking up to two hours), so either come right when they open, or be prepared to wait.
Inspired by the food found at Japanese convenience stores, Konbi serves all sorts of pickled vegetables, pastries, and perfectly symmetrical sandwiches ideal for a sunny day at the park. You’ve probably seen their glowing egg salad sandwiches on Instagram, but we prefer their heftier options, like pork katsu served on fluffy white bread, or a layered Jonah crab omelette sandwich that tastes smoother and silkier than an Anderson Paak performance. Plus, if you get here early, you might be able to snag one of their chocolate croissants - a buttery, golden pastry stuffed with chocolate that we’d happily travel from out of state, just to devour.
From Glendale to Westwood, Los Angeles is home to a rich Middle Eastern community (and lots of restaurants) – but you should start with Marouch. This iconic Armenian and Lebanese restaurant is a certified Hollywood legend, on par with Fred Astaire, the Griffith Observatory, and that list of celebrities Lindsay Lohan has apparently hooked up with. And for a good reason: their mezze plates are the stuff of wonder. Bright-red muhammara dip is flavored with peppers and pomegranate seeds, the falafel is cooked extra crispy and pairs perfectly with their creamy hummus, and the sugok - a slightly sweet Armenian sausage - is lemon-y, properly oily, and we tend to eat it like candy. Heads up, the servings here are gigantic, so this is the kind of place you’ll want to bring a few friends to. Although, if you don’t know anyone here, we’re always available to grab a meal…
Mateo’s is the undisputed king of all frozen treats in Los Angeles. Between their Oaxacan-style paletas, velvety gelatos, and sorbets that taste like freshly juiced strawberries (if that’s even possible), this incredible dessert shop reminds us of an enchanted bow and arrow, or Olivia Colman’s IMDb page - it simply doesn’t miss. There are a few locations throughout the city, with each storefront stocked with over 30 different flavors of the frozen Mexican treat, including watermelon, mango dusted with chile, and leche quemada - a creamy smoked milk concoction that tastes exactly like someone kippered a gallon of dairy over an open flame.
Over in Los Angeles’ Fairfax district, there’s a part of the city known as Little Ethiopia – a busy, compact strip filled with coffee shops, thrift stores, and some of the best African food around. It’s a great place to spend the day, perusing market stalls and sipping from elegant coffee ceremonies that seem fit for royalty, but whatever you do, make sure to include a stop at Meals By Genet. One of the more well-known restaurants in the neighborhood - and among one of the best in the entire city - it’s a classic, upscale Ethiopian spot serving dishes like super-spicy doro wot, a fragrant chicken stew that’s been cooked for 50 hours, and a vegetarian combination that brings together every side dish on the menu, including collard greens, split peas, green lentils, and pureed sunflower seeds, plus an absolute brick of spongey injera bread.
Sizzling stone grills, Kpop music videos blaring from the speakers, and pitchers of beer being drunk on every table – this Japanese restaurant in Ktown isn’t just a good time, it’s a fun party spot for both locals and tourists alike. The name of the game here is DIY smash burgers - softball-sized patties that arrive at the table covered in grilled onions, then are promptly cooked on a hot stone grill. There’s an all-day Happy Hour that includes sake, draft beer, and $1 oysters, the seared tuna tartare is fresh and of high-quality, and by the end of the night, someone’s bound to start singing along to the Blackpink in the background - and that’s what we call a win-win-win.
Many people don’t realize this, but LA is a fantastic sandwich town. Case-in-point: Wax Paper. This glorious order-at-the-counter spot combines fresh bread, farmer’s market produce, and listener-supported public radio to create some of our favorite sandwiches in the city. The Larry Mantle, loaded with bologna, capicola, and pecorino, is their piece de resistance, and just a massive conglomeration of meat, peppers, and everything else that’s good in the world. The Ira Glass comes with a massive stack of vegetables and cheese and is an absolute must-order whether you eat meat or not. It’s all the perfect accompaniment for a picnic at the park, or a day spent rewatching the NPR ringtone scenes in BoJack Horseman. Side note: There are slight menu changes between their outposts in Frogtown and Chinatown, so make sure to check the offerings at both before ordering.
Drive about 20 minutes east of Downtown LA and you’ll hit the San Gabriel Valley, a sprawling suburb where you’ll find some of the best Asian restaurants in the country. You could easily spend years here exploring all the incredible Taiwanese, Indonesian, Korean, Indian, and Hong Kong-style food, but if you’re short on time or looking for an entry point, head to Chengdu Taste. This family-run restaurant in Alhambra specializes in Szechuan dishes, like mapo tofu, dan dan noodles, and boiled fish with green pepper sauce. These are some of the spiciest dishes you’ll find in LA, but if you can handle the heat, you’ll be rewarded with a meal you’ll be thinking about for a long time.
Even if you’ve never been to LA before, chances are you’ve heard there’s really good Thai food here. We can confirm those rumors. But if you’re serious about finding great Thai food, you need to head to Jitlada in East Hollywood. With over 400 items, the menu is objectively overwhelming, so our tip is to steer clear of the dishes you can find at any Thai restaurant, and go all-in on the ones that make Jitlada the gold standard for LA - the crispy catfish salad, full Dungeness crab with garlic, taepo curry, or the secret off-menu Jazz Burger. It’s named after legendary owner, Jazz Singsanong, who’s been running the show since 1979 and has inspired an entire “Jazz Is My LA Mom” merch line. You should probably pick one up, because after one meal here, she will be.
Ask ten people in LA what the best taco in town is and you’ll get 15 different responses. Ask us, and we’ll tell you it’s Mariscos Jalisco’s taco de camaron. This classic seafood truck on an industrial stretch of Boyle Heights (they also four other locations) only has one taco on the menu, but it is glorious. Deep-fried and stuffed with massive, sweet shrimp, and topped with salsa and fresh avocado. This is arguably the most iconic plate of food in the city, and no trip to LA is complete without trying it.
Kensho is one of those rare places that’s in the heart of all the action, but still feels like a complete secret. Tucked behind Yamashiro in the Hollywood Hills, this Japanese wine and sake bar has a laid-back patio with unobstructed views of the Hollywood Sign, a rotating menu filled with interesting snacks like mushroom inari and perilla bowls, and when it comes to drinking, expect a bunch of rare sake and natural wine that you’ve probably never tried before. It’s one of our favorite casual date night spots in town, where you can soak up that sweet taste of SoCal living without having to share it with every other tourist.
As with every city around the globe, 2020 was detrimental for LA’s restaurants. But if there was a silver lining, it was the sheer amount of pop-ups that… popped up all over town. From backyard Filipino BBQ to high-end Korean dosirak, “DM To Order” isn’t just a cute Instagram mantra, it has become a permanent way of life here. If you’re looking to get in on the fun, head immediately to Calabama,. This weekend-only pop-up serves tremendous breakfast sandwiches and operates out of an East Hollywood apartment where the pick-up system literally involves a bucket drop from a top-floor fire escape. The simple, yet entertaining dining experience personifies the ingenuity that unfolded across LA during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the egg and bacon-stuffed sandwich itself is thick, gooey, and essentially the world’s greatest breakfast grilled cheese. All ordering is down via their Instagram.
There’s nothing more liberating than seeing the look on an East Coaster’s face when someone says LA has the best pastrami. So we’ll go ahead and say it again - LA has the best pastrami. You’ll find proof at places like Wexler’s, Brent’s, and Johnny’s, but if you want to get to the heart of LA’s pastrami culture, you go to Langer’s. This Westlake institution has been serving classic deli staples since 1947, but the pièce de résistance is the #19. This massive pastrami sandwich comes stacked with swiss cheese and Russian-style coleslaw, all smashed between two pieces of thick rye bread. It’s a perfect sandwich that needs to be on every visitor’s to-do list.
One thing that might surprise newcomers to LA is that this city’s absolutely obsessed with hot chicken and has been for a few years. Chinatown’s Howlin’ Rays is largely credited for starting the trend in 2015 and still has some of the longest wait times for food in the city, while Dave’s has grown from a tiny East Hollywood shop to over nine different locations across Southern California. Plain and simple, hot chicken is everywhere here. The place you should head to first is Hotville. This Baldwin Hills spot is run by Kim Prince, a family relative of the Prince’s Chicken dynasty in Nashville. The skin is crunchy, crimson, and super-hot - identical to the quality you’d get in Tennessee. Be sure to grab a side of their gooey mac and cheese and a hot fish sandwich as well.
It’s a competitive field when it comes to Downtown tacos (or tacos anywhere here, for that matter), but Sonoratown has managed to take a tiny space on Los Angeles St. and turn it into a full-out institution. The legendary house-made flour tortillas literally melt in your mouth, and their charred grilled steak is smokey, sweet, and the exact right level of salty. You can certainly go for their regular tacos, but our move is the caramelo, which is about double the size and comes topped with salsa roja, avocado, and cabbage. The pinto bean, guacamole, and Monterey Jack cheese-filled Burrito 2.0 is also a great thing to have back at your hotel room when the late-night munchies hit.
People who have lived in LA for a while like to talk about how LA is a city of neighborhoods. There’s no neighborhood that provokes more of a reaction than crystal, surfer, and start-up-filled Venice, and if you want to understand why, go eat breakfast or lunch at Gjusta. This deli a few blocks back from the beach is big, busy, and now that they take your order on their expanded patio, you can sit back and survey the Venice crowd for yourself while you wait for your food. But food is far from an afterthought here - try the burrata and tomato sandwich or open-faced bagel with an entire farmers market’s worth of produce and housemade gravlax stacked on top, and we think you’ll understand why Gjusta has so many devotees.
We imagine that when McDonald’s opened their first location in San Bernardino in 1937, the burgers looked and tasted a lot like what you’ll find coming out of American Beauty’s burger window near Gjusta in Venice. They’re quick, they’re cheap (a single cheeseburger is $3.95), and they’re a deliciously compact homage to the California roadside burger. Grilled on a flat-top with onions, topped with American cheese, pickles, and house sauce, and served on a Martin’s potato roll, the burger is low-brow, but high-quality. The meat comes from American Beauty, the upscale martini-and-steak place next door. But there are no martinis at the window - just lovable burgers and fries on a chilled-out patio, perfect for grabbing after a day at the beach.
You can find decent bowls of pho all over LA, but if you’re only here for four days, you’re not interested in decent - you want greatness. So go to Pho 79. Located in Westminster’s Little Saigon neighborhood, Pho 79 makes the only bowl of soup in the city you’ll wake up thinking about the next day. The broth is dark and cinnamon-y, and while you can add everything from beef to shrimp, the richness of the oxtail takes the whole dish to a different level. Prepare to wait in line no matter when you show up, and be sure to stop at the bank on the way over - it’s cash only.
There are a lot of reasons to be eating in Koreatown during your first trip to LA, but if we had to pick one, it would probably be the galbi jjim from Sun Nong Dan. This spicy stewed short ribs, rice cakes, and vegetables - with the option to add shredded mozzarella cheese melted on top - is a bubbling cauldron of delight. They’re also open into the wee hours, in case you’re looking for a second dinner.
If there was a Hollywood Walk Of Fame for tacos, it would be on the stretch of Olympic in Boyle Heights where Tacos Y Birria La Unica sets up shop six days a week. There are all kinds of excellent places to eat tacos in this part of town, but this one serves the best quesatacos - tacos with crispy meat and cheese that resemble tiny, perfect quesadillas. We always get them with birria de chivo, a deep red, heavily spiced stewed goat. Their selection of homemade salsas is also among the best in town, and if you ask, they’ll always give you a little cup of their excellent consomé on the side.
This is the gold standard of Korean BBQ in LA. While Parks BBQ might not be pumping EDM or doling out free soju like other nearby spots, the quality of meat here simply cannot be topped. Make sure to concentrate on the combo platters (listed as P1-P3), so you’ll get a meaty parade of all the bulgogi, short rib, ribeye, and banchan your heart could possibly desire. For a quintessential LA experience, come to this Koreatown spot with a few friends, get enough beer and soju to go around, and do your best to pace yourself on the food. You wouldn’t want to be full when ribeye comes around, now would you?
Porto’s is a family-run Cuban bakery that’s been around since the 1970s. From guava pastries to potato balls to our favorite Cubano in the city, Porto’s food is fantastic across-the-board, and it’s an ideal lunch spot when you don’t want to have another fight with your family about what to eat. With locations in Burbank, Glendale, and Downey, you’re never too far from one of these LA institutions.
Want a snapshot of the food scene in LA? Just take a lap around Grand Central Market and you’ll get the idea. The last several years have seen an influx of new vendors, but the Market has managed to keep much of its original charm. On your first visit, we definitely recommend going for the carnitas tacos at Tacos Tumbras A Tomas, but most everything is good here - we would drive across town for the banchan at Shiku, the pastrami at Wexler’s, and the panang curry at Sticky Rice. For the full breakdown, consult our Grand Central Market Guide while you’re waiting in line, and see how many places you can hit before you have to call a timeout.
Yes, we are telling you to go to an Italian deli in Santa Monica for a sandwich, knowing full well that you may be from New York, or half Italian, or both. But any self-respecting LA resident will tell you that eating a Godmother from Bay Cities is a rite of passage. And they’re telling the truth.
No trip to LA is complete without a jaunt up PCH to Malibu. You’re here to catch a wave, track down Cher’s (completely incorrect) home address, and eat a lot of seafood. And while there are several great seafood shacks dotting the coast, your first move should always be Neptune’s Net. The Malibu landmark is a PCH road trip fixture and has the lines to prove it. But its good seafood, great ocean views, and ’50s Americana feel make it all worth it.
This Italian spot was the first of the sceney destination places to come to the Arts District, and is still to this day a standard bearer for pizza and pasta in LA. In plain English, that means you can’t get a table at a normal hour without the help of six alarms and some early-morning reservation app action. And even with all the hassle, we always leave stunned, and not just by the excellent service. Every single bite is a cut above, from the citrusy lobster crostino and the bone marrow pasta, to the bubble-crusted alla’ndjuja pizza. Do whatever you can to get a table at Bestia, a supreme being Of Los Angeles restaurants.
Obviously you want to soak up some rays while you’re in LA, but deep down the beach really grosses you out. You need a rooftop patio and you need it to be at Mama Shelter. The hotel patio in the heart of Hollywood has absolutely everything you could want in a rooftop - great views, strong drinks, solid food, and a good crowd that’s ready to have fun without getting too rowdy. It’s walk-in only at the moment, so if you’re planning to come on a weekend, definitely show up early.
Home of the original French Dip sandwich. Be prepared to fight anyone who tries to tell you that the title belongs to Philippe’s sort-of rival, Cole’s. This is where the real magic happens, a perfect roast beef sandwich on a perfect bun, sturdy enough to stand up to repeated dunks into beef juice. Don’t bother ordering anything else.
No trip to LA is complete without eating sushi, and Sugarfish is a perfect place to start. Started by the chef who created the legendary Sushi Nozawa, Sugarfish now has locations across the city, each serving incredibly high-quality sushi that you’ll pay far below market for. As a matter of fact, at $33 for eight courses ($27 at lunch), this is the best deal in town, and one you should cross off your list. Also, if you’re interested in takeout, their to-go box separates each course and even comes with detailed eating instructions.