Thursday, August 1, 2013

My favorite things to eat in LA (plus a few things to do)

I've never written an LA guide but I occasionally get emails asking for recommendations and I guess I've been here for 7 years, after all. This post took forever because I kept remembering places I'd forgotten and had to add them. Disclaimer: I really like fancy burgers and obscure beer so there's a definite bias here. I don't go out as much as some people and I can't tell you what the hottest restaurant is right now, but I have a small selection of tried and true places that I love and I'm happy to share them with you. I'll try to update it a bit as I find new favorites. 


los angeles after the rain
{los angeles after the rain}

Most importantly - food: 

Tacos are obviously critical. Everyone has their favorite taco place and there are a million. I'd recommend checking out this site for a good run down on the options. I actually don't eat tacos all that often in LA (my favorite taco place is down in Orange County) but there are tons of great places and as a general rule, the further east you go in the city, the better your taco options. Our tried and true place is El Atacor #11, which has a potato taco option for you vegetarians and seriously good asada for the rest of us. I also love the birria at El Parian. If you're looking for an approachable introduction, try the taco sampler at Guisados

Jonathan Gold is my most trusted LA food reviewer. This article from him is a little outdated, but a lot of the recs still stand. I usually listen to his food recommendations on Good Food but it can be tough to scroll through their blog and pick them all out. Might be worth it, though! And the Good Food restaurant map could be useful!

Fancy meals: I adore all of Suzanne Goin's restaurants but they are pricey! Tavern is right by my house and I think their burger (only available at the bar or the tables near the bar, slightly cheaper during happy hour) is the best in the city. I also regularly stop in for cookies - people rave about the chocolate chip but I prefer the ginger-molasses-date cookie even though D says it's for old ladies. If you will be in town on a Sunday, you can get a prix fixe meal at Lucques, which is awesome. They call it their Sunday Supper and it's still expensive but really good. Their third restaurant, AOC, just moved to a new location and rumor has it the outdoor patio is spectacular. So are the cheeses. 

Unusual burgersUmami Burger is the mini chain that has taken LA by storm over the last couple years. I'd recommend eating at the one in Los Feliz. I like the space and the food is consistently good. They also have a good beer selection, if you're into that. For impeccable burgers with a slight Hawaiian twist, I'd recommend Pono Burger

More burgers! Father's Office has one of the most famous burgers in town. You can't make any changes or substitutions, so don't ask! They also have a great beer selection. I'd recommend the Culver City location for easy parking and a larger space although the original Santa Monica location is a lot of fun, just tiny. If you do go to the Santa Monica location, you can wander around on Montana Ave which has some cute boutiques and is very West LA. If you're in Hollywood I also love the burgers at the Roosevelt hotel restaurant, 25 Degrees. And if you're in Santa Monica you could check out Library Alehouse for good burgers, killer sweet potato fries and a long beer list. If you're in love with In'N'Out, you might want to check out the burger at Republique

And sausages: Wurstkuche now has a couple locations and they really do a good job with sausages. Prices are relatively inexpensive, lines can get long. The beer selection is awesome. 

Pizza and wine: Nancy Silverton's Pizzeria Mozza is really, really good. They're always booked but if you show up and ask for seats you'll usually get something within a reasonable amount of time. Osteria Mozza is the fancier restaurant next door and it's also amazing, but I like the Pizzeria a lot. 

Mexican(ish) food: Mexican food is a natural fit for LA and there are so many options. On the high end side you could hit up Petty Cash (but don't be fooled by the name - it is pricey!) for creative takes on traditional dishes. Mercado is one of my favorites, and if you go during happy hour you can easily taste several of their most popular dishes without running the bill too high. I like the West Third St location because it has a great seating area with open walls. El Carmen is more bar than restaurant, but the food is pretty solid and I love the tiny space. 

East side atmosphere and beer flightsMohawk Bend is a little hipster but a lot of fun, especially if you love good beer. It's in an old movie theater and it's always tough to decide whether to sit on the cute front patio or in the enclosed back patio. You can go for food or just drinks. I'm being repetitive here, but the burger is very good. Update - Lauren reports that the vegetarian and vegan options are good here too!

The BEST frozen yogurt in Los Angeles (don't bother arguing with me on this): Not really food, but if you end up in West Hollywood, you must swing by Yogurt Stop for the best frozen yogurt in the city. Their cake batter frozen yogurt is absolutely insane. They're located in the middle of Boy's Town, and the parking is a little crazy, but if you go during the day it shouldn't be too bad. Avoid it late at night because there isn't a chance of getting a parking space! It's a clubby area and it gets packed. They do have a couple of spaces reserved in the lot behind the store but you can't always count on one being available. And sometimes they'll inexplicably charge you a dollar?

Brunch: Brunch is a big deal in LA and the lines can get crazy. Luckily almost no one wakes up early, so if you go right before 10:00 then you can usually get in anywhere without the lines. The Griddle holds a special place in my heart because Emily and I used to go there when we were first living in LA. it's a lot of fun. I'm not sure if they do their pumpkin pancakes year round or just in fall, but they're excellent. Urth Caffe has a couple of locations around town and they're very LA. I'd go there for coffee rather than breakfast, although their food is good too. I prefer the Melrose location, but mostly just because I have fond memories of the Bodhi Tree bookstore (now defunct). 

Not strictly a brunch place because they also do an excellent job at lunch, Alcove is further east and we've been going there for years. Their patio is beautiful and their lemonade and baked goods are worth a trip. The lamb burger is great, as is the portobello burger. They've recently added a little bar, which I'm sure is really lovely on warm nights. 

If you're on the west side, check out Farmshop. It's worth swinging by just to check out their amazing attached market, even if you don't get a meal there, but their brunch is great. It's also a good spot for celebrity sightings, because a lot of celebs live near by. (I know we're supposed to be too cool to care about seeing movie stars but I still think it's exciting and I probably won't ever get over it completely). One of my favorite Italian coffee places (Caffe Luxxe) is in the same little complex as is one of the best ice cream places in the city (Sweet Rose Creamery). Get a shakeratto at Caffe Luxxe and then be brave and get something unusual at Sweet Rose. Their corn ice cream is ridiculously good, but their basil is my all time favorite. Flavors change constantly, but don't be afraid of something that sounds strange.

Other westside brunch places include: Huckleberry, which gets packed early but has some of the best baked breakfast goods and Snug Harbor, which is not at all fancy or LA scene-y but is very homey and one of my favorite places to go. Their honey nut pancakes are ridiculously good. Gjelina is the (not so new) hotspot on Abbot Kinney and their Moroccan baked eggs are so, so good. 

Grilled cheese and beyond: For a low key westside lunch option, Clementine makes great sandwiches. 

If you love middle eastern food, I highly recommend Sunin on Westwood. They never disappoint. The food is the draw here so feel free to take it to go and eat outside somewhere. The restaurant interior is perfectly fine, just nothing super special.

For inexpensive roasted chicken with the best fluffy garlic spread, the local chain Zankou Chicken is perfect. Random gossip - there's a weird/crazy family feud associated with the restaurants

Cupcakes: I know that cupcakes are so over, but I don't think you'll be sad if you drop in and pick one up from Vanilla Bakeshop. They now have two locations, one in Santa Monica and one in Century City. Flavors rotate daily. I ordered our wedding cakes from them (off the standard menu) and they're still my favorite. Do not bother getting cookies or macarons here, in my opinion.

Donuts!: If you need a donut fix, you can find them all over town but in my opinion (and as a result of rigorous and somewhat painful testing at the donut party) Ms. Donuts in Echo Park is the best. Edited to add: While I stand by Ms. Donuts as the best of the bunch when it comes to standard donut shop donuts, we have some fancier options now. If you'd like to pay a higher price, you can check out Blue Star, a Portland import, or Sidecar.

Ice cream - I've already mentioned Sweet Rose Creamery, which is delicious. We now also have a Jenni's, which has amazing ice cream and some pretty fancy topping options. Salt and Straw is hands down my favorite ice cream place. Originally from Portland, this mini-chain features a new themed menu every month as well as a solid cast of standards. You can't go wrong with their sea salt with caramel ribbons but don't be embarrassed to ask for a taste of everything. And don't be scared if it sounds terrifying!

Activities:

Hiking is the big thing here, almost a social scene. If you want the quintessential LA experience, I'd recommend Runyon Canyon. It can be a bit crowded but it's fun and full of beautiful people. Lately I really love hiking Paseo Miramar via Los Liones, which is closer to the ocean. Warning - it is STEEP!

For something less traditional, the (not so) secret stairs of Silverlake hikes are fun. You can get the app for $2 and it's worth it. Make sure your phone is FULLY CHARGED before you head out. You will not be able to find the hikes without help. 

MuseumsIf you get a nice clear day there are few things that beat The Getty. The view is gorgeous, admission is free (although you do have to pay for parking). 

LACMA is more accessible, right on Wilshire. Even if you don't go in the museum you might want to swing by and wander through the outdoor installations - levitated mass and urban light. You can grab a drink at the bar right outside and during the summer they're open late on Friday nights. If you have kids (and even if you don't) the La Brea Tar Pits museum right next door is great. 

The Museum of Jurassic Technology is an old favorite, if you're looking for something bizarre and delightful. 

The Broad recently opened and it's free with reservations or you can wait in the standby line. They have a nice collection and the building itself is interesting. 

Shopping: The Melrose flea market is on Sunday mornings if you want to do some shopping. I used to go all the time when I first moved here and it's always fun and can even be a little scene-y in a good way (I'm still excited that I saw Chloe Sevigny here once). Shop at Wasteland for good deals on used clothing. The prices are higher than a thrift store, true, but you save a lot of time and effort because they're already weeded through the clothes. It's a good place to score used designer clothing. The Melrose location is bigger but the Santa Monica location still has a lot of good options and it's sometimes less crazy.

Highly recommend window shopping and getting coffee on Sunset/Silverlake junction. The line outside of Intelligentsia is sometimes scary, but it usually moves quickly. Bar Keeper is on that stretch and it's fun to browse there. I also love Mohawk General Store even though I generally don't have the money to buy anything.

Beach: I don't do all that much beach stuff, but Santa Monica pier and Venice Beach are both fun places to wander around. Sorry - I'm not much use in this area. During the summer there are free Thursday night concerts at the Santa Monica pier that are a lot of fun. Enjoy watching everyone dig hidey holes in the sand for the alcohol, to get around the no drinking on the beach rule. Note - you can totally get ticketed for this so be careful!

Hair: Random, but Drybar originated here and then blew up. If you're heading out for a night on the town and you'd like to feel spoiled, give yourself a $35 (+$10 tip) treat and get your hair done. You might want to make a reservation online because sometimes they book up fast but you can always try dropping in.

More drinking, tastings, etc.: Thursday night wine tasting at Silverlake Wine is the best. The pours are generous and they offer a discount on the featured wines. Food trucks hang outside for after or you can hit up Gingergrass across the street. 

If you want to drive up the coast a ways, try a wine tasting at Malibu Family Wines up in the hills. No food served, so pack a picnic, enjoy a tasting, and take a bottle home with you (or open it up right there, as long as one of you is a designated driver). We used to be members here just so we would be forced to come up to pick up our quarterly shipments and we celebrated here right after we got engaged. 

The Eagle Rock Brewery is teeny tiny but fun to visit. It's tucked away in an industrial area. Look for the large pile of parked bikes and you'll know you're in the right place. Do a tasting, see the brewery.

Angel City Brewery has a great, dog-friendly downtown location. Their Angeleno IPA is a solid favorite.

If you are a beer aficionado and willing to make a slight trek, head over to Torrance and check out Strand Brewing Co and Monkish. I haven't yet visited the nearby tasting rooms for Phantom Carriage, The Dudes' or Smog City, but I've tried all their beers and would happily recommend them. 

DOWNTOWN BARS AND STUFF: A lot of people visiting don't make it downtown, which is sad because I think it's amazing. It's full of old historical buildings and it's very quiet on the weekends, which makes it easier to drive around and it feels like a cool zombie land. There are several really gorgeous bars down there. I personally love the Golden GopherMas Malo and Seven GrandBroadway Bar is worth it just for the building. 

Bottega Louie is absolutely worth popping into if only to check out their amazing macaron selection. 

The Grand Central Library is a beautiful building and Grand Central Market (recently remodeled, which is both good and sad) is one of my very favorite places in the city (and where we did our engagement photos!). Olvera Street is close by and while some people feel it's a little cheesy I still love it. 

There is a fierce debate over French dip sandwiches here. Go ahead and choose your favorite from the downtown rivals - Cole's and Phillippe's. I personally side with the double dip and super spicy mustard at Philippe's.  

There are a couple sketchy areas downtown, but as long as you check your map before you go you'll be fine. You want to avoid walking through Skid Row, which isn't always safe, especially at night. Here are the rough boundaries indicated by the dotted lines. None of the bars I've recommended will take you through there. 

32 comments:

  1. Wait a minute...blowouts are only $25 at your Drybars? They are $40 here.

    Also, maybe I need to spend a couple of weeks on the west coast in your city.

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    1. The website says $35, so the tip is probably included in the price?

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    2. Darn - maybe they went up? I just checked and you're right - $35 + the recommended $10 tip. I'll edit. Boo.

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    3. Well I guess I'll let the extra $5 slide, it is DC after all.

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  2. What's your favorite taco place in OC??

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    1. I'm not sure that this is necessarily the BEST taco place in OC, but I love, love, love Carnitas Los Reyes. Their carnitas are generally great and their chili verde is pretty awesome as well.

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  3. Love this! Can I eat everything now?

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  4. Heck yes to Bottega Louie. They are freaking awesome. Noisy, but awesome.

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    1. So noisy! We were just talking about this the other night. If they'd put in some potted plants along the windows it would help a bit.

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  5. that phone-charging tip for the secret stairs is key - ha! full disclosure, i was kind of hoping your phone would run out as well just so i'd have to download the app to commemorate our hike. hi, i download apps for sentimental reasons.

    sis and i drove through downtown the other weekend on the way to a birthday brunch. the old movie theaters out there are so lovely it hurts.

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  6. oh, forgot to add: mohawk bend is both excellent for beer, as you noted, and weirdly great for vegetarian and vegan food? their buffalo-style cauliflower sort of changed my life.

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    1. Oh, good to know! I will add that to my notes - I'm sadly lacking in veg resources.

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  7. SECRET STAIRS FTW!!!!!

    I'm planning to buy the book and challenge myself to do all 45 hikes in one year, Lauren + Rachel style.

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  8. whoa. I've been to every place listed here. That really blew my mind! Although it's just the tip of the iceberg, right? Still discovering places every weekend. Boyle Heights for mex food, ktown (obvi), little tokyo, chinatown, it goes on...

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    1. Seriously! I had to cut myself off and just post it already because I was continually adding more places. Haven't spent much time in Boyle Heights, though. Any recs?

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  9. Wowzers that must have taken you yonks.
    So comprehensive.
    I MISS LA so much. Next time I visit (hopefully next summer when child is a more travel friendly 3 year old) I am going armed with this list.
    Love your blog. It is one of the few I always read and feel is useful and different.

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    1. I finally had to stop myself! It is so time consuming and addictive.

      So glad you enjoy reading here - thanks, hon!

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  10. Yes! You found just the right words to describe downtown LA on a weekend! I used to love it there myself in college. So happy to have all these recommendations for my next trip out!

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  11. One of my favorite moments of all time (and only blog-related moment to speak of) is when I was in LA a few weeks after you posted about your husband's birthday which you held at Mas Malo -- which had me totally wanting to go but forgetting the name + location -- and in a fit of post traveling hunger and confusion my fiancé and I stumbled into none other than Mas Malo! I only realized after recognizing the distinctive bar. So yummy! And hip!

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    1. Oh, yay! I love it there. I hope they treated you okay, though - I find their service to be bizarrely hit or miss. Sometimes they're on top of everything and sometimes it seems like they just can't be bothered. So strange! But I love it enough that I continue to recommend it.

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    2. Yes! It was a little slow, but our server was so friendly and welcoming and told us about all the things we should do in LA (that we didn't actually have time to do!).

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  12. You should try The Bottle Room in uptown Whittier
    their "original" burger is awesome! I also really like their calamari and they have a wide
    selection of beer and wine , I think you would like it :]

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    1. Ohhhh, thanks! We'll have to check it out!

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  13. Love the round up! If you are interested in the Zankou Family Feud you should read this article. Very long but it's all so fascinating/ sad...

    http://www.lamag.com/features/2008/04/01/the-zankou-chicken-murders

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    1. That's the article I originally read! Love Los Angeles magazine.

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  14. Oh man I cannot wait to return to LA to give this list a go, it really blew me away the first time with how good the food is there, Echo Park treated us well food wise. But this beer compatible list will make my boyfriend so so happy.

    Thanks for taking the time to put this together, city lists are so so hard!

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  15. what an awesome list! you guys are so lucky in LA. OC has it's spots, but nothing compared to the plenty in LA. miss you!

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  16. Just moved to L.A. and spent the last thirty minutes bookmarking all of these in my yelp account. Can't wait to try!

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    1. Welcome!!! You are going to find so much stuff to love here!

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  17. A fellow burger aficionado! Been to Father’s Office a few times, but I have yet to try Library Alehouse. I have to change that one of these days. And yes, Yogurt Stop! It’s always worth the wait and effort! But yeah, nowadays I make it a point to pass by earlier to get my fix. :)

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  18. Respectfully, just because other newbies call an area by the wrong name, it doesn't make it so. The Eastside is east of the River, not east of the 405, Western or Vermont. Good read on this would be LA Times articles by Patt Morrison. Honor LA's history and you honor people who have struggled to have a voice in this city. Thanks.

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    1. Interesting! I checked out the op-ed and a few other articles the LA Times has run on the subject because this honestly isn't something I had ever heard before. I guess a decade in LA does make me a newbie by your standards, and I'm so used to hearing people refer to eastside/westside that I always thought it was treated as a divide, albeit with lots of distinct neighborhoods within each.
      I see where you (and others) are coming from, but wonder if it's a losing battle. Based on the map the LA Times ran, there is a lot of confusion over it. Most of the people I know who live in Echo Park refer to it as the eastside, maybe because there's no good name for that overall area. I usually refer to neighborhoods by their individual names, but definitely catch myself generalizing a bit. I'll have to try to avoid using the catchall term in case I'm offending people.

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