The Rogue 99 ~ L.A. Taco’s 2018 Essential Restaurant Guide

In 2005, Jonathan Gold published a list of 99 restaurants. Specifically, restaurants that made Los Angeles Los Angeles. Or, as he explained in his introduction to the 2007 edition, restaurants that “speak with a Los Angeles accent, whether it is reflecting the vibrant strength of our immigrant communities, our funky soul, or the city’s place at the center of one of the great agricultural regions of the world.”

Over the years, thumbing through the lists restaurants, notching the places you’ve tried and noting those you have yet to go, became an annual ritual. The list changed, of course, as Los Angeles dining changed, and, over the last few years, many local writers (including us!) contributed to it as well. Throughout, it remained relevant, reflecting the many ways in which Los Angeles is one of the most interesting, vibrant food cities in the world. It was the primary source for anyone planning a trip to Los Angeles, or to the other side of town. Indeed, many us tossed the hard copy of the list into our glove compartments to reference: a more specific Thomas Guide.

Which brings us to the Rogue 99.

The last year hasn’t been a great one for many of our local media institutions. With the fragility of those institutions in mind, we didn’t want such a vital list to disappear. In the spirit of the first one, we decided this year to create our own. As with the original, the Rogue 99 is intended to be a guide to the culinary soul of the city. It is not, to be clear, a list of the best restaurants” in Los Angeles; rather, its a showcase of places to eat if you want to be fluent in the language of Los Angeles. These are restaurants, taco stands, and food carts that have been the lifeblood of the city and the county for at least a year, if not considerably longer.

There is no way we could have done this alone. We are grateful to contributors Sarah Bennett and Bill Esparza; to Gabriel Carbajal, who shot many of the photos you see; and to L.A. TACO for giving this idea a home.

— Tien Nguyen and Katherine Spiers

The List from A-Z

Adana image

Photo Credit: Gabriel Carbajal

Adana

Sitting on a stretch of San Fernando Road right before Glendale becomes into Burbank is Adana, the Middle Eastern restaurant where owner and chef Edward Khechemyan has amassed a loyal following. During your first visit, you may not notice the swinging kitchen door towards the back until someone has burst through it, carrying trays of dolmeh, eggplant, and impossibly huge plates with kebabs. You, too, should order accordingly: the dolmeh, wrapped in fragrant grape leaves, is stunning. There are three eggplant appetizers, but only one is called the “Eggplant Dish”; that would be the kashk-e- bademjan, delicate slivers of fried eggplant topped with yogurt and sticky caramelized onions, and that would be the one you probably want to try first. And, finally, an entire section of the menu is devoted to chicken, lamb, and beef kebabs, all of which are marinated and cooked on the grill just long enough. — Tien Nguyen
6918 San Fernando Rd.,Glendale
(818) 843-6237
https://adanamenu.com

All Flavor No Grease image

Photo Credit: Yelp

All Flavor No Grease

Though his tacos and burritos are equally as good, Keith Garrett is the undisputed quesadilla king of Los Angeles. Armed only with an Instagram account and a single propane grill in the driveway of his house on 108th Street in Watts, the God-loving street chef is one of dozens of young black entrepreneurs in South L.A. currently using social media and entrepreneurial savvy to build audiences and drive business to their culinary startups. Under the name All Flavor No Grease, Garrett built a cult-like following around his African-Americanized Mexican food, including tacos based on his mother’s recipe (ketchup, not salsa), burritos loaded with steak and lobster (surf and turf) and the Triple Threat quesadilla, a weighty combination of barbecue chicken, steak, and shrimp that’s given a zig-zag of sour cream and cilantro salsa before getting chopped into thick strips that ooze orange cheese like molten Earth. After years of fostering crowded, sold-out pop-ups, AFNG finally entered the food truck game. One is fully wrapped and roves around the region with usually two stops per day; the second is a plain lonchera that stays on the “Ocho” and serves locals, regulars and Postmates deliveries. — Sarah Bennett

728 E. 108th St., South L.A.
https://www.instagram.com/allflavornogrease

Angelini Osteria image

Photo Credit: Yelp

Angelini Osteria

There are few Italian restaurants in town that garner as much respect as Angelini Osteria. Indeed, Gino Angelini’s 17-year-old restaurant is the go-to for classic Italian cooking in the city, and many of the city’s best chefs have passed through its tiny kitchen. The dining room on most nights, meanwhile, is usually filled with regulars, most of whom have their own favorite dish from the restaurant’s main menu, whether it’s the Lasagna Verde, with lovely beef and veal ragu layered between sheets of spinach pasta; the housemade tagliolini in a lemon cream; or the branzino roasted whole under a blanket of sea salt. But it’s not just the pastas and the fish that make Angelini Osteria such a beloved place; it’s also the friendly, oftentimes gregarious service and the fact that even on the coldest Los Angeles nights you’ll be warmed by the cozy glow exuding from the dining room. And yes, there is gelato for dessert. — TN
7313 Beverly Blvd., Fairfax
(323) 297-0070
https://www.angeliniosteria.com/

 

Animal

When Animal opened in 2008, it caused an absolute frenzy of media attention, based largely on its wildly meat-heavy menu. Just about every menu item had meat in it, including the “bacon chocolate crunch bar” for dessert — that one got the lion’s share of the attention even though (are you shocked) it’s nowhere near the best dish at Animal. And the mains aren’t just meaty, they’re downright aggressive in their decadence: bone marrow, veal brains, pig’s ear with egg, and a big, delicious platter of pork ribs with a lick-the-plate-worthy balsamic barbecue sauce. The thing is, the two founding chefs weren’t just being outrageous when they developed this menu. They were up to the task, creating something really interesting amongst all that indulgence. (There are three different foie gras-centric dishes on the menu.) The pared-down dining room fades away as you behold dinner and, probably, ponder man’s dominion over animals. Eating here is a heady experience. —Katherine Spiers
435 N. Fairfax Ave., Fairfax
(323) 782-9225
http://www.animalrestaurant.com/

 

Apple Pan

Apple Pan opened in 1947, and it is one of L.A.’s most beloved institutions. It’s a tiny place with a tiny menu, and it’s cash-only, something that went from standard to old-school to a political stance, even if the owners don’t know it. People stand by the door until a stool opens up at the u-shape counter, which can be slightly stressful, but is part of the experience. The menu includes ham, tuna, egg salad and cheese sandwiches (do those ever get ordered?), but more importantly, two burgers: original and hickory, which presumably just has a little liquid smoke in the mix. French fries are separate and soda is served in a paper cone. There are also three pies to choose from: apple, pecan and a daily cream pie. Should you come across the Apple Pan’s banana cream pie, absolutely take one home. —KS
10801 Pico Blvd., Westwood
(310) 475-3585

Asanebo image

Photo Credit: Tofuprod via Flickr

Asanebo

Asanebo is good choice among the many restaurants dotting the Valley’s Sushi Row, even though it didn’t start out serving sushi. In fact, it was called “No Sushi” by some, since it very famously refused to put raw fish on rice, opting instead to serve grilled and fried seafood. And sometimes sashimi, but resolutely no sushi. Hilariously, the real reason they wouldn’t make it was because their lease included a non-compete with the sushi bar next door. So when the neighbor closed in 2000, Asanebo quietly, but quickly, added sushi to the menu. But the restaurant still excels mostly at the non-sushi offerings, like Wagyu steak, kampachi sashimi and expertly-made chawanmushi. The owner’s brother is also on this list, way down at Shunji — this is one talented family. —KS
11941 Ventura Blvd, Studio City
(818) 760-3348
http://asanebo-restaurant.com/

 

Baco Mercat

Chef Josef Centeno doesn’t seem to like too much attention. He’s got all the qualifications needed to be on, say, Top Chef, but he’s stayed pretty focused on cookery over the years as his mini-empire downtown has grown. Centeno’s tenure at Lazy Ox Canteen is where the city began to learn about his Tex-Mex/East Asian/Mediterranean style, but Baco Mercat was the first restaurant where he had creative control from the start. And it’s still the one most associated with him, even though his other restaurants are totally different. (Bar Ama in particular is excellent.) A “baco,” as Centeno defines it, is a flatbread sandwich; it has elements of naan and pita and flour tortillas. The bread is then filled with a jumble of stuff that combines beautifully, be it porchetta with chimichurri and mustard or lamb with feta, arugula and harissa. The rest of the menu continues the international mash-up theme. It’s always interesting and usually very, very good. —KS
408 S. Main St., downtown
(213) 687-8808
http://www.bacomercat.com/

 

Badmaash

This restaurant is Indian-Canadian, and as it turns out, that’s a pretty delightful mix. Badmaash means something like “rule-breaker” in Hindi, according to the restaurant’s owners, who are trying new things with old recipes. In a completely respectful way, of course. Again, Canadian. The two most popular dishes are the fried chicken sandwich, with Indian herbs and spices, and the chicken tikka poutine: two comfort foods smashed together. It’s a slam dunk. The small wine list here is really interesting and thoughtful, and the servers can recommend a good match for whatever you order, be it pork curry or daal makhani. Oh, and start with the butter chicken samosas. Everyone should probably get an order to themselves.—KS
108 W. 2nd St., downtown
(213) 221-7466
badmaashla.com

 

Barrel and Ashes

Los Angeles has never been much of an American barbecue town. There are a couple spots for it, but for decades it was kind of city-deprecating in-joke: one thing that L.A. definitely did not excel at. But a few years ago — having conquered so many other types of food, perhaps — we suddenly went nuts for the stuff. It only took about a month for everybody to become experts in Texas brisket and Memphis ribs, and the Carolina sauce variations. Barrel & Ashes, being a SoCal restaurant, ignored tradition in favor of appeal, and opened as a catchall barbecue joint, serving the best from different regions all under one roof, which is some kind of southern sacrilege. There’s Santa Maria tri-tip and Louisiana hot links and brisket and chicken. And it’s all good. Get a hoe cake too, and revel at how much butter you’re putting in your body. —KS
11801 Ventura Blvd, Studio City
(818) 623-8883
barrelandashes.com

Beijing Pie House image

Photo Credit: Yelp

Beijing Pie House

Xian bing is a flaky meat pie from Northern China, roughly the diameter of a compact disc, heftier than a regulation-size ice hockey puck, and often, but not always, filled with a mix of ground meat and chopped scallions. This is the specialty of Beijing Pie House, where they come four to an order, stuffed with, among other fillings, lamb, pork, and radish. The menu will warn you that they’ll be hot, and the server will, too, and your phone camera probably will capture the wisps of smoke emanating from the pie. But no matter how long it will take to apply the appropriate filter and Instagram the shot, it won’t be nearly long enough, because, inevitably, the filling inside, in addition to being juicy and delicious, will be hotter than you expected, and you’ll probably have to point your chopsticks in the direction of the cold cucumbers or shredded cabbage for a brief reprieve. Through all that, you may find that you actually prefer this meat pie to most dumplings. You wouldn’t be the only one. — TN
846 E. Garvey Ave., Monterey Park
(626) 288-3818
http://www.beijingpiehouse.com

Bestia image

Photo Credit: T.Tseng Via Flickr

Bestia

Bestia came roaring into town in 2012 with its in-house cured meats and expensive cocktails and unlikely Arts District location. (Remember when artists lived in the Arts District?) These are all standard restaurant elements now, but were fairly revolutionary just six years ago – the restaurant even re-introduced interesting Italian food to this city, and now we’re all obsessed with that. The salumi is still a must-order, and the shellfish with sausage and preserved lemons still a crowd-pleasers. If you’re feeling primal, the bone marrow comes still in the bone: eat it as is or mix it with the accompanying gnocchetti (which is actually pasta, not small potato dumplings). The creamsicle torte is a celebratory way to end the meal. And you will be celebrating, because it still takes forever to get a table here. —KS
2121 E. 7th Pl., downtown
(213) 514-5724
http://bestiala.com/

Beverly Soon Tofu image

Photo Credit: Ron Dollete via Flickr

Beverly Soon Tofu

Monica Lee opened Beverly Soon Tofu back in 1986 when it actually was on Beverly Boulevard (the present location on Olympic Boulevard opened in 1988), and it has since then become one of Koreatown’s great tofu houses, and certainly the greatest tofu house decorated like a cabin in a fairy tale. The specialty of the house, of course, is soon dubu, cauldrons of bubbling hot red stew studded with cubes of lovely, soft tofu. When it arrives, the server will crack a raw egg directly into the pot, and the stew will swallow it whole; the egg will cook in the seconds it takes for you to say thank you and grab your chopsticks. The stew is good as is, but even better when you add vegetables, fish roe, or kimchi to the stew, and better still when you have it with a side of galbi or bulgogi. — TN

2717 W. Olympic Blvd., #108, Koreatown
(213) 380-1113
beverlysoontofu.com

Bigmista

Photo Credit: Sarah Bennett

Bigmista’s Barbecue & Sammich Shop

Pit master Neil Strawder and his wife Phyllis aren’t purists when it comes to barbecue. The couple crafted their award-winning brisket and ribs recipes — sold under the name Bigmista’s — after years of lurking in barbecue forums and experimenting with the best regional techniques, resulting in a style that lies somewhere between Texas-ish and L.A.’s cross-cultural inevitability. Over the last decade, Bigmista’s went from winning national competitions to popping up at farmers markets across Southern California to opening two storefronts in the Strawders’ native Long Beach, propelled to such fame by the tenderness of their brisket (don’t stab, must scoop), the secret spices in their pulled pork (one is definitely cayenne) and the self-proclaimed “juiciosity” of their ribs (each sliced to order). The first, Bigmista’s Barbecue & Sammich Shop, opened without much fanfare in Long Beach’s suburban abyss in November 2014 and a Southern-style brunch spot, Bigmista’s Morning Wood, followed a year later. With under 10 seats apiece, it’s best to start your Bigmista’s adventure at the former, where you can get a kitchen-sink Big Ass Piles of Meat plate and put your name on the list for the Strawders’ smoky pastrami and crusty rib tips. — SB

3444 N. Los Coyotes Diagonal, Long Beach
(562) 425-4227
bigmista.com

 

Black Market Liquor Market

There are a number of gastropubs up and down the Studio City stretch of Ventura Boulevard, and Black Market might be the best of them, food-wise. The executive chef is Antonia Lofaso, a well-known and well-liked presence on a number of food competition shows. More importantly, she’s a great cook, and her style is a good match for fancy bar food. Diners can get a worldwide tour of beer-drinkin’ food here, from the Korean-style chicken wings to the smoked trout dip the fried cauliflower to the mussels with thick ciabatta. Just as much thought is put into the drinks menu, which is pretty important when you’re charging $25 for a cocktail. (There are regular-priced drinks, too.) The place is always jamming from about 6pm onwards, and during weekend brunch, which is a defining part of Valley culture. —KS
11915 Ventura Blvd, Studio City
(818) 446-2533
blackmarketliquorbar.com

 

Boiling Crab

Dada Ngo and Sinh Nguyen opened the first Boiling Crab in 2004 in Garden Grove, and it was one of the first places to introduce Southern California to a Vietnamese take on the traditional crab boil that by then was popular in Houston. Since that first Boiling Crab, they’ve opened several more locations, including a handful in L.A., and it remains one of the best places to experience what unhyphenated Vietnamese American cooking tastes like. Here you choose the contents of your boil (your choices include crab, shrimp, clams, oysters and, when it’s in season, fresh crayfish) and the seasoning, with the most popular option being the Whole Sha-Bang, where the Cajun seasoning standard at Gulf Coast boiling points is spiked with copious amounts of garlic, butter, lemon, and pepper. The whole thing is presented in a plastic bag and carefully placed at the center of the table. Meanwhile, you’ll put on a bib and squeeze a wedge of lime into a small dish of salt and pepper to make a dipping sauce not unlike the one you had the last time you went out for shaking beef at your favorite Vietnamese restaurant. By the end of the night, your bib, your shirt and your hands will be stained with crustacean and Whole Sha-Bang. Exactly as they should be. — TN

33 W Main St., Alhambra
(626) 300-5898
http://www.theboilingcrab.com/

Broken Spanish image

Photo Credit: Gabriel Carbajal

Broken Spanish

Along with a handful of peers, chef Ray Garcia is carving out an original Mexican-American cuisine born in the barrios of Los Angeles, reflecting the terroir of East L.A., Huntington Park and Pacoima. Less than three years in, Garcia’s flagship operation is turning out some of the best food in the city, preparing a jaw-dropping whole pork belly chicharrón served with heirloom corn tortillas, a delicate potato and kale chile relleno drowned in a soubise, and spicy chicken necks fried Tijuana-style. Garcia’s food draws on his experiences as a Mexican kid growing up in L.A., his serious culinary chops, multicultural L.A. and California’s diversity of ingredients, which is the essence of Alta California cuisine. — Bill Esparza
1050 S. Flower St., downtown
(213) 749-1460
http://brokenspanish.com/

Carnitas El Momo image

Photo Credit: Gabriel Carbajal

Carnitas El Momo

L.A.’s own master of carnitas, Romulo “Momo” Acosta, has been making Mexican confit-style pork for more than a half century: it’s a craft he began a lifetime ago in his father’s butcher shop in Salamanca, Zacatecas. Carefully managing the cooking times of various cuts slowly frying in a sweet, seasoned bath of pork fat at a low temperature, he delivers carnitas as good as you’ll find in Mexico. Order a pound of shoulder, hog maw and skin, spoon the sticky, caramel-colored mix onto a tortilla and hold the onions and cilantro — in Salamanca, a tortilla filled with carnitas and pickled chiles is the standard. —BE
2411 Fairmount St., Boyle Heights
(323) 627-8540
https://www.instagram.com/carnitaselmomo

 

Casa Vega

Casa Vega isn’t really a flashy restaurant, and it certainly isn’t fancy, and yet, there’s always at least one paparazzo lingering near the carport. That’s because a celebrity spotting is pretty much a guarantee — in fact, it’s just about as likely as the chance that you’ll decide mid-meal that yes, you would like a second margarita. The Valley restaurant is owned by one of L.A.’s old restaurant families: they opened their first in the 1930s, and this one has been open since 1956. Since most Hollywood folk actually live in the Valley, it’s been an industry hangout since day one. The dim lighting and dark wood always makes it seem a little sexy, even if you’re chowing down on a combo platter. (Actually, combo platters are incredibly sensual.) The service is friendly, the menu is huge, and the drinks are strong. The only problem is remembering if the person you recognize at the next table is from real life or just TV. —KS
13301 Ventura Blvd, Sherman Oaks
(818) 788-4868
http://casavega.com/

 

Cassia

When Spice Table closed back in 2013 — its building felled by the MTA to make way for a new subway station — many mourned the loss of Bryant Ng’s excellent Californian-Singaporean-Vietnamese cooking. You can imagine the excitement, then, when he and Kim Luu-Ng, his wife, partnered with Josh Loeb and Zoe Nathan to open Cassia in 2015. Next to the Santa Monica Public Library, Cassia is an airy, loud, bustling brasserie where Ng’s cooking blends Californian and Southeast Asian flavors to create dishes that are as bold and energetic as the space itself. If you were a fan of Spice Table’s grilled pig’s tail and kaya toast, you’ll be happy to find those dishes made the move across town, and you’ll find new favorites in the unabashedly messy head-on prawns slathered in deep red hot sauce, a curry made with Koda Farms’s chickpeas, a fantastic sea bass that’s grilled and scented with turmeric and dill and the Vietnamese pot-au-feu, in which Ng merges pho with the classic French stew. There’s also a vegetable dish that combines long beans with avocado, which pretty much sums up the restaurant: Cassia is about as perfect as Los Angeles cooking gets. — TN
1314 7th St., Santa Monica
(310) 393-6699
https://www.cassiala.com

Chengdu Impression image

Photo Credit: Yelp

Chengdu Impression

Chengdu Impression did something so simple and so savvy when it opened its first U.S. location in Arcadia last year: it made a little mochi dessert that looks like a panda face. There’s not much to it, but it’s extremely Instagram-friendly. And so, people flocked to the restaurant to get their own picture of it. Once there, people are faced with a Sichuan menu unlike the others. For one, there is a tasting menu available that is served in the manner of a French restaurant, plates served on at a time. For another, the food isn’t even that spicy. That’s not to appeal to westerners; rather it shows us what we don’t know about Sichuan food. There’s more to it than peppercorns, it turns out, including a lot of sweet and tart. The restaurant also operates during the day as a teahouse, the common kind of hangout spot throughout China, where you get a pot of tea and a little snack and you shoot the shit. Not a bad way to pass the time. —KS
21 E. Huntington Dr., Arcadia
(626) 462-9999
https://www.facebook.com/chengduyinxiang

Chichen Itza image

Photo Credit: Gabriel Carbajal

Chichen Itza

Chichen Itza’s cochinita pibil is a glorious thing: a generous helping of shredded pork tinged orange from its sour orange juice and achiote marinade and perfumed with the earthy banana leaves it was wrapped in while cooking. Chichen Itza, of course, is the Yucatecan standout that Gilberto Cetina opened in 2001 at Mercado La Paloma. Since then, it’s become enormously popular with the locals, students from nearby USC, and folks looking to have a stress-free lunch after their appointment at the Department of Motor Vehicles across the street. And while the cochinita pibil is the star of the menu, don’t overlook the panuchos (black beans and shredded turkey atop crisped corn tortillas), or the beef and wheat patties called kibi. You may end up with a little more than you can eat in one sitting, in which case you’ll be happy to know that any leftover cochinita pibil, warmed up with a fried egg or two, makes for a very good breakfast indeed. — TN
3655 S. Grand Ave. #C6, Historic South-Central
(213) 741-1075
http://chichenitzarestaurant.com

 

Colonia Publica

You probably know Ricardo Diaz is a chef worth following if you’ve been watching his career from co-founding Guisados and Cook’s Tortas to opening Colonia Taco Lounge in La Puente. Colonia Taco Lounge closed in late 2015, much to the dismay of everyone in the 626 area code; since then, Diaz has since made Whittier his home base, and it’s here in the 562 that you’ll find his gastropub, Colonia Publica. As you might expect, there are very good tacos here, plus an impressive selection of micheladas. But the beating heart of the space is the fideo, the hearty, soul-satisfying soup that is a foundation of Mexican home cooking. Diaz’s version is made with a chicken and pork broth that’s simmered for some 14 hours; you choose what goes into the soup. Maybe you want chicken, black beans, and pickled jalapenos. Maybe you just want smoked sausage (salchicha) and a fried egg. No one will blink an eye if all you want is the broth with tortilla chips. It is as little or as much as you want it to be. Your bowl. Your panacea. – TN
6717 Greenleaf Ave., Whitter
(562) 693-2621
http://www.coloniagroupinc.com

Coni

Photo Credit: Gabriel Carbajal

Coni’Seafood

Coni’Seafood is both a restaurant and a school: it has educated so many people in the full glory of Mexican seafood. Its location near LAX means people from all over the county (and their out-of-town friends) who might not otherwise seek it out visit it as either an introduction to L.A. culture or a warm welcome back. Its aguachiles — raw shrimp served with citrus and a jalapeno-based green sauce — get photographed the most, and these wildly spicy wonders are worthy of their starring role. But the rest of the menu is just as wonderful, all unabashed flavors and almost suspiciously fresh-tasting ingredients. (It’s not suspicious, the restaurant just sources well.) Sit out in the courtyard, order the whole grilled fish served with taco fixins, crack open a beer, and have a proper L.A. kickback. —KS
3544 W. Imperial Highway, Inglewood
(310) 672-2339
https://coniseafood.com/

El Coraloense image

Photo Credit: Gabriel Carbajal

El Coraloense

One owner of this restaurant was born in Sinaloa, the other in Nayarit. They combined the food traditions of both coastal states into their glorious little ceviche spot, El Coraloense. The inventive menu offers the marinated seafood dish in a number of different styles, some with mayonnaise, some wildly spicy, some with nuts or fruits. The best way to go is to get the sampler plate of three different “mini” ceviche tostadas — it’s a ton of food and a great introduction to what’s going on here. Try the shrimp with walnut and peanut sauce, the smoked marlin, the mango-chamoy-shrimp. Another great option is the “cocoloco,” a coconut filled with all kinds of seafood treasures and topped with a cocktail umbrella, because showmanship counts for something. There are lobster nachos on the menu, but those are a gimme. The cooks are clearly challenging their creativity with the menu, and as diners, we should challenge our boundaries in kind. —KS
6600 Florence Ave, Bell Gardens
(562) 776-8800
http://elcoraloense.com/

 

Dal Rae

The original Dal Rae opened in 1951. It moved to its current location in 1958, and has been chugging along with a basically unchanged menu ever since then. This is a very fun (and very expensive) restaurant that doesn’t seem to know how cool it is — the bar serves lemon drops and gives you a buzzer while you wait for your table, which aren’t usually signifiers of swank — and it’s probably better for it. No pretentiousness here. This is technically a steakhouse, so sure, get steak (in particular, the famous pepper steak), but more importantly, order things that are created tableside. The Caesar salad for two is a work of art created before your very eyes, and it might well be the very best one you’ll have in your life. For dessert, order Cherries Jubilee or Bananas Foster, because setting fruit on fire is always a fun time. Request a table in the old dining room for the full experience. —KS
9023 Washington Blvd, Pico Rivera
(562) 949-2444
dalrae.com

 

Dan Sung Sa

The first thing you notice when you walk into Dan Sung Sa – that is, after your eyes have properly adjusted to the darkness — is the enormous open kitchen in the middle of the floor. If you sit at the bar that surrounds that kitchen, you’ll be close enough to feel the heat hovering above the grills; alternatively, you can squeeze into a booth off towards the wings. Wherever you choose to sit, you will want to settle in for an evening of drinking and eating and drinking and eating. Dan Sung Sa is one of Koreatown’s best drinking taverns, a place where Hite and soju cocktails should be ordered alongside skewers, chicken wings, and cheese corn. And that’s just to start; the second round of drinks will go well with kimchi pancakes and the tubes of spicy Korean rice cakes called ddeokbokki. By the time you get to last call, someone will have ordered a ice-cold plate of watermelon or lychee to end the night. What more could you want from your neighborhood dive bar? — TN
3317 W. Sixth St., Koreatown
(213) 487-9100

 

Din Tai Fung

Din Tai Fung opened in 2000 in a strip mall in Arcadia that quickly proved too small, so it opened a second location practically next door. But two locations were not quite big enough to contain the frenzy around its xiao long bao, or soup dumplings, either, so a little over a year ago, it moved into a considerably larger space inside the Westfield Santa Anita and opened outposts at the Americana and Del Amo Fashion Center for those who would rather deal with traffic at the mall than traffic on the 210. At this point, then, the crowd size is a matter of degrees, because wherever you are, you’ll wait, but not as long as you did back when there were only two locations, and not nearly as long as when there was only one. Most importantly, the growth spurt hasn’t affected its standing: Its xiao long bao is as delicious as ever, and, crucially, the soup dumpling version of deflategate — where a dumpling in the steam basket springs a leak and loses its precious soup — seems to be a scandal that happens to every XLB maker but Din Tai Fung. In a town full of soup dumplings, Din Tai Fung’s remain the standard bearer. — TN
400 S. Baldwin Ave. (at the Westfield Santa Anita), Arcadia
(626) 446-8588
http://dintaifungusa.com

Everson Royce Bar image

Photo Credit: Yelp

Everson Royce Bar

Matt Molina is a chef with a fancy background, having worked at Mozzas both Pizzeria and Osteria. So when it was announced he was going to cook at a bar, there was some brief confusion. And then we all tried the food. He established Everson Royce Bar as a legitimate dining destination, based on the strength of, in particular, buttermilk biscuits with honey butter, shrimp rolls, potato taquitos and a cheeseburger. Those last two items are important to L.A.’s soul, and he treated them with honor, topping the taquitos with avocado-tomatillo salsa, queso fresco and pickled jalapenos. The burger looks kind of like a White Castle burger, but we’re pretty sure that’s on purpose, the better to make the first bite a total surprise: turns out Tillamook cheddar and dill pickles can create a gourmet experience. The bar does creative work to match, and the excellent outdoor area is a great area for revelry. —KS
1936 E. 7th St., downtown
(213) 335-6166
http://www.erbla.com/

Father

Photo Credit: Yelp

Father’s Office

This little beer bar changed the burger game. And that’s a big deal in L.A. The tavern had existed quietly for years before Sang Yoon bought it in 2000 and installed a teeny kitchen in the back. And there, a burger was created. Inspired by French onion soup, Yoon stacked bacon-y caramelized onions, arugula, gruyere, blue cheese and a charbroiled patty on a garlic-butter toasted oval bun. This burger’s invention came around right before we all started throwing the word “gastropub” around, and they are forever linked when Angelenos think about bars that serve truly excellent food. There’s another, bigger Father’s Office location now, but both have the same rule: no substitutions, no additions. Not even ketchup, no matter how much you beg. It’s a signature FO move, but it’s something that came from the complete lack of shelf space at the original. Besides, you can get ketchup anywhere else. —KS
1018 Montana Ave., Santa Monica
(310) 736-2224
http://fathersoffice.com/

 

Gardena Bowl Coffee Shop

Gardena Bowl opened in 1948 in response to what was, apparently, the South Bay’s favorite pastime. The bowling alley hasn’t changed much, and is very much a Gardena community center. The question is: are they really there for the bowling, or is it the Japanese-Hawaiian food that’s been drawing generations of locals? The attached coffee shop may have always served Spam and saimin — that information seems to be lost to the sands of time — but those are certainly among the specialties now. For breakfast (at any time) get the Hawaiian Royal, a scramble of rice, eggs, chashu and Portuguese sausage with green onions and teriyaki sauce. There are sandwiches and bacon and eggs and the like, too, but how many places can you get tempura with a side of egg foo young? And Spam musubi to take home? Go for the specialties. —KS
15707 S. Vermont Ave., Gardena
(310) 532-0820
gardenabowlcoffeeshop.com

Gjelina image

Photo Credit: Yelp

Gjelina

Venice has been absolutely kinetic for the past decade, morphing into something almost unrecognizable all the time, ping ponging from one mindset to another. The latest iteration is tech-heavy and arguably soulless, but Gjelina, which got in before that manifested, is still wildly popular, even though it’s part of the earlier rich-hippie wave. This restaurant, with its good courtyard lighting and tabletops of planked wood, stone or burnished metal, was one of the first definitively Instagram-friendly restaurants, though it was an accident. So, Gjelina has both trendy and beautiful going for it, and as luck would have it, the food is great too. A pizza is a mandatory order; get a couple seasonal vegetable dishes too, and finish with the butterscotch pot de creme. It’s wild to think that this is now one of Venice’s old-school joints, but this beach town is fast-paced now. —KS
1429 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Venice
(310) 450-1429
http://www.gjelina.com/

Grand Central Market image

Photo Credit: joey zanotti via Flickr

Grand Central Market

Grand Central Market opened in Downtown in 1917. By 1926, some 40,000 people visited the market a day, “a seething mass of elbowing, pushing humanity laden down with shopping bags,” as one Los Angeles Times reporter put it back then. Times have changed since then, and so, necessarily, has the market, especially over the last few years as vendors closed and others moved in. But while we all probably have our favorite stalls, the significance of Grand Central Market has never depended entirely on just one vendor; rather, it’s the totality of the experience, the ability for anyone, laden down with shopping bags, to walk comfortably through and pick up a few ounces of dried chiles at Chiles Seco, lunch on wonton soup at China Café or a bowl of adobo fried rice at Sari Sari, and end with a slice of the Brown Derby Grapefruit Cake at Valerie’s for dessert. The recent changes were overseen by Adele Yellin, who owned Grand Central Market up until late last year, when she sold the property to a Beverly Hills real estate firm. The spirit of the market, the firm promises, will be preserved. We hope it will be. — TN

317 S. Broadway, downtown
(213) 624-2378
http://www.grandcentralmarket.com

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Photo Credit: Gabriel Carbajal

Guelaguetza

Angelenos have learned so much since Guelaguetza opened in 1994. No one is surprised any longer when a non-Korean restaurant opens in Koreatown. No one with sophistication recoils at the idea of eating bugs. And now everyone knows that mole isn’t chocolate sauce. All of these things are at least partly thanks to Guelaguetza, one of L.A.’s earliest still-running sit-down restaurants to get specific about which particular state in Mexico was represented on the menu. One could visit this restaurant many times before trying all the mole/protein/starch combinations; even more visits are required if you need to learn about how many different forms a tortilla can take. Grasshoppers are listed two ways under the appetizer section, and they’re certainly worth trying to become a more well-rounded person … but the rest of the menu is where the real magic lies. —KS
3014 W. Olympic Blvd., Koreatown
(213) 427-0608
ilovemole.com

Guerrilla Tacos image

Photo Credit: Gabriel Carbajal

Guerrilla Tacos

If L.A. is a taco city, then Wes Avila is the mayor, a fine-dining chef turned taquero who has liberated this street food tradition beyond the city limits with Mexican-American guisados (stews) inspired by our local farmers’ markets and food purveyors. At his ambulant Alta California (modern Mexican-American) institution, Guerrilla Tacos, Santa Barbara spot prawns, sweet potatoes and wild boar are among the hundreds of fillings available, topped with brilliant salsas, toasted nuts, micro greens and even fried eggs. There’s always a Baja-inspired tostada or ceviche on the menu and quesadillas come filled with shaved black truffles and Oaxacan cheese. Here, fine dining comes not a white tablecloth, but on a corn tortilla. —BE
Multiple locations
http://www.guerrillatacos.com/

 

HaiDiLao Hot Pot

There’s a burgeoning trend of Chinese restaurant chains opening L.A. locations as a first step in introducing themselves to the greater U.S. audience. HaiDiLao was one of the first a couple years back, opening in the Westfield Santa Anita, a mall that’s really figured out how to reinvent itself as a worthy destination: good food. Even with all the competition, there’s a line at HaiDiLao every night (kill time at the adjacent tchotchke store). This is a hot pot specialist with very specific methods. Order your broth and the setup of your choosing: land meat from one kitchen, seafood from another, vegetables from another area. Then head over to the buffet to put together your sauce — this part is largely a guessing game on your first few visits, as you figure out the fresh herb to vinegar ratio that works best for you. FInally, should you desire some showmanship with dinner, extra noodles can be ordered from a “noodle dancer” who’ll twirl enormous circles of noodles into the air before cutting them into your pot. —KS
400 S. Baldwin Ave., Arcadia
(626) 445-7232
http://haidilao.us/

Ham Ji Park image

Photo Credit: Yelp

Ham Ji Park

If you wanted to catch the Clippers-Warriors game while noshing on a sizzling plate of spicy pork ribs and a large bottle of Hite, then you probably want to head directly to Ham Ji Park. And while there are dishes like broiled octopus and sirloin beef on the menu, the focus here, and thus yours, is on the pork. Spicy pork ribs, specifically, grilled until deeply caramelized and properly charred at the ends; they’ll arrive sizzling and brick red thanks to the singe of sweet-spicy heat from the gochujang marinade. One order probably will get you to halftime, at which point you’ll probably want to put in another order. And then you may as well also order the gamjatang, a comforting spicy stew with potatoes and pork neck that goes exceptionally well with beer. These two dishes have made Ham Ji Park a Koreatown legend. Rightfully so. — TN
3407 W. 6th St., #101-C, Koreatown
(323) 365-8773
http://www.hamjiparklosangeles.com

 

Hawkins House of Burgers

Of all the burger joints in Los Angeles, few are more beloved or more respected than Hawkins House of Burgers, where Cynthia Hawkins has presiding over the grill and making some of the finest classic roadside burgers in the city for decades. Here Angus beef patties are seasoned and loosely formed before they’re smacked onto a hot hot griddle to sear and then topped with mustard, mayonnaise, pickles, a slice of cheese, fresh, crisp lettuce, tomatoes, and onions. It’s pretty much all you would want in a burger, but if you’re especially ambitious, Hawkins’ most famous item probably is the Whipper, which takes that classic burger and amps it up with an additional patty, two slices of cheese, a hot link, and a pile of pastrami. Whether you go minimalist or maximialist, Hawkins House of Burgers isn’t so much a house for burgers. It’s a temple. — TN
11603 Slater St., Watts
(323) 563-1129
http://www.hawkinsburgers.com

 

Here’s Looking at You

Koreatown has long been one of L.A.’s best neighborhoods for restaurants, and in the past couple years it has gotten even more interesting and diversified. Here’s Looking At You is doing something a little different than other places in L.A. It’s expensive and thought-provoking and might be ridding the word “fusion” of all its unsavory connotations for all upscale restaurants. (As long as the chefs elsewhere are as talented as the one here.) Raw yellowtail is served in a sauce of wakame, kiwi, and soubise (onion and dairy); the frog legs (there are frog legs!) are doused in black salsa and scallions. And the bar menu is a thing of wonder: inspired by tiki, L.A.’s homegrown contribution to the cocktail world, it’s full of rare rums and homemade syrups and juices. —KS
3901 W. 6th St., Koreatown
(213) 568-3573
https://www.hereslookingatyoula.com/

 

Honda-Ya

The indoor mall in Little Tokyo has lived a million lives, but Honda Ya has been a jam-packed constant on the third floor for many years. There’s a tatami room, a bar in front of the grills, booths, and tables, some of which seat 16 or so and are always full of birthday revelers. It’s a joyful sight to behold after passing through the rest of the somewhat spooky shopping center. The sushi is actually pretty good here, but since it’s an izakaya (imagine a tavern, but with even more beer, then even more), stick to the cooked food, especially the robata skewers – the chicken meatball is a solid choice. Also be sure to order whatever fish collar the restaurant has that day, plus the stewed kabocha squash, the takoyaki, and the “extremely tender pork.” —KS
333 S. Alameda St #314, downtown
(213) 625-1184
izakayahondaya.com

<ahref=”Howlin’ Ray’s”>Howlin

Howlin’ Ray’s

The line outside Howlin’ Ray’s on any given day can be longer than the wait for Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride in the peak of summer. Alas, there are no talking portraits or hats to entertain or sort everyone into houses while waiting; it’s just you and the spectacle of the other fried chicken fiends who may or may not be sitting at one of the tables in the courtyard, sweating over their quarry. Hot chicken, for the uninitiated, is a fiery Nashville specialty, with roots at places like Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack and Bolton’s Spicy Chicken and Fish. Whether Howlin’ Ray’s version is worth the wait depends on your love for fried chicken and what other line experiences you may have had in your life — but, yes, at least within the pantheon of great L.A. fried chicken houses, Howlin’ Ray’s is among the best. The bird is juicy and tender; the batter has a beautiful crunch. As for the heat, there are six levels of spice, with pretty much everything above the mid-level Medium spicier than even the most boastful of heat seekers can handle. Accordingly, when you do make it to the top of the queue, you are advised to choose wisely. It is good advice. — TN
727 N. Broadway #128, Chinatown
(213) 935-8399
http://www.howlinrays.com

El Huarache Azteca image

Photo Credit: Yelp

El Huarache Azteca

El Huarache Azteca has been an integral part of Highland Park for over two decades now and during that time has seen quite a few changes in the neighborhood. Indeed, while many independent businesses in this once predominantly working class Latino neighborhood have closed, El Huarache Azteca is one of the too few places that has weathered the area’s gentrification. On any given day, longtime neighbors line up for the restaurant’s huarache, a street snack that originated in or around Mexico City and involves a thick piece of masa being stretched into the oblong shape of a large sandal and topped with a slather of beans, your choice of meat or vegetable, strips of lettuce, cotija and crema. A pair of huaraches, washed down with an ice-cold agua fresca, would make for a solid lunch, but you might want to pair a sole huarache with another snack, like the salsa-drenched pambazo or a fried quesadilla made with fresh tortillas. On the weekends, locals know to come out for the restaurant’s Texcoco-style lamb roast, which includes a restorative bowl of consommé. — TN
5225 York Blvd., Highland Park
(323) 478-9572
http://instagram.com/el_huarache_azteca

Isaan Station image

Photo Credit: Yelp

Isaan Station

In a strip mall next to a Tom ‘n Tom’s in Koreatown is where you’ll find Isaan Station, a colorful if slightly industrial space where the television seems permanently tuned to whatever channel plays Thai pop videos. The restaurant specializes in the street food of Northeastern Thailand, and if you are familiar with the street food of Northeastern Thailand, you likely will go directly to its minced meat larbs, its terrific selection of papaya salads, and its fermented pork sausages. But what will really solidify your devotion to Isaan Station is its rendition of the street food staple kai yang. This would be chicken bathed in a turmeric marinade, cooked over charcoal so the skin is properly charred, and served with two different sauces (one sweet, one spicy). It’s a formidable display of the kitchen’s mastery of the grill, and more than likely you’ll be back sooner rather than later just for this one dish. The honey toast for dessert helps, too. — TN
125 N. Western Ave. #111-112, Koreatown
(323) 380-5126
http://www.isaanstationthaila.com

Jitlada image

Photo Credit: TheDeliciousLife via Flickr

Jitlada

Jitlada is one of the first restaurant superstars of the Internet age, a place that captured the imagination and attention of many a food blogger back when blogs were more popular than Instagramming or Tweetstorming. That Jitlada has remained in the zeitgeist of the city’s dining culture between then and now is a testament to how canonical it has become, and its ascendancy to that place can be traced to 2007, when brother-and-sister duo Suthiporn “Tui” Sungkamee and Sarintip “Jazz” Singsanong took over Jitlada and appended their Southern Thai specialties to the existing menu. The buzz began slowly but surely online, and soon enough, Jitlada’s rice salad, fried morning glory, fried turmeric sea bass, and green mussel curry became as mandatory Los Angeles experiences as a trip to Griffith Observatory and being stuck in traffic alongside Angelyne. Sadly, the country lost a great when Sungkamee passed last year. Rest in peace, Tui. — TN
5233 1/2 Sunset Blvd. East Hollywood
(323) 667-9809
http://jitladala.com

 

Kobee Factory and Syrian Kitchen

Tucked between a liquor store and an auto repair shop, Kobee Factory and Syrian Kitchen is a cozy, homey place with bright grass green walls and a handful of tables and chairs that fill quickly during the lunch rush. Owner Wafa Ghreir may be patiently suggesting dishes to a first-time customer when you walk in, or she might be in the kitchen busy making her stellar kobee, the bulgar and beef patties for which the restaurant is named. Mixed with pine nuts and seasonings, the kobee is flattened into a thick disc and grilled, or formed into the shape of a mini-football then fried; there’s even a supersized kobee, cooked in a 12-inch pan and cut into eight pieces as you might a tart. The kitchen turns out other excellent Syrian dishes, too, including a fantastic mjadara, with bulgar and lentils that become magical when mixed with fried onions and served, as most orders are, with a cradle of hummus and a terrific cucumber salad. You’ll also be happy if you just ordered standards like the beef kabobs or chicken shish takoua. You will be happy here, period. Ghreir wouldn’t have it any other way. — TN
14110 Oxnard St., Van Nuys
(424) 354-4794
https://www.instagram.com/kobee_factory

Kogi BBQ image

Photo Credit: Gabriel Carbajal

Kogi BBQ

Taco trucks in Los Angeles are often divided into two groups: those founded prior to 2008, and those created after. Because 2008 is when Kogi launched and changed the game. Roy Choi is world famous now, but when he decided to sell a Korean-Mexican street food mashup, he was a former hotel chef looking for something a little, or a lot, more interesting. The Korean short rib taco was the first menu item, followed by things like spicy pork burritos and chicken mulitas. (The sweet chili chicken quesadilla somehow isn’t as well-known, but it’s the most delicious option.) The food, of course, is good, but Choi and his team also harnessed the power of the then-new Twitter for marketing, and parked the truck strategically outside bars. Kogi takes all its cues from the taco trucks that have been part of L.A.’s landscape, and it brought new energy to the whole industry. —KS
3500 Overland Ave., Palms
(424) 326-3031
Kogibbq.com

 

La Casita Mexicana

There may not be a more colorful restaurant in L.A. than La Casita Mexicana. Both the decor and the food here are deep-hued, with orange and blue walls and tablecloths across the entire red spectrum. There’s also an impressive collection of hojalata here, so you’ll enjoy yourself even if you’re more into art than food. Speaking of food, the glorious sauces here come in just about naturally-occurring color, sometimes even on the same plate, as in the case of the enchiladas tres moles. Chile en nogada, with its bright green stuffed pepper, white walnut sauce and sprinkling of pomegranate seeds continues the colorful-delicious theme. If you make it in time for breakfast, you’re faced with seven different chilaquile options. That’s a great problem to have, and one that people choose to be faced with on the regular. —KS
4030 E. Gage Ave., Bell
(323) 773-1898
http://casitamex.com/

 

La Mascota

La Mascota has been a Boyle Heights institution since 1952, so when the Salcedo family sold it to Francisco and Patty Aparicio two years ago, there were concerned murmurs about what the new owners would do to the bakery. But based on the line to pick up tamales this past December, those anxieties have been largely put to rest; indeed, it would not be a surprise if a good portion of the city has a calendar alert set for the first day La Mascota starts taking holiday tamale orders. Because their tamales still are pretty stellar, with the pork in a smoky red chile sauce and the chicken in green chile sauce being quite popular, though if you’re a fan of sweet tamales, the sweet tamale with pineapple has its fans, too. And while it’s very easy to drop in and get nothing but a bag full of tamales, you’d be remiss if you didn’t at least consider the extensive selection of pan dulce and cookies, whole cakes and cupcakes, flans and tarts. There are Gaviña beans in the hopper, so a cup of café con leche is not a bad idea. The bakery is 66 years old this year, and looks like it can easily go 66 more. — TN
2715 Whittier Blvd., Boyle Heights
(323) 263-5513
https://www.lamascotabakery.com

Ladyface Ale Companie image

Photo Credit: Ladyface Ale Companie

Ladyface Ale Companie

Too many American brewpubs follow the same tired cliche. Deep-fried watering holes with a brewery attached, they’re complacent to be the local spot where you slam back pints of pale ales and pilsners under flat-screen TVs and nosh on jalapeño poppers, nachos or, if you’re lucky, a formerly frozen pizza. When Ladyface Ale Companie opened in Agoura Hills over eight years ago, owner Cyrena Nouzille and brewmaster David Griffiths redefined the aging brewpub concept. Part urban brasserie, part European farmhouse brewery, Ladyface is a Provençal hideaway dropped into suburban Los Angeles County with views of the mountains and a menu of saison-steamed moule frites, Niman Ranch croque madames and one of the best French onion soups not made by someone whose first name rhymes with “crudo.” Beers like Dérailleur and Trois Filles and La Blonde also dance along the French-Belgian border, a place where farm-to-table food and malt-focused brews form the basis of culinary life. — SB
29281 Agoura Road, Agoura Hills
(818) 477-4566
ladyfaceale.com

 

Langer’s Delicatessen-Restaurant

Number 1, number 10, and, of course, number 19. We’re talking about the pastrami sandwiches at Langer’s, of course, and topping variations thereof: with Swiss cheese, without; with coleslaw, without; with Russian dressing, without; with all of the above, with none of the above. Whatever your preferred permutation, it is not a hyperbole to say Langer’s pastrami sandwiches have no equal in the city, and some, like Nora Ephron, would argue, in the country. So memorable is Langer’s pastrami that many can recall their very first time at the deli, and the very first time they slid into one of the deli’s worn booths. The first time they were handed that giant menu, the first time they thought really hard about what their sandwich should be. The first time they finally settled on a number — and made it theirs. — TN
704 S. Alvarado St., Westlake
(213) 483-8050
http://langersdeli.com

Little Sheep image

Photo Credit: Yelp

Little Sheep

Little Sheep has a bit of a scandalous history in L.A., only because the Chinese restaurant chain was impersonated by another business here for years. This Hacienda Heights location, though, was the first of the real-deal version of the wildly popular purveyor of hot pot, the northern Chinese/Mongolian party meal of choice. The setup here is pretty simple — choose your broth and your soup ingredients, and then have a feast — but the options are nearly endless, and the cook-it-yourself technique takes a while to perfect. Think carefully before ordering an entire vat of the Sichuan peppercorn-heavy spicy broth (regular, with cardamom, ginseng and goji berries, or the half-and-half, are more reasonable). Choose lamb dumplings, leafy greens, noodles, oyster mushrooms, Spam (on this menu it’s called luncheon meat), and get ready for an interactive evening. Remember, the meat cooks in seconds! —KS
1655 S. Azusa Ave E., Hacienda Heights
(626) 965-8888
littlesheephotpot.com

Lucques image

Photo Credit: Yelp

Lucques

Lucques is Suzanne Goin and Caroline Styne’s West Hollywood restaurant, a place that has been doing local, seasonal, farm-to-table cooking long before those terms became hashtags and memes. And so when you want to have the version of California cuisine that is inflected with Mediterranean flavors, in a setting where the decibel level rarely reaches beyond a comfortable hum — and which also happens to be Harold Lloyd’s old carriage house — you come to Lucques, where you might have a beautiful salad of winter lettuces with slices of apple and pear before moving on to Goin’s signature braised beef shortribs and her Portuguese-style pork with clams and chorizo and fried potatoes. Soon, when our too-short winter turns into spring, maybe you’ll see green garlic or English peas from the Santa Monica farmers market on the menu as well. The restaurant turns twenty years young this year, and still feels as fresh as ever. — TN
8474 Melrose Ave., West Hollywood
(323) 655-6277
http://lucques.com

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Photo Credit: T.Tseng via Flickr

Luv2Eat

If your idea of a perfect night out is Black Panther at the Arclight Dome followed by a bowl of crab curry, you may want to make your way over to Luv2Eat. Chefs Fern Kaewtathip and Noree Pla were partners at another respected Thai Town noodle specialist, Hoy-Ka, before leaving to open Luv2Eat in late 2014 in a strip mall a few blocks west of the Arclight. In doing so, they’ve created one of the liveliest Thai restaurants to open in recent years. While the restaurant serves up a flu-fighting tom yum soup and solid soupless noodles with roasted duck, you’re mostly here for the dishes listed in the “Chef Specials” section of the menu. These are mostly Southern fare: you will want at least one plate of the hai yat fried chicken; most tables will have a bowl of Luv2Eat’s signature dish, a fiery, deeply funky Phuket-style crab or fish curry; and you probably should get whatever new dish the chefs Instagrammed that morning. There are so many more dishes to try — their version of jade noodles, a blazing hot massaman curry — that you probably can’t get to them all on your first visit. In which case, you know where you’ll be going for dinner after your next visit to Wakanda. — TN
6660 W. Sunset Blvd., Hollywood
(323) 498-5835
http://www.luv2eatthai.com

 

Manhattan Beach Post

The menus at Manhattan Beach Post often have margin notes and extra dishes handwritten underneath and around what’s already been printed. Roasted sunchokes, for instance, were scribbled in as the last entry in the “Eat Your Vegetables” section not too long ago, as if the kitchen just picked up a case from the farmers market and decided, way past the time the menus could be reprinted, to offer them that night anyway. These types of last minute additions give writers anxiety attacks, but it is exactly this casual informality that sums up David LeFevre’s restaurant, which opened in 2011 and has been a center of Manhattan Beach dining ever since. It’s a boisterous, easygoing place where you can share a good helping of those sunchokes alongside a charcuterie platter that may or may not include Tamworth prosciutto and local honey, plus perpetual crowd pleasers like charred Brussels sprouts, grilled skirt steaks, and lovely cheddar buttermilk biscuits studded with bacon. All of which is the perfect way to bookend a sunny Los Angeles day of building sandcastles and watching sunsets. — TN
1142 Manhattan Ave., Manhattan Beach
(310) 545-5405
http://www.eatmbpost.com

Mariscos Jalisco image

Photo Credit: Gabriel Carbajal

Mariscos Jalisco

Mariscos Jalisco is the lonchera run by Raul Ortega, who parked his truck on Olympic Boulevard in Boyle Heights back in 2001 and pretty much hasn’t left since. The truck has a number of solid seafood offerings, but what has made the truck a mandatory stop on any proper taco crawl is its tacos dorados de camaron: bits of shrimp mixed with other ingredients — Ortega holds the recipe as close to his chest as Coca-Cola does its formula — are slathered in a corn tortilla, then folded in half and fried. It’s plated with ladleful of salsa and a slice of avocado and handed off to you to enjoy perched on a nearby ledge. It is a taco so delicious that you’ll probably go back for seconds or thirds, and you probably will think about it the next day, and the day after that. Is this the best taco in L.A.? Many, with good reason, would say yes. — TN
3040 E. Olympic Blvd., Boyle Heights
(323) 528-6701
https://www.instagram.com/mariscosjalisco

Meals by Genet image

Photo Credit: Yelp

Meals by Genet

Genet Agonafer’s version of doro wot is widely considered to be the best in town: vibrant with chiles, berbere, and other seasonings, the chicken stew takes at least two days to make, and it’s so popular that one imagines a large pot of it is simmering at all times in Agonafer’s tiny kitchen. That’s just one of a number of wonderful dishes that Agonafer makes at her quietly elegant restaurant; she also makes a kitfo, minced raw beef mixed with Ethiopian butter; tibs with beef, chicken, or tofu, depending on your inclination and/or diet that day; and an array of vegetable side dishes — among them, mesir (red lentils), gomen (collard greens), souf fifit (pureed sunflower seeds) — that can be ordered individually or collectively to make a complete meal. You selections will arrive piled neatly and beautifully on a large, spongy piece of injera, at which point you’ll tear off a piece. And dig in. — TN
1053 S. Fairfax Ave., Mid-Wilshire
(323) 938-9304
http://mealsbygenetla.com

 

Mercado Olympic

The Pinata District is always a reliable place to pick up a pinata when the need strikes during the school week, but it’s on the weekends that the area really comes alive. Because that’s when the music is on full blast and most of the warehouses roll open their doors and more street vendors than you can count park curbside and start cooking. The vendors vary from weekend to weekend, though you’ll consistently find more than one cook tugging at a mound of fresh masa to make huaraches or pressing them to make tortillas to be filled with stewed chicken or chorizo. There’s almost always someone frying chicharrones and someone else pulling churros out of a vat of hot oil and bagging them for an impatient kid gripping a mini-unicorn toy. Every inch of sidewalk real estate is occupied during these weekends, which means sometimes you’ll have to wait for someone to finish dressing their tacos before you can walk on. Still, the crowd always parts when a stroller rolls through, and if someone wonders aloud where they can find a Captain America-shaped piñata, someone else will yell out the answer. The city may be bursting with exclusive new corporate-driven food halls, but it’s gatherings like the Mercado Olympic that make the city so special. — TN
Olympic Blvd. & Central Ave., downtown

Michael's image

Photo Credit: Yelp

Michael’s

This Santa Monica stronghold is a legend in California cuisine, having opened in 1979 at the forefront of the European-inspired food boom that defined the popular conception of west coast restaurants for decades. Michael’s also constantly churns out chefs that go on to be famous, from Jonathan Waxman to Sang Yoon to Brooke Williamson — the latter two have restaurants on this very list. The current chef, Miles Thompson, is only 30 or so, and looks poised to achieve the same kind of success as his predecessors. (No pressure, kid.) He serves a seasonally changing, pared-down menu of choices like burrata with tangerine, foie gras with cured salmon roe, and pork collar with black olive honey. It’s pricey, but it you arrive between 5:30 and 6pm, you can have the cocktail of the day for 1.79. —KS
1147 3rd St., Santa Monica
(310) 451-0843
michaelssantamonica.com

 

Misky Misky

Tucked behind a gas station and across the street from another gas station on the northern edge of West Covina is Misky Misky, Julio and Cecilia Tawata’s Peruvian restaurant. You won’t be wrong to want the anticuchos (skewered beef hearts) that are grilled and served with a flourish of microgreens, or the upgraded version of lomo saltado where bits of filet mignon are wok-fried with tomatoes, onions, French fries, and a bright aji amarillo sauce. But where Misky Misky really shines is in its ceviches, which are easily some of the best and freshest in town. There are half a dozen to a dozen on the menu at any given time, with the mixto — ceviche with the fish of the day, shrimp, mussels, and squid — probably the best choice for the indecisive. It may be too early to call it, but a few years from now, we may very well see Misky Misky as one of a handful of restaurants redefining modern Peruvian cooking in Southern California. — TN
125 N. Fairway Ln., West Covina
(626) 966-0600
http://miskymisky.com

 

Musso & Frank Grill

The reason you are here at Musso & Frank is because you want a drink. A nice drink, an excellent drink, a drink that you drink when you know exactly what you want to drink, no fuss, no scene, no hype. Just a proper drink … and maybe a steak that’s been properly charred over a charcoal fire, too. This is, after all, the oldest restaurant in Hollywood, a place that’s been making perfect martinis and grilled steaks since 1919 and accordingly has served as the watering hole for everyone from Lucille Ball to M.F.K. Fisher. Thus the food and even the famed martini are but one part of the whole experience; there is no other place in Los Angeles that can contrive to have this particular Hollywood experience, no other spot where you can experience the air of celebrity without suffocating in it. Even those who generally are indifferent to the industry part of L.A. are won over at Musso & Frank: Don’t you want to sit at the same booth where Garbo once sat? Yes. Yes, of course you do. — TN
6667 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood
(323) 467-7788
http://mussoandfrank.com

 

My Two Cents

Two Cents, Alisa Reynolds’s restaurant, might be best known for its “gries”: corn grits cut into rectangular logs, fried, then stacked like Jenga pieces for you to dislodge at will. But as much as Two Cents is the sort of restaurant unafraid to riff on a few classics, it’s also a restaurant where you can have said classics: Here you’ll find an enormously comforting bowl of creamy grits finished with butter and served with plump shrimp, and its gumbo, fried chicken, and stacks of fried green tomatoes are good options, too. And it is also a restaurant where the chalkboard menu alerts you to both the specials and market vegetables of the day, the oxtail tacos are topped with shredded kale, the mac and cheese is gluten-free, and Sriracha is on the table alongside the bottle of organic hot sauce. Thus no matter your craving and no matter you diet, Two Cents has something for you; lest you have any questions about the ethos here, you’ll likely find your answer on bookshelf next to the counter, which holds, among others, Bryant Terry’s Afro-Vegan and Dorie Greenspan’s Around My French Table. It’s easy to see why, then, Two Cents is such a beloved spot, a place where neighbors run into neighbors and where someone may or may not break into a dance after the bread pudding dessert. — TN
5583 W Pico Blvd., Mid-Wilshire
(323) 938-1012
http://mytwocentsla.com

n/naka image

Photo Credit: Yelp

n/naka

Getting a reservation at n/naka is harder than getting your hands on a Super Nintendo Classic, but keep trying: n/naka is a gem. It is the rare fine dining restaurant that will match if not exceed your expectations, a place that is serious but doesn’t take itself too seriously, a place where even those generally opposed to sitting still for a two or three hours will find themselves excited to see what dish will come out next. Because here chef Niki Nakayama leads you through what might be the only restaurant in town for a proper kaiseki meal where the best of the best of seasonal ingredients are featured over the course of 13 impeccable dishes including, at some point, her signature dish that combines an Italian pasta with abalone and the occasional shaves of truffle. That you never once feel overwhelmed by the experience is a testament to the service, as is the fact that the crew is so invested in making your experience a unique one that those lucky enough to eat here more than once rarely have the same dish twice. Reservations are released Sunday mornings at 10 a.m. Set those alarms now. — TN
3455 S. Overland Ave., Palms
(310) 836-6252
https://n-naka.com

Neptune

Photo Credit: carlfbagge via Flickr

Neptune’s Net

Compared to other seaside cities, L.A. hasn’t had much of a seafood culture in modern times. Maybe it’s because we take it for granted, maybe it’s because Santa Monica Bay is often polluted beyond belief. (Oh, those two things are related, aren’t they.) But, we are blessed by Neptune’s Net, all the way up in the northern reaches of Malibu, across the street from the ocean. Though you’ve almost certainly seen it in movies, the outdoor restaurant is not at all pretentious. It’s a popular stop for motorcycle clubs — the friendly kind. Once you weave your way through the bikes and past the be-leathered folks who ride them, you’ll be faced with a choice: the fry side or the steam side. The former is where deep-fried seafood and items like the (really quite delicious) pineapple-shrimp tacos are ordered, while the latter is for crab claws and peel-and-eat shrimp. —KS
2505 Pacific Coast Hwy., Malibu
(310) 457-3095
neptunesnet.com

Newport Tan Cang Seafood image

Photo Credit: Yelp

Newport Tan Cang Seafood

Newport Tan Cang Seafood is the home of what is known simply as the House Lobster, a massive, deeply red Maine lobster showered with jalapenos, green onions and black pepper, served whole on an enormous platter and plopped with much aplomb onto the center of the table. In recent years, the restaurant has spawned a number of imitators, yet the longest lines for this style of lobster still seem to be here, especially during the holidays when The Lobster is as impressive a centerpiece as a turkey. And while The Lobster is undoubtedly the main draw, your meal isn’t complete without the plate of pea sprouts and the tender beef cubes called bo luc lac. When the server comes around asking if you’d like some of the house XO sauce, you’d do well to grab one or two ramekins for the table. There are jars at the register, too. There may be no better souvenir. — TN
518 W. Las Tunas Dr., San Gabriel
(626) 289-5998
http://www.newportseafood.com

Night + Market Song image

Photo Credit: Gabriel Carbajal

Night + Market Song

Night + Market is now a three-location consortium, but it’s the second location, in Silver Lake, (full name: Night + Market Song) that has most captured the imagination, taste buds and wallets of Angelenos. The chef and owner is the scion of an L.A. restaurant family: his parents and grandmother opened Talesai on the Sunset Strip in 1982, introducing white westsiders to the glory of Thai food. The cuisine is now a staple for all Angelenos, and Night + Market Song regularly has a 40-minute wait for tables at dinner. The menu here certainly contains some crowd-pleasers, but is also attempting, it seems, to further the education of a new generation of eaters: alongside the larbs and the pad thai there’s khao soi (an increasingly popular northern noodle dish), grilled pig neck with a chili dip, a Burmese curry with squash, and “Bangkok mall pasta.” Plus an off-menu fried chicken sandwich, because this is a hipster restaurant. —KS
3322 Sunset Blvd., Silver Lake
(323) 665-5899
nightmarketsong.com

 

al-Noor

Indian food in L.A. can be somewhat run-of-the-mill, which makes al-Noor a double treasure. It specializes in northern Indian and Pakistani food — i.e., the same dishes that the vast majority of Indian restaurants here serve. And yet, it does it so much better than the others. Even the chicken tikka masala, that most common of orders, is orders of magnitude better than most anywhere else on the west coast. Less common dishes like tala gosht, a fried-and-sauced beef speciality of Hyderabad (where’s it often made with mutton), will also open your eyes to a whole new realm of Indian food. Unless you already knew, of course. Al-Noor is one of the most important fixtures of L.A.’s strip mall restaurant culture, where most things good are served in humble surroundings. —KS
15112 S. Inglewood Ave, Lawndale
(310) 675-4700
alnoor-restaurant.net

 

Oaxacan Quesadilla Cart

Somewhere in Echo Park during the weekends is a woman named Alejandra standing behind a cart with a bucket of blue corn masa next to her. The blue is roughly the same shade of blue as Sam the Eagle, and it is out of this blue that Alejandra pulls out a fistful, stretches it thin quickly onto a hot grill, and pats it flat before turning to the business of the filling. You may want your quesadilla filled with the earthy funkiness of huitaloche, or maybe with chorizo and potatoes. When you make your pick, she’ll fill the tortilla, and the tortilla will be folded and cooked, with a flip in between, then handed to you on a paper plate for you to sauce as you desire with one or more of the salsas hanging in front of the grill. Depending on where you find the cart, you may be wolfing all this down curbside, near a bank or in front of a natural foods store. As you do in L.A. — TN
Echo Park

 

Oh My Pan Bakery & Tea

The Volcano Toast at Oh My Pan is huge, almost comically so: thick logs of warm, fried toast stacked four stories high and topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, two sauces (vanilla, strawberry), and sliced strawberries. We are in the land of brick toasts, which, depending on whom you ask, are considerably more exciting than the avocado toasts that dominate coffee shops west of the 710. Indeed, after you’ve had one of Oh My Pan’s brick toasts, it’s hard to look at sliced avocado on rye the same way again; in addition to that Mauna Loa of toast, the bakery also has other, albeit less towering, toast options topped with fun things like marshmallows, strawberries, green tea, and red beans. And there is, as you might expect, a long menu of boba and fruit slushies, plus racks full of sweet milk buns. The San Gabriel Valley is full of shops built on boba and brick toast, but the afterschool crowd heads to Oh My Pan for a reason. The kids are all right. — TN
801 E. Valley Blvd. #105, San Gabriel
(626) 307-7719
http://www.ohmypan.com

 

Omar’s Halal

L.A. County is blessed with a plethora of regional Chinese cuisine options. You’d probably be able to fake having gone to China just by eating at half of the restaurants in the San Gabriel Valley. Having said that, halal Chinese cuisine is a relative rarity – a shame, because it’s so delicious and can introduce eaters to a part of China that doesn’t get as much attention as the more eastward regions. The food at Omar is also the food of Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, and it’s hearty and spicy, and full of both potatoes and hand-pulled noodles (blessings to the carb lovers). Omar’s most famous dish is the “big plate chicken” which does, in fact, feed a crowd, and needs extra time to prepare. Order some flaky stuffed flatbreads (“meat pie”) and lamb skewers as first courses, with garlic cucumbers to perk everything up. —KS
1718 New Ave., San Gabriel
(626) 570-9778

Otafuku image

Photo Credit: Yelp

Otafuku

There’s been a resurgence of interest in fresh, handmade noodles lately, so it seems like an especially good time to head over to Otafuku, where fresh noodles have been the specialty for about 20 years. One of greater L.A.’s great noodle houses, Otafuku makes both soba and udon, with the standout being its soba. Otafuku makes no less than three different types of soba, all with flour from Japan; all with remarkably delicate spring that can be enjoyed in a hot bowl of soup or alone with a dipping sauce. Should you choose the cold soba, someone will come by, usually as you’re just finishing up, with a small pitcher filled with the same water the noodles were cooked in; it is understood that you are to splash some into the dipping sauce and sip and replenish. At lunchtime, the two dining rooms are crammed with salary and other office workers who quickly slurp down noodles and a side of tempura; around happy hour, Otafuku transitions into an izakaya that serves yakitori, sashimi, and rice bowls. And until they run out, noodles, too. — TN

16525 S. Western Ave., Gardena
(310) 532-9348
https://www.facebook.com/pg/otafukurestaurant

 

Pann’s

As you’re driving down La Cienega, you can’t miss the unmistakenable sharp angles and the blinking neon sign that signals Pann’s. Opened in 1958 — the same year that the Explorer 1 and the Sputnik 3 were launched into orbit — the diner was designed by Armet & Davis and is one of the last remaining Googie-style buildings in the city. And even as we’re living in a time when a private citizen is shooting cars into the final frontier and thinking about tunneling under the 405, the architecture still feels futuristic somehow, so much so that if Spock sat down at the counter and ordered a lunch plate with fried chicken, a side of properly crisped hash browns, and a hot mug of coffee, you probably wouldn’t blink twice. There are few great true diners in the city, much less those in settings as historically cool as this one. Live long and prosper, indeed. — TN
6710 La Tijera Blvd., Westchester
(323) 776-3770
http://www.panns.com

 

Park’s BBQ

Korean barbecue is a staple of Los Angeles food culture; a popular choice for both large gatherings and intimate dinners with the person you don’t mind eating $40 worth of meat in front of. This subset of Korean food is also very Californian — some of the meat choices and a good proportion of the banchan were developed here in our own Koreatown. Park’s is widely considered to be best quality KBBQ in town (stick to the beef, since the restaurant focuses more on cows than on pigs). It’s certainly the most celebrity-filled: the walls are covered with photos of meat-sated famous faces from around the world. —KS
955 S. Vermont Ave., Koreatown
(213) 380-1717
http://parksbbq.com/

Philippe the Original image

Photo Credit: Yelp

Philippe the Original

One of L.A.’s perennial debates concerns the French dip sandwich. Was it first cobbled together at Philippe the Original (more commonly called Philippe’s), or in another part of downtown at Cole’s? The answer is probably that people had been dipping their bread in basting juices for as long as sandwiches had existed, but it is fun to get all riled up about the issue. (But it was definitely Philippe’s, at least in terms of L.A. restaurants.) The restaurant hasn’t changed much: you still order at the counter, coffee is less than a dollar, and there are jars of pickled eggs on the counter, should you want one. In fact, the whole menu is a retro delight, with items like tapioca pudding and cream of spinach soup available. But you’ll get a sandwich, of course — and after you’ve tried the traditional beef, you’ll graduate to lamb with blue cheese, the connoisseur’s choice. —KS
1001 N. Alameda St., Chinatown
(213) 628-3781
philippes.com

 

Phnom Penh Noodle Shack

Long Beach is home to the largest population of Cambodians in the country, making it the only place in the region to explore the complex, pungent flavors that define Khmer cuisine. Best practice is to start your day at Phnom Penh Noodle Shack, the iconic purveyor of Cambodian noodle soup that’s spent the last 30 years as a crucial community space serving the entire Khmer diaspora. Known as kuy teav, the soup is a breakfast dish based around a pork broth; you can customize the noodles (from vermicelli to wavy ramen), the meats (the house special includes sliced and ground pork meat along with stomach, liver and shrimp), the presentation (wet, with the noodles in the soup broth, or dry, with the noodles served in one bowl and its broth, with a scraggly piece of bone-in knuckle, separately in another), and the condiments (hoisin, chili paste, salted and pickled things, and a sweet fish sauce are all at your disposal). Now in the hands of young second-generation owners, “The Shack” is expanding its reach outside the Khmer community. Instagram and Facebook posts draw non-Cambodians to the tiny dining room built into the front lawn of a house and a second location in Cerritos opened earlier this year under the name Rice String Noodle Shack. — SB
1644 Cherry Ave., Long Beach
(562) 433-0032
http://thenoodleshack.com

 

Pho Filet

About a decade ago, it seemed as if most every new restaurant in the San Gabriel Valley was a pho joint eager to show off its bowl of noodles. Things have slowed down considerably on the pho front since then, but among the pho specialists that opened back then was Pho Filet, which reset the bar with its pho bac, the spare Northern-style pho served with thick rice noodles, a mass of sliced filet mignon and garnished with not much more than a grating of fresh ginger and a few herbs. The soup gained a following, and the lunchtime crowd hasn’t really waned since. That said, if you prefer your pho bolder and brasher, Pho Filet also makes a terrific Southern-style soup that piles on the bean sprouts, herbs, and your pick of pretty much every cut of meat (brisket, tenderloin, flank, tripe, meatballs, and so on) you might desire. Beyond pho, you’ll find solid egg rolls, serviceable bowls of bun, and a pretty stellar banh xeo, the crisp rice flour and turmeric wafer stuffed with bean sprouts, shrimp, and pork. – TN
2643 N. San Gabriel Blvd., Rosemead
(626) 453-8911

Playa Provisions image

Photo Credit: T.Tseng via Flickr

Playa Provisions

Playa Del Rey is such a perfect little archetypal SoCal beach town, and Playa Provisions is the restaurant it deserves — frankly, it’s weird more seaside hamlets don’t have something exactly like it. The breezy space has a few different areas serving different menus, all decorated in exposed planks with pops of green and blue … yes, it is reminiscent of a wild, driftwood-y beach. Go for ice cream, or a smoothie, or sandwiches, or sit down for a seafood feast, or head to the bar for booze and snacky stuff. It’s all easy and light, and the compound rents bikes, too, the better to work up an appetite cruising along the beach path first. Brooke Williamson, who we know from her stints on Top Chef can make fancy food, seems to be in her natural, breezy element here.—KS
119 Culver Blvd., Playa Del Rey
(310) 683-5019
playaprovisions.com

Providence image

Photo Credit: Yelp

Providence

For those times you want to have dinner on a table with a crisp white cloth and have the option to order caviar and a chance to ponder over an extensive wine list and an opportunity to mull over a cheese cart and in general have a one fine meal: Providence. Michael Cimarusti’s restaurant has been Los Angeles’s beacon of fine dining for more than a decade; it even has the distinction of earning two Michelin stars back when the Michelin guide deigned to come to Los Angeles. Providence is first and foremost a temple to seafood — sustainable seafood, specifically, unequivocally — and the dishes are at once elegant and creative: fresh uni with egg in the shell, swordfish with a crust of black truffles and pancetta, rockfish scented with shiso. As far as special occasion restaurants go, there aren’t too many as special as Providence. — TN
5955 Melrose Ave., Hollywood
(323) 460-4170
http://www.providencela.com

Republique

Photo Credit: Yelp

Republique

Republique is one of this city’s most infuriating restaurants: how dare it serve a brunch this good and not take reservations. On the other hand, it’s good to see rich scenesters taken down a peg by waiting outside for an hour or more, in broad daylight. On the third hand, the food here really is tremendous, so it’s nice to know that the Hollywood kids have good taste. Chef Walter Manzke is locally famous for his classic French cookery, and his wife and partner Margarita is finally getting as much shine as him. Maybe even more, given the Filipino influence she brings to the menu and her nearly supernatural ability as a baker, especially her rustic loaves and rough-hewn fruit pies and crumbles. This is not an inexpensive restaurant, but the mushroom toast with burrata and walnuts and the pig’s feet with lentils and an egg are relative steals, and highlight the restaurant’s ethos of relaxed elegance. —KS
624 S. La Brea Ave., Hancock Park
(310) 362-6115
republiquela.com

RiceBar image

Photo Credit: Yelp

RiceBar

RiceBar is a seven stool counter, a pair of seats before a narrow window, and a handful of tables all impossibly crammed into 275 square feet on one of the busiest streets in Downtown. Much of the modern Filipino food movement is happening right now in this Lilliputian space, where owner and chef Charles Olalia is as obsessed about rice as specialty coffee roasters are about green coffee. His heirloom grains come direct from the Philippines, and they are the foundation upon which all his rice bowls are built. You have your pick of golden garlic rice, a nutty black rice, or steamed jasmine rice; from there, you can add a deeply flavorful pork or vegan longganisa, pork belly lechon, Spam and eggs, or an adobo that changes with some frequency (it’s listed on the menu as “What’s the adobo?” for a reason). All are as comforting as a hot bowl of rice should be. — TN

419 W. 7th St., downtown
(213) 807-5341
http://www.ricebarla.com

Rocio

Photo Credit: Gabriel Carbajal

Rocio’s Mexican Kitchen

Mole is a sauce, it’s a metaphor, it’s a way of life. It is so, so good, and as we’re lucky to know firsthand in L.A., it’s not just one thing. There are all kinds of ingredient combinations that count as mole. Rocio Camacho may be doing the most innovative mole work in the U.S. right now, currently at her eponymous Rocio’s Mexican Kitchen, a tiny little place with a pretty big menu, where almost everything is covered in chocolate brown, red or green, even the tortilla chips, which arrive with dollops of various mole sauces, an idea that both makes them more delicious and helps diners decide what kind to order more of: pumpkin, peanut, pistachio, almond? Smoky? Sweet? Camacho’s “goddess of moles” title may seem a bit much at first — not after you’ve eaten her food. —KS
7891 Garfield Ave., Bell Gardens
(562) 659-7800
http://rociosmexicankitchen.mymobisite.us/

Ruen Pair image

Photo Credit: Yelp

Ruen Pair

Ruen Pair comes up often in conversations about where to eat in Los Angeles to eat after midnight, but its late night hours aren’t the only reason it is a destination. The restaurant has been a Thai Town staple pretty much since it opened in a plaza in the heart of Thai Town some two decades ago in good part because no matter your craving, you will be find something to like within its thick menu, whether it’s the stir-fried pad see ew, the fragrant curries, the strips of BBQ pork, the tom yum soups that tingle with spice, or the excellent morning glory and papaya salads. Dig a little deeper past those greatest hits and you’ll find gems in the fried egg omelet with salted turnip, in the Chinese olive and ground pork, in the fried pompano. You can’t miss, in other words, whether it’s 1 p.m. or 1 a.m. — TN
5257 Hollywood Blvd., East Hollywood
(323) 466-0153
http://ruenpairthaila.com

 

Rustic Canyon

Rustic Canyon built its reputation on a burger, even now, years after it’s been taken off the menu, the Santa Monica-elegant restaurant still does excellent work with big hunks of meat and colorful California vegetables. The wine list is one of the more interesting in L.A. County, full of choices from up and down California, as well as places like Corsica, Greece and Portugal. Start with the chicken liver mousse, which comes with both cracklings and buttery grilled bread. You can go lighter at this point, rounding out the meal with lettuces, a beet-quinoa-amaranth salad, and a scoop of sorbet. Or make it a real bacchanal, ordering dishes that nod to the restaurant’s international inspiration: pozole verde with mussels; ribollita; yams with za’atar. And then a big ol’ slice of strawberry-rhubarb pie. —KS
1119 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica
(310) 393-7050
rusticcanyonwinebar.com

 

Salazar

Salazar could’ve so easily gone the wrong direction, but this pricey, all-outdoor-seating yupster paradise is, somehow, practically perfect. (The loose pebble groundcover and stairs make it hard to access if you’re using crutches or a chair, so demerits on that front.) The restaurant opened with a splash in the hip Frogtown neighborhood with strong cocktails and an Instagram-friendly color scheme, but the owners also remembered to make good food — this is not always a given. Even just two years later it’s hard to remember that simple grilled meats on planks and tacos on flour tortillas were not always a standard part of L.A.’s Mexican food repertoire, but Salazar was part of our recent Sonoran renaissance, where we realized that the answer to “flour or corn?” was not a moral conundrum. If that sort of debate is of no interest to you, you’ll still enjoy Salazar on a sunny day, with guacamole and a colorful cocktail. —KS
2490 Fletcher Dr., Elysian Valley
http://salazarla.com/

Sapp Coffee Shop image

Photo Credit: LWYang via Flickr

Sapp Coffee Shop

Let’s start with the boat noodles, because everyone always does. Sapp Coffee Shop (which is a coffee shop in the older sense of the term: a no-frills neighborhood spot for quick comfort food) is famous for the offal-heavy, pig blood-thickened soup that apparently originated with food vendors working the Bangkok canals in their canoes. (How much cooler would our Venice canals be if they were full of noodle boats?) It is the signature dish here; if offal is off the menu for you (or more likely, if it’s just too hot out for this soup), the jade noodles are also excellent: pork, duck, dried crab, peanuts, cilantro, green onions, a dried chili mix and lime stirred into a mass of green noodles. It is also an excellent introduction to Sapp, but as it turns out, everything else here is pretty great too. —KS
5183 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood
(323) 665-1035

 

Sea Harbour

Sea Harbour is a Hong Kong-style restaurant where you can splurge on elaborate dinners that involve bird’s nest, sliced abalone, ultra fresh lobster, geoduck, and sea cucumber. But it is perhaps best known for its dim sum, which has topped best-of lists pretty much since it opened in 2001 — no small feat in a part of town dense with dim sum specialists. And you can quickly see why: The restaurant’s selection of dim sum is fresher, more varied, and more creative than most every place around. You have your pork buns and custard tarts and har gow, of course, all of which you have had elsewhere, though probably not done as well as here. Other dishes, like shu mai with truffle, lotus-wrapped sticky rice, radish cakes with knockout XO sauce, charcoal-black shrimp dumplings made with squid ink and topped with gold foil, on the other hand, aren’t found much elsewhere, if at all. Inevitably, you will tick off more dishes on the ordering form than you can handle, and you’ll come home with bags full of leftovers. Dim sum for dinner? Dim sum for dinner. — TN
3939 N. Rosemead Blvd., Rosemead
(626) 288-3939

 

The Serving Spoon

Breakfast and brunch are the same thing at The Serving Spoon, a morning-meal institution since it opened about 36 years ago. The small restaurant, where diners sit at the counter or faux-leather booths (you might share a table with strangers — get into it), offers a lot of straightforward, well-executed Southern and soul food classics, like fried catfish and grits that people go pretty nuts for. Some items are given a slight spin: the waffles are cinnamon-y, and sometimes the cornbread comes in the form of grilled slices. It’s the perfect mixture of the southern American respect for tradition and Angeleno “we do what we want” -ism. On weekends, everyone gets a mimosa of sorts: orange juice and Cook’s in a plastic flute. The owners know that with food this good, the bubbly doesn’t have to be fancy. —KS
1403 Centinela Ave., Inglewood
(310) 412-3927
https://www.instagram.com/theservingspoon/

Shunji image

Photo Credit: T.Tseng via Twitter

Shunji

Shunji is the home of some of L.A.’s greatest expressions of Japanese food. The restaurant itself doesn’t have its own bathroom and the building was built to resemble a coffee cup (L.A. really got into programmatic architecture for a while), but as always with L.A. restaurants, it’s what’s inside that counts. Chef Shunji Nakao was one of the three original guys behind the sushi bar at Matsuhisa, and went on to co-found Asanebo with his brother. At his own spot, Nakao does innovative work with seasonal fish and vegetables alike, and two omakase options are available: sushi-only, and the whole shebang, which may include spaghetti squash with crab or zucchini blossom tempura stuffed with shrimp. In summer, make sure to get the “tomato tofu.”—KS
12244 W. Pico Blvd., Sawtelle
(310) 826-4737
shunji-ns.com

Sonoratown image

Photo Credit: Gabriel Carbajal

Sonoratown

Teo Rodriguez grew up in San Luis Río Colorado, a border town in the Mexican state of Sonora, where tacos of exquisitely perfumed mesquite-grilled meat come on chewy flour tortillas as thin as a wedding veil. In 2016, amid a surge of interest in regional Mexican cuisine, Rodriguez and his girlfriend Jen Feltham opened one of L.A.’s most consistently faithful outposts for tacos estilo sonora: Sonoratown, a downtown taqueria modeled off Rodriguez’s hometown favorite, Asadero Campas. Asadero Campas’ owner consulted with Rodriguez and Feltham to help recreate everything from his famous meats (short rib asada, pollo, crispy tripas) to his salsas (a spicy chile de árbol and a cooling avocado sauce made with pureed iceberg lettuce), ensuring that everything there is just as it is at his spot in northern Mexico. Today, all walks of life pour into Sonoratown for affordable tacos, smoky caramelos and pliant chimichangas — todo estilo sonora. — SB
208 E. 8th St., downtown
(213) 628-3710
sonoratownla.com

Spago image

Photo Credit: Yelp

Spago

Wolfgang Puck changed the proverbial game as one of the pioneers of excellent European food in Los Angeles. The Austrian chef moved here to work at the late, lamented and scandal-ridden Ma Maison, but it was his own restaurant, Spago, that began an empire. Working with pizza legend Ed LaDou (who went on to make magic at California Pizza Kitchen), Puck designed pizzas with non-traditional toppings, most famously the smoked salmon version that he apparently told everyone had been made in their honor. The restaurant’s name still operates as shorthand for expense-account lunches and the half-social, half-networking dinners that are so common in Hollywood. When the restaurant moved a few years ago, the menu was updated, and a lot of the old classics went away. Unless you’re close, personal friends with Wolfie, in which case spaetzle and schnitzel are still available. —KS
176 N. Canon Dr., Beverly Hills
(310) 385-0880
wolfgangpuck.com

 

Sqirl

It may be hard for some to remember, but Virgil Village was a lively, bustling area long before Jessica Koslow began serving food here on the corner of Virgil Avenue and Marathon Street in 2012. The tiny operation turned toast and jam into an eight-dollar object of fascination — a thick slice of brioche, specifically, slathered with homemade ricotta and seasonal jam — and became a phenomenon that changed the neighborhood. The rest of Koslow’s breakfast and lunch is both defined by California cuisine and paves a path for its future: the vegetables and local-ish fruit represent a kind of return to what Alice Waters created and espoused before Wolfgang Puck and the rest got all fancy with it, and it introduced the wonders of the rice bowl to some Angelenos who hadn’t previously had the pleasure. There is now a line out the door here, always, and it’s worth it for folks who want to know about Southern California farms and unusual produce. —KS
720 N Virgil Ave., East Hollywood
(323) 284-8147
sqirlla.com

Steak

Photo Credit: Yelp

Steak ‘n Stein

Opened in 1946 by a former actor, Steak ‘n Stein still maintains its mid-century suburban grandeur: it is a vision in red lamps, red carpet, red brick and red tablecloths. It’s not exactly elegant, but it is warm and welcoming and offers delightful tableside service, with the kind of well-trained waitstaff who won’t blink an eye if a guest requests both butter and sour cream atop one’s baked potato. A green salad, red cabbage, onion rings and bread round out the side dishes to any entree order, which can be a 34-ounce tomahawk rib eye, if you like. This is a steakhouse, so the meat is technically the main attraction, but it’s hard not to fill up on all those starches, especially if you had a drink at the bar — or better yet the indoor fire pit — before dinner. You’ll order some garlic bread then, because sourdough drowning in butter and garlic powder is one of life’s greatest and simplest pleasures. This is why doggie bags were invented. —KS
9545 E. Whittier Blvd., Pico Rivera
(562) 699-4716
clearmansrestaurants.com

 

Super Tortas DF

Watching Justino Gress assemble his torta cubana, a super-loaded Mexico City-style sandwich, behind the greasy stained window of his food trailer will have you second-guessing every sandwich you’ve ever made. Every fold, cut and layer of deli meats, cheeses, hot dogs, a chorizo omelette, avocado, vegetables, chiles and an ultra thin milanesa is precisely set on the special custom-made bun that’s produced by a local baker to minimize the girth of this beast of a sandwich. The rest of Justino’s menu draws from Mexico City classics like the Suisa (Swiss-three cheeses), lambada (pork leg, egg and chorizo) and the oaxaqueña (ham, hot dog and cheese), all well-seasoned and served on delicious bread that’s soft on the inside and crunchy on the outside. —BE
1098 E. 41st St., Historic South Central
(323) 351-8379

 

Surati Farsan Mart

The first thing you notice when you walk into Surati Farsan Mart is the color. The colors, actually, glowing from the pastry case, where you will find all sorts of Gujarati sweets and snacks in all sorts of shapes and sizes. You can drop by just for a box of date rolls, chocolates, any number of the milk-based candy called barfi — and plenty do — but you might want to set aside thoughts of coconut candy for now and instead focus on the menu. Because Surati is also a chaat house, and you can find a huge variety of savory snacks here, including samosas, dosas rolled up as long as rolling pin, an excellent rendition of the puffed rice mix called bhel puri, and, because this is Southern California after all, tacos stuffed with potato masala and cheese quesadillas topped with a cilantro chutney and a shake of chili powder. And then? Time for a sweet, of course. — TN
11814 E. 186th St., Artesia
(562) 860-2310
http://www.suratifarsan.com

Sushi Gen image

Photo Credit: LW Yang via Flickr

Sushi Gen

Sushi Gen has been open for nearly four decades now, and during that time, it has become one of the most reliable mid-range sushi spots in the city. Thus the wait for a table at Sushi Gen on any given day can stretch upwards of an hour or more, especially during the weekday lunch hour, when it seems as though every office worker is somewhere in Honda Plaza, pacing outside Sushi Gen, waiting for their name to be called. The lunchtime specials on sushi plates and chirashi bowls — plus an uni and sashimi combination that will give you more uni than you likely ever had in one sitting — are some of the best deals in town, but whether you come through for lunch or dinner, whether you grab a seat at the sushi bar or at one of the cozy wooden tables, your sushi craving will be satisfied. — TN
422 E. 2nd St., downtown
(213) 617-0552
http://www.sushigen-dtla.com

 

Sushi Katsu Ya

There are Katsuya restaurants all over the U.S. and the Middle East now, and they’re all pretty flashy and often celebrity-filled, even the mall locations. But they all stem from one relatively quiet Sushi Row location in the Valley: Sushi Katsu-Ya. The restaurant opened in 1997 and immediately became the destination of choice for food nerds and famous people alike. Traditional sushi was on the menu, but the chef, Katsuya Uechi, also took inspiration from food cultures he learned about in L.A., especially Mexico’s. He added jalapeno to sashimi and avocado to just about everything, and developed the dish that became a signature: crispy rice with spicy tuna. Even the snobs couldn’t deny the appeal, and Uechi has become a legend. —KS
11680 Ventura Blvd., Studio City
(818) 985-6976
katsu-yagroup.com/studio-city-menu/

 

Szechuan Impression

Szechuan Impression opened back in 2014, near the beginning of a wave of Sichuan restaurants opening across the San Gabriel Valley. Nearly four years later, Kelly Xiao and Lynn Liu’s restaurant is still one of the best spots for the cuisine, a place where the distinctively spicy and numbing ma la effect of Sichuan peppercorns is deftly balanced with other flavors. The restaurant does the classics like the kung pao chicken and ma po tofu well, but the fun really starts with the modern dishes, many of which have whimsical names that would not be out of place in a fantasy or adventure novel: There is the Bobo Chicken of Leshon, which arrives on your table as a bowl filled with chicken and vegetables speared on dramatically long bamboo skewers in a dark chili-laced broth. The Dry-Fried Farm Chicken is a plate of lovely bits of chicken fried with chilies. Cinderella’s Pumpkin Rides are pumpkin rice cakes with the chewy consistency of mochi and stuffed with red bean. Even the vegetables, sautéed simply with garlic, are excellent. In a town now full of great Sichuan restaruants, Szechuan Impression still impresses. — TN
1900 W. Valley Blvd., Alhambra
(626) 283-4622http://www.szechuanimpressioninc.com/

Tacos Leo image

Photo Credit: Gabriel Carbajal

Tacos Leo

Showmanship can take you to a certain point in the L.A. food world, but the victuals have to be excellent to keep us coming back. Tacos Leo has the former covered, with its huge trompo (that’s a vertical spit) spinning around outside the truck, topped with a pineapple and manned, always, by someone who attacks the meat and the fruit with artistry. That al pastor is nearly perfect on its own, but feel free to go nuts at the salsa bar, where the plethora of colorful options might overwhelm you on your first visit. (Stick to one salsa, a bit of cilantro and onions, and a lime and a couple radish slices.) There’s a wide menu of other options, too: other animal parts, and quesadillas, mulitas, burritos and other preparations. Tacos Leo currently sets up shop at four locations, but the Mid-City gas station truck is widely considered the one to be at. —KS
1515 S. La Brea Ave., Mid-City
(323) 346-2001leostacostruck.com

Tacos Quetzalcoatl image

Photo Credit: Gabriel Carbajal

Tacos Quetzalcoatl

The ageless taquero Max Enriquez runs a stand like no other with homemade cecina (soft beef jerky), pork in adobo, longaniza, tasty lamb barbacoa and quelites (wild greens) stuffed into fresh corn tortillas made to order. He adds fried cheese that’s crispy on one side and runny on the other, allowing it to stick to the tortilla by request, and has a brilliant array of colorful, gleaming salsas and chopped vegetables to finish your Chalmita-style tacos. —BE
4827 E. Olympic Blvd., East Los Angeles

Thien An Bo 7 Mon image

Photo Credit: Yelp

Thien An Bo 7 Mon

One of the grander meals you can have in the San Gabriel Valley is at Thien An Bo 7 Mon, where you and a half dozen of your friends gather around to feast on beef. Seven magnificent courses of beef, specifically, starting with a light beef salad and ending with nourishing bowls of clear beef porridge. In between, you will poach your own slices of tenderloin in a simmering, vinegary broth and wrap a slice or two of grilled lemongrass beef with a spear of pickled carrot in rice paper. You’ll also have the restaurant’s excellent charbroiled beef patties and fallen for their meatballs. If you’d rather, you can order any one of the seven a la carte along with the restaurant’s other specialty, ca nuong da don, a whole catfish roasted until its skin is bronzed and crisped, then finished with copious amounts of scallion oil, peanuts and cilantro. It’s best attacked with ready chopsticks in one hand and moistened rice paper in the other. In case you haven’t seen it on Instagram, a photo of said catfish hangs at the entrance of the restaurant. Framed in gold, as it should be. — TN
8837 Valley Blvd., Rosemead
(626) 286-6665

Tsujita image

Photo Credit: Eric Chan via Flickr

Tsujita

When Tsujita opened back in 2011 on Sawtelle Boulevard, it was almost immediately a destination for the many rameniacs in the city, so much so that, borrowing a page from the Din Tai Fung school of empire building, it opened a second location near its first, then another at the Americana in Glendale. Almost seven years later, the original Tsujita shop is still going strong. You have your choice between tonkotsu ramen or tsukemen ramen, the former made with a rich, porky broth simmered for some 60 hours before thin noodles are added. The latter option is made with that same broth but reduced into a concentrate, spiked with a little seafood for even more umami; thick noodles arrive separately in another bowl, and you are to dip those noodles into the broth one biteful at a time. Anyone who loves ramen will have an opinion on whether the tonkotsu or the tsukemen is preferable. We can, at least, all agree that Tsujita is one of the best ramen shops in the city. — TN
2057 Sawtelle Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90025
(310) 231-7373http://tsujita-la.com