For a long time, Los Angeles had the reputation of being more of a dieter’s town than a food-lover’s haven. A place where diners were more concerned about celebrity sightings than James Beard Awards and the word Michelin only referred to tires. Thankfully, things change.
Now in Los Angeles, we are a taco truck chasing, farmers market shopping, avocado toast loving, rice bowl eating, kimchi munching, artisan ice cream-obsessed town of eaters. If you’re visiting from out of town, the city's sprawl can become overwhelming: your best bet for the a taste of Los Angeles is to eat like you live here. Then chances are, if a celebrity does walk in, you’ll be too busy enjoying a Korean short rib burrito to ask for her autograph.
DON'T SKIP BREAKFAST
Breakfast is very much a thing in LA, and, despite popular belief, it’s not because we’re a city full of starry-eyed freelancers with time to kill. It’s because here there's breakfast for all types of eaters. There are plenty of places to get a decent plate of eggs, but these beloved spots have innovative food, top tier coffee and a relaxed neighborhood vibes that keep locals coming back.
Skeptical about dropping money first thing in the morning? Try the “Game Over” bagel sandwich from the Yeastie Boys Bagel Truck, which conveniently parks outside of various third-wave coffee shops around the city. Soft scrambled egg with peppered bacon, sliced tomato, cheese and jalapeño spread is like a full brunch smeared onto a freshly-boiled bagel. Another local favorite for the budget-conscious is Homestate, LA’s only Texas-style taco joint.
For cartoonish brioche toast, house made jams and nut butter, sorrel rice bowls and creative seasonal special, head to Sqirl, where the wait in line is worth every second. For the beach lot, there’s Roy Choi’s Caribbean-inspired Sunny Spot in Venice Beach, where on the weekends, local brunch goers imbibe on bottomless mimosas and bloody Marys.
For a touch of sophistication and something sweet, head to Republique. Their display case of elegant pastries and irresistible savory items like a pork belly sausage breakfast sandwich is a pleasant reminder why breakfast is the most important meal of the day.
Local's Tip: If you want to try Sqirl but find the long line intimidating, skip to the front for a coffee and pastry to go.
CAFFEINATE WITH COFFEE
Coffee lovers who find themselves in LA are in luck because excellent coffee shops are popping up on almost every street corner. In truth, there's great coffee in pretty much every neighborhood, but if we had to choose favorites they would be the ones where the locals come for the coffee and stay for the vibe.
We love Silver Lake’s Dinosaur Coffee for its beautifully designed space and ample seating and Alfred Coffee on Melrose Place for it’s posh yet charming energy. The Semi Tropic in Echo Park is a restaurant and bar at night, but, during the day, it's ideal for coffee drinking and working with free wifi, plenty of power outlets, and the hippest location. Cofax Coffee is a must, if only because their breakfast burrito is one of our favorites in the city. And Paramount Coffee Project is the perfect place for a bite of breakfast and Aussie-style (flat white, anyone?) coffee.
Local's Tip: If you stop by Dinosaur on Saturdays, you can snag a fresh baked Cofax Coffee donut or bagels from Yeastie Boys parked outside.
LUNCH WITHOUT LINES
One of the reasons we take lunch so seriously here in Los Angeles is because some of LA’s best food is only available during lunch hours. Whether we’re grabbing something on the go or power lunching with stars, there’s a midday meal for every budget.
The downtown LA lot heads to a tiny storefront called Ricebar where Filipino-influenced bowls of heirloom rice get topped with juicy house made pork longanisa sausage. Another must-have quick lunch is Dune falafel in Atwater Village, though good luck deciding between mouthwatering lamb meatballs or the herby falafel. Their signature sandwich is reminiscent of sabich: a pita smeared with hummus, topped with fresh herbs, pickles, and a smattering of fried potato spears.
Night + Market is so popular during dinner it’s worth going during the day to avoid the long waits for chef Kris Yenbamroong's spicy Thai food. For authentic Taiwainese cooking head to Silver Lake’s Pine and Crane where locals pile in for the tastiest beef rolls and sesame-peanut Dandan noodles in town. For plant-based foods and salads, you can't go wrong at Sycamore Kitchen on La Brea (just make sure you also get a pastry or you'll be missing out). And, if you're west of the 405, Huckleberry Bakery & Cafe is always a good best for farm fresh fare.
If you’d rather be in Paris, but happen to be in Los Angeles, Petit Trois—where Chef Ludo Lefebvre serves classic French bistro food at its best—is a must. And if you can't leave LA without a celebrity sighting, do it while dining well—Hinoki and the Bird is the best bet for a fancy chef-inspired midday meal with a side of movie star eye candy.
Local's Tip: Night Market Song’s fried chicken sandwich: a Chiengrai-style fried chicken thigh topped with papaya slaw, ranch dressing, jalapeño and cilantro is the best in town and is not available during dinner.
DINNER ANYWAY YOU PLEASE
LA's ethnic food is so extensive you can taste the world without ever leaving the city limits, but, if we have to choose, some of our favorite is the Japanese food (so extensive we have two Japantowns). Speaking of which, chances are there will be a really long line outside Tsujita Ramen on Sawtelle Boulevard. Is it worth the wait? Yes. When you finally take a seat, order the tsukemen dipping noodles (so good you’ll consider coming back again the next day).
Want to play vintage arcade games while waiting for your table? There’s a restaurant for that! It’s Button Mash and because the food is made by the Starry Kitchen crew, it's so much better (crispy tofu balls with homemade Sriracha aioli! tamarind chicken wings!) than you’d ever expect from a place that has Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in its arcade repertoire.
For excellent Italian food book at table at chef Zack Pollack’s Alimento and be sure to order the chicken liver crostone. If there’s a wait, head across the street to L & E Oyster Bar and sip some bubbles and slurp some oysters.
If you only have time to eat only one meal in Los Angeles, have it be Sunday Supper at Lucques (or sister restaurant AOC). Renowned chef and James Beard Award winner Suzanne Goin’s flagship restaurant is a favorite among locals who come back week after week for the ever-changing market-driven menu and bargain pre-fixe Sunday Suppers.
And if you only have time for one meal in Santa Monica, it should be at Rustic Canyon Wine Bar and Seasonal Kitchen so you can try the elegant but relaxed cooking of Chef Jeremy Fox.
Local's Tip: On Monday nights, locals pile into to Los Feliz’s favorite neighborhood Italian spot Little Dom’s where chef Brandon Boudet creates an unbeatable bargain pre-fixe dinner menu that changes weekly.
SAVE ROOM FOR DESSERT
Angelenos take their sweets seriously. If you want to save the last (and best) course for later, save room for dessert and head to one of our favorite sweet shops. Yes, LA has a lot of great cake and ice cream, (which is a good thing considering how hot it gets here.) But our favorites are the locally owned ones that you won’t find in any other city.
For locally-sourced seasonally flavored ice cream, head to Sweet Rose Creamery, one of Carmela Ice Cream’s three locations in Los Angeles, or MILK, which has locations in Silver Lake and mid-city. For cupcakes, Lark Cake Shop in Silver Lake and Pasadena offers a variety of old fashioned flavors along with flour less and vegan options.
Local's Tip: Though all of the ice cream is tempting, the grasshopper macaron ice cream sandwich at MILK is a must.
CHECK OUT THE CRAFT COCKTAILS
It seems like a prerequisite for every new LA restaurant have an excellent bar programs. It’s not difficult to find great cocktails at many eateries. But there are still some places worth checking out just for the booze (and ambience) alone. Our top picks are the coziest bars nestled off the beaten path in non-touristy neighborhoods, which of course makes them local hang outs.
Everson Royce Bar, in downtown LA’s burgeoning Arts District has everything you’d want from a restaurant while still having the laid back vibe of a bar. James Beard Award winning chef Matt Molina’s menu of “bar bites” is delicious enough to make you go for the food alone. But the sprawling outdoor patio and excellent cocktails, make it a must-visit whether you’re hungry, thirsty or both.
And if you appreciate serious cocktail bars, head to Bar Stella in the heart of Silver Lake’s Sunset Junction where white coat clad mixologists choose focusing on drink making over smiling. But their delicious concoctions are worth the serious service. Despite being located in the back of century-old sandwich shop Cole’s French Dip, The Varnish is no longer the secret speakeasy it may have set out to be. But that’s irrelevant as the cocktails are great, and secret or not, locals keep coming back for more.
Local's Tip: For the best bar experience, belly up on a weeknight when it’s less crowded and the mixologists have time to really show off their chops.
SHOP ARTISANAL FOOD + PRODUCE
You could visit Los Angeles and only eat out, but then you'd be missing out on all the amazing food we have. When it comes to food shopping, it’s not just about where the locals shop, but where the locals sell. In addition to California-grown fruits and vegetables, everything from fresh pasta, bean-to-bar chocolate, cheese, bread and more are available at some of the smaller markets. Check out the Cheese Store of Silver Lake, Broome Street General Store, and Urban Radish in Downtown LA for a curated selection of locally sourced edible goods.
And you can’t talk about food in LA without talking about our farmers markets. In Southern California, the local bounty serves as muse for every chef’s menu. And to get the real local experience, you must spend a morning meandering though the markets, sampling Cara Cara oranges, candy- sweet persimmons, tart kumquats, or whatever colorful beauties happen to be in season. To get the quintessential experience visit the Wednesday Santa Monica Farmers Market or the Sunday Hollywood Farmers Market where you’ll likely rub elbows with some of LA’s most famous chefs.
Local's Tip: Get to the farmers market early because the good stuff goes seriously fast!
SHOP MEAT + FISH
As much as Angelenos value knowing who grew their veggies, there’s an equally important desire to know where our meat and fish is coming from. For top tier meat, head to Belcampo Meats at Grand Central Market, McCall’s Meat and Fish Co. in Los Feliz or A Cut Above Butcher Shop in Santa Monica. For fish, refer LA’s favorite chef and sustainable seafood virtuoso Michael Cimarusti and his newly opened fishmonger-haven Cape Seafood and Provisions on Fairfax Avenue.
Local's Tip: Don’t hesitate to ask your fishmonger and butcher for guidance. They can help you find the right cut of beef or catch of the day!
Photos by Heather Platt