You’ve been browsing Salt and Wind, contemplating your next international jaunt, and now you've got a major case of wanderlust, don't you? We understand. But if you just don’t have the vacation days to warrant a lengthy trip abroad, you can still escape for a few hours. That is, if you happen to live in Los Angeles.
There are many U.S. cities with major international food scenes. We, however, are partial to our hometown of Los Angeles. Here we can travel to Phuket with spicy Southern Thai food, taste a bit of Tokyo with Japanese dipping ramen in Downtown L.A., indulge in trays of dim sum in the San Gabriel Valley, transport ourselves to Addis Ababa with Ethiopian delights on South Fairfax, and visit Seoul with smokey kimichi-decorated barbecue in Koreatown. It's this mix of spices and flavors that has us so smitten with Los Angeles.
And though every neighborhood in L.A. is filled with eateries that can transport you, these are our top picks of tried-and-true classics that will carry you abroad both with flavors and charming ambience the minute you enter the door.
Here are 15 places that make us feel like we're abroad in just a few bites:
Wolgang Puck might be the Godfather of California cuisine, but it turns out he has mastered high end Chinese food too. The menu items at the swanky 24th story dining room are each more delicious than the last. Classic dishes are served with playful spins like steamed bao buns with pork belly and sweet bean garlic glaze, Jidori chicken “Dan Dan” noodles with Szechuan peppercorns and toasted peanuts, or the whole roasted Peking duck that's at once tender and crispy. But it's the combo of the food, the creative cocktails, and the panoramic view that'll make you feel like you're sitting in downtown Hong Kong.
There are plenty of authentic Japanese spots in Los Angeles. But for a transportive Japanese yakitori experience, head to Torigoya in Little Tokyo. Torigoya focuses mainly on grilled skewered chicken, which they do quite well. But traditional dishes like the Tori Soboro Bowl seasoned ground chicken with seaweed and green onion on a bowl of rice are what make this hole-in-the-wall hangout stand out. The wallet-friendly prices are well worth the wait. Belly up to the bar, order a bottle of sake or a beer, clink glasses with the stranger sitting next to you and imagine how much money you just saved by skipping that flight to Tokyo.
With the largest Taiwanese population in the country, we have our fair share of Taiwanese food here in Los Angeles. But, to us, famous dumpling house Din Tai Fung remains the best way to get a “taste of Taiwan” (which is also their slogan). The original Los Angeles location opened in an unassuming shopping mall in Arcadia, but now you can slurp crab soup dumplings, chomp on pork stuffed buns, and enjoy cocktails at their swanky new outpost in Glendale at The Americana at Brand.
Thai Town, a designated six-block area in East Hollywood, is where Angelenos have been going for decades to eat Tom Yum soup, Pa Nang curry, and larb salads. Now, there are newer, trendier, chef-ier Thai restaurants in L.A. But if we're going to talk about transportive Thai food, it is best experienced in the heart of Thai Town. Ruen Pair is the old-school place you go to when you want to feel like you're actually in Thailand. It's cheap, authentic, and open until 3 A.M.. So the next time you're craving pork blood soup in the middle of the night, you know where to find it.
It seems there is mouth-watering Korean barbecue on every block of L.A.'s Koreatown. Most of them are crowded and Kang Ho Dong Baek Jeong is even more so. A grill table at the buzzworthy 6th Street meat haven can easily take two hours to earn. But good things — like marinated short ribs, gochujang slathered bean sprouts and thick-cut pork belly — come to those who wait.
In Los Angeles, we eat tacos like we drink water. It is an everyday go-to delicious food that we cherish like we do our beaches, Dodgers, and year-round sunshine. There are myriad tacos worth talking about and everyone has a favorite. So how in a city where where you can get great Mexican food at every corner, could we suggest just one place? Well, we can't. But we can say that this Oaxacan haven of mole and mezcal remains a worthy destination spot not just because of the legendary foo,d but because of the overall experience. Guelaguetza is one of LA’s most treasured eateries; the family owned and run restaurant serves a wide variety of traditional Oaxacan dishes and a variety of award-winning mole-drenched chicken. Everything from the vibrant-colored walls to live music, crisp tlayudas, and hand crafted mezcal cocktails gives you a taste of Mexico.
Peruvian food doesn't have a huge presence in L.A., but Picca more than makes up for it with its contemporary slant. For a taste of modern Peruvian flavors without a trip to Lima, head to this Pico Boulevard eatery. The Pisco sours are freshly shaken and a large ceviche menu acts as the obvious starting point to a shared family style meal. The Japanese influence on Peruvian food is reflected in dishes like yellowfin tuna with seared shishito pepper, ponzu, blood orange, and sesame seeds. Experience the Peruvian specialty anticucho (skewers) of beef heart and rocoto-walnut pesto or pork belly with aioli. Nibble on Peruvian-style alfajores cookies for dessert as you contemplate postponing that hike up Machu Picchu for another time.
Yes, Merkato is not quite as upscale as the slightly more talked about Meals by Genet across the street in Little Ethiopia. But Merkato's more casual feel plus the adjacent market and festive decor makes us feel like we've got a taste for East Africa. Start with some Ethiopian honey wine aka Tej then order from an assortment of vegetable or meat options like Yebeg Sega Wot (braised beef in red pepper sauce) [Heather: why did you mention this dish? please give context] all served on injera, the spongey sour dough flatbread that works as an edible utensil.
SOUTH PACIFIC AND SOUTHEAST ASIA
Many would say that Sydney and Los Angeles are long lost sister cities. Maybe this is why one of Australia's best chefs Curtis Stone has chosen it as his home. (In any case, we are glad). And though one might say that to truly experience a region’s food you have to consider the local ingredients. Well, that still applies here as Curtis Stone ships in Australian Blackmore Wagyu for his butcher shop-centric eatery’s tasting menus. The melt-in-your mouth beef is paired with smaller dishes created with California’s beautiful produce, making this down-under inspired eatery the best of both worlds.
Yes, we would all rather be in Fiji right now. But since we’re not, we’ll go to E.P./L.P. for all of the tropical flavors that Chef Louis Tikram is whipping up. The young chef’s food brings flavors of his native Australia and Fiji to L.A. in a way no one has before. To be clear, the menu at E.P./L.P. is not just Australian and Fijian but more pan South East Asian. Which is good thing as dishes like the tumeric and coconut curry, the kakoda (Fijian style ceviche) and grilled lamb neck are must-orders. Be transported as you sip a tropical cocktail on the hip rooftop patio while watching the sunset. Who needs that over water bungalow anyway?
With one of the highest concentrations of Persian food in the U.S., this list would not be complete without including a Persian eatery. The greatest hits of this cuisine are kebab khoobideh (skewered ground beef), fesanjan (walnuts cooked in pomegranate sauce mixed with chicken), tahchin, ash joe, tadeeg, and faloodeh. Westwood Boulevard on the westside of Los Angeles is ground zero for Persian food in LA, though that is not the only area you can find it. Parts of the San Fernando Valley like Encino and bordering city of Glendale has plenty of it too. But our favorite is Darya Restaurant in Santa Monica, where you can taste some of the freshest kebabs in town and its overly decorated gaudy interior only adds to its charm.
The original Petrossian caviar boutique was founded in Paris in 1920 and the swanky restaurant in the city's 7th arrondissement is always packed. But you don’t have to fly to the “City of Lights” to get a taste of the classic place. The kitchen at Petrossian West Hollywood has recently been taken over by chef Alex Ageneau, who does a brilliant job of using the restaurant’s signature ingredient to elevate dishes like white wine and shallot poached Alaskan halibut with white corn, trout roe, caviar and chives. It’s worth noting that you easily spend as much on caviar here as it would cost to fly to Paris. So it might be best to save it for a special occasion.
German food isn’t exactly a culinary trend we find ourselves dishing about often. And yet, Wurstkuche, which opened in downtown L.A.’s Arts District in 2009, has been so popular they even opened a second location in Venice. Why? Because sausage is delicious. Wurstkutche has succeeded in giving the traditional German food an updated twist. Especially when given the option of “Exotics” like rattlesnake and rabbit with jalepeno peppers. Belgian fries and an assortment of Germain beers on draft keep the German beer garden atmosphere close to authentic.
Italian food in Los Angeles exists as we know it because of Piero Selvaggio and his legendary west side restaurant Valentino. When Selvaggio opened Valentino in 1972, he introduced L.A. to the flavors of Italy in a way it had never seen before. Visiting Valentino is not just a trip to Italy with perfectly cooked housemade pasta and 25 year-old-bottles of wine. It's a trip back in time to a place where the maître d' knows your name, kisses regulars are both cheeks and service is as luxurious as it is subtle. Yes, there are plenty of other places in L.A. to get delicious pasta. But many of them previously worked at Valentino, so why not go to the original?
Opening photo by Beatrix Boros