Welcome to Los Angeles: A Newcomer's Eating Tour

Too many enticing food options in the City of Angels? Here are Food Network's essential eats.

Welcome to Los Angeles

Gone are the days when Los Angeles was looked down upon as a town of dieters pushing lettuce leaves around on tiny dinner plates. The city is pulsing with chefs who use the city’s impeccably fresh produce to create novel pizzas, vegetarian dishes and incredible breakfast food, all for a reinvented California cuisine.

Brunch: Sqirl

Jessica Koslow's Sqirl started out as an artisanal toast and jam cafe, but it has since evolved to become possibly the hippest brunch destination in a town packed with hip brunch spots. Devoted fans queue out the door, seeking the sorrel brown rice bowl topped with a runny fried egg, or any of the always-excellent specials. Over-ordering is easy at brunch. There’s housemade sausage, nutty porridge with local milk, and an open-faced toast with kale, tomatillos and hot sauce. Because Koslow got her start with jam, don’t miss the towering, fluffy brioche toast blanketed with fresh ricotta and ultra-local seasonal Sqirl jam. 

Photography courtesy of Sqirl

Go to: Sqirl

New Restaurant: Here’s Looking At You

The word “fusion” has earned a bad reputation over the past few decades, but Koreatown newcomer Here’s Looking At You embraces the genre wholeheartedly. Chef Jonathan Whitener serves a menu inspired by his entire culinary experience, from his cultural roots to his fine-dining background. “My dad is an army brat from Germany; my mom’s Mexican. My dad grew up in the South, but I grew up in south Orange County in the dead center of a Japanese community,” he said. “I adapted all of that into this restaurant. It’s kind of cheesy to say that we’re a multicultural restaurant, but looking at restaurants in Los Angeles, what isn’t? This is just my interpretation of it.” The beef tartare exemplifies Whitener’s style: Beef comes together with chiles, ramps, an egg yolk, turnips, cress and thick-cut charred bread.

Photography by Natalie B. Compton

Go to: Here's Looking At You

Pizza: Gjelina

When it comes to Gjelina, there are two things that people can't stop raving about: how gorgeous the diners are and how great the pizza is. The Abbot Kinney modern-California restaurant has over a dozen pies on its seasonal menu. Ideally, head for the outdoor patio and lounge on metal stools at vintage wood tables packed with shared plates and pies. The crust is crisp and thin, but what people come here for are the toppings, like duck sausage layered upon amber-brown mushrooms with garlic and shallots, Parmesan, and lots and lots of mozzarella. And when the season is right, your pie might have squash blossoms or wild nettles. After all, Gjelina is in Los Angeles, where menus—not the weather—convey the seasons. 

Photo by Clarissa Wei

Go to: Gjelina

Thai: Night + Market Song

Los Angeles is home to excellent Southeast Asian food, including spicy Thai. In Silver Lake, experience Chef Kris Yenbamroong’s spicy, sweet and sour Northern Thai fare at his vibrant Night + Market Song, the young chef’s second LA concept. Fried chicken has never been better, and it plays nicely with staples like the crispy rice salad or fiery larb. You may need a Thai iced tea or two to handle the intense Thai chile kick, or pair it with biodynamic wines from Yenbamroong’s creative list.

Go to: Night + Market Song

Steakhouse: Nick & Stef’s Steakhouse

The Los Angeles steakhouse is an epicenter of power lunches and swanky celeb dinners. Though the menus and atmospheres have evolved over the decades, the Southern California steakhouse evokes Frank Sinatra’s days at Lawry’s and Taylor’s. Downtown, Nick & Stef’s Steakhouse is a brightened-up version of the norm, offering the same decadence but through a more relaxed SoCal lens. All the luxurious fixtures are there — wagyu rib eyes and dry-aged tomahawk chops — yet the menu is well-balanced with additions like the foraged garden salad and pan-seared diver scallops.

Photography by Natalie B. Compton

Go to: Nick & Stef’s Steakhouse

Sushi: Hamasaku

Being a coastal city, Los Angeles is in a prime position for world-class seafood. Pair that with the city’s deep Japanese influence and you have a recipe for incredible sushi. At Hamasaku, Executive Sushi Chef Yoya Takahashi serves an omakase that’s as approachable as the restaurant’s strip-mall location. For $75, guests can tuck into a seven-course dinner curated by Kyoto native Takahashi in true Angeleno style. He works with sustainable and seasonal ingredients, letting flavors shine in straightforward presentations.

Photography Natalie B. Compton 

Go to: Hamasaku Restaurant

Tacos: Guerrilla Tacos

Put a classically trained, ingredient-minded chef behind a taco truck, and you probably won’t get a normal taqueria. Guerrilla Tacos ’ chef, Wes Avila, constantly changes up his menu. You might spot Cook Pigs Ranch sausage in a tortilla one day, then salty, creamy uni from Santa Barbara the next. Fish tacos hold cod, deep-fried in Modelo beer, with cabbages and burnt chile Japonais. The oft-derided quesadilla is nearly unrecognizable with black winter truffle and beef jus. The combinations are endless, and the flavor profiles most definitely match, even if they sound unconventional. Avila’s food speaks for itself: He has dedicated fans waiting outside his truck daily. 

Photography courtesy of Natalie B. Compton

Go to: Guerrilla Tacos

Ice Cream: Sweet Rose Creamery

Sweet Rose Creamery is the perfect modern nod to a classic ice cream shop. Owned by Josh Loeb, Zoe Nathan and Shiho Yoshikawa, the shop has about a dozen flavors in its repertoire, including classic Old Fashioned Vanilla, Salted Caramel, and more novel scoops like husky Earl Grey and spicy Ginger Parsnip. There are dairy-free alternatives, of course, along with frozen bonbons and soft-serve yogurt. If you’re a first-timer, do stick with a classic, like a hot fudge sundae. At Sweet Rose, everything is homemade: They even pasteurize their own dairy.

Photography courtesy of Sweet Rose Creamery

Speakeasy: The Varnish

The Varnish is one of Los Angeles’ best-known secrets. It’s a speakeasy, rumored to be the catalyst for Los Angeles’ craft cocktail scene and hidden behind French dip sandwich shop Cole’s. Barman Eric Alperin comes from the circle of Sasha Petraske (Milk & Honey in New York) and rotates his menu four times a year. Syrups are made daily, ice is meticulously chiseled, and cocktails are always sharp and polished. It’s dark and hushed and private in here, which makes sense: The drinks, not the crowd, are the main attraction. 

Photography courtesy of The Varnish

Go to: The Varnish

Late-Night Spot: BCD Tofu House

BCD Tofu House is both historical and delicious. Opened in 1996, it's reportedly the first sundubu jjigae (Korean tofu stew) specialist in Los Angeles, spawning copycat eateries and its own spinoff branches all throughout the Southland. Sundubu is tofu soup, boiled in individual bubbling cauldrons with chile paste and a variety of add-in ingredients, including mushrooms and onions. For some wonderful reason, the owners keep BCD’s two Koreatown locations open 24 hours a day, seven days a week—a smart business move, because nothing cures post-drink blues better than hearty bowls of tofu soup and marinated meats. You can get a combo with kalbi or bulgogi, and every order comes with a large grid of ban chan. 

Photography courtesy of BCD Tofu House

Go to: BCD Tofu House

Parent-friendly: Redbird

Perched inside the former St. Vibiana Cathedral in downtown Los Angeles, Redbird opened in late 2014, and already it has become a place of worship for Californian cuisine. Under the toque is Neal Fraser, a longtime Los Angeles talent, and behind the scenes is the estimable restaurateur Bill Chait, of Bestia, Rivera, Republique and seemingly countless others. Foie gras comes crusted with pistachio and cocoa nibs. Chicken pot pie has a buttery crust and is stuffed with rich poultry hearts and mushrooms. The signature dish — at $84 — is the Veal Fraser, a tender Wisconsin veal chop weighing in at 24 ounces, served with veal cheeks and burgundy snails. And then there’s the crisped red wattle pork, which is good for a party of four or a starving three. It's served with apples and turnips, quinoa and some spinach. Dessert is by Jashmine Corpuz, and Julian Cox crafts the cocktails. It’s an all-star team, indeed.

Photography courtesy of Redbird

Go to: Redbird

Old Hollywood: Musso & Frank Grill

To get a taste of Old Hollywood, forget picking up a star map: Just head into Musso & Frank Grill. The iconic Hollywood haunt has been around since 1919 and has hosted glamorous clientele like Charlie Chaplin and Marilyn Monroe. Musso & Frank is one of those rare places in Los Angeles where the staff have been around for generations, making them some of the best conversationalists in town. Though A-listers may settle into the red leather booths, the seats at the bar give a front-row seat for the servers’ stories of Hollywood history (best enjoyed over chops and an expertly crafted martini).

Photography by Natalie B. Compton 

Go to: Musso & Frank Grill

Korean: Baroo

Los Angeles is home to the largest population of Koreans outside of South Korea, and the city has access to just about every Korean delicacy your heart could desire. At Baroo, a pared-down strip-mall restaurant, find familiar dishes like kimchi fried rice alongside clever gochujang crumpets. Under Chef Kwang Uh, the restaurant has skyrocketed to fame — and rightfully so. Not only is Uh serving wildly good and beautifully detailed food from his freestyle kitchen, but he’s also one of the nicest guys in the industry. Make sure to start, pair or finish a meal with some of the restaurant’s tart housemade kombucha.

Photography by Natalie B. Compton

Go to: Baroo

Doughnuts: California Donuts

Doughnuts are an iconic culinary fixture in Southern California. They’re cheap and delicious, and they can be found on every other street corner, from high-end gourmet takes to classic and simple. California Donuts brings together the best of both worlds. Try specialty flavors like the Simpsons D’ohnut, Matcha Green Tea or Blueberry Toast Crunch. The no-frills strip-mall spot serves up Instagram-worthy pastries 24 hours a day, perfect for satisfying cravings at literally any time. 

Photography by Natalie B. Compton 

Go to: California Donuts

Fine-Dining Restaurant: Maude

Maude is proof that Curtis Stone is more than just a pretty face. The dude can really cook. The Australian native is behind the helm of one of the hottest restaurants in Los Angeles right now—a 25-seat eatery in decadent Beverly Hills. Maude focuses on one ingredient each month, for example, pomegranate, chiles, passion fruit or truffle. The combinations are exquisite, and they show Curtis' agility and range. The last time truffle appeared, it paired with sweetbreads, venison and risotto. And when it was artichoke month, Curtis crafted a menu with ravioli, chips and focaccia. Maude essentially reinvents itself each month—a winning (though no doubt exhausting) formula in a world of restless eaters. 

Photography courtesy of Maude

Go to: Maude

Oaxacan: Guelaguetza

While there’s seemingly endless Korean food in Koreatown, the sprawling neighborhood also boasts one of the city’s most-lauded Oaxacan restaurants, Guelaguetza. The family-owned local favorite serves the staples of Oaxaca, like tlayudas, enfrijoladas and, of course, mole. To experience the restaurant’s entire mole range, try the Festival de Moles, or take home a jar of mole paste. Guelaguetza’s strong mezcal and tequila program is as impressive as the food — and makes for an ideal pairing with the spice-laden food.

Photography by Natalie B. Compton 

Go to: Guelaguetza Restaurant

Armenian: Mini Kabob

If you take a look at some sidewalks in Glendale, you’ll find some street signs written in English, Spanish and Armenian. There’s a huge Armenian diaspora in the area, and a resulting huge number of great Armenian restaurants. Mini Kabob might not look like much from the outside — or from its tiny interior, for that matter — but it’s one of the best under-the-radar finds in Los Angeles for kebabs, hummus and falafel. Ovakim and Alvard Martirosyan own and operate the restaurant with their son, Armen, serving made-to-order Armenian food with Egyptian influences. The Martirosyans have been a neighborhood fixture for about three decades, cooking with recipes passed down in their family.

Photography by Natalie B. Compton 

Go to: Mini Kabob

Ramen: Slurpin’ Ramen

Los Angeles is home to not one but two thriving Japanese enclaves, yet plenty of incredible ramen exists outside of Little Tokyo or Sawtelle Japantown. One place for top-notch ramen is Slurpin’ Ramen in Koreatown. Go for the tonkotsu with green onion, garlic, dried seaweed, black garlic oil and your pick of meat, including tender chashu. Slurpin’ Ramen hasn’t done anything to reinvent ramen — the restaurant just serves hearty, comforting, consistently good bowls in a low-key setting. But Slurpin’ Ramen gets bonus points for being open after midnight, enabling late-night slurping needs.

Photography by Natalie B. Compton 

Go to: Slurpin' Ramen

Vegan: Plant Food + Wine

Award-winning chef and restaurateur Matthew Kenney’s vegan restaurant Plant Food + Wine is one of the most-underrated gems in Venice, vegetarian or otherwise. The wellness-focused food goes beyond healthy: It’s satisfying and incredibly delicious, with wholesome yet beautiful dishes like spaghetti squash caponata. There are also excellent nondairy versions of classic creamy staples, including little gems with sunflower-based Parmesan and Caesar dressing as well as Cashew Raclette on grilled bread.

Photography by Anna Schwaber courtesy of Plant Food + Wine 

Go to: Plant Food + Wine

Cocktail Bar: Everson Royce Bar

The Arts District has become a burgeoning hub of art, food and craftsmanship, and the local watering hole worthy of the neighborhood’s rising reputation is Everson Royce Bar. Like many spaces in the Arts District, ERB sits along a block of industrial buildings, concealing the magic that happens inside. Grab a drink — like the Love Dies at Dawn, made with rum, apricot, coffee liqueur, amaro and a habanero shrub — at the candlelit bar, or head outside to the expansive back patio to sip craft cocktails in the sunshine. For the ultimate bar snack, order ERB’s massively popular burger. Though the combination is simple, it’s considered by many to be the best in Los Angeles.

Photography by Natalie B. Compton 

Go to: Everson Royce Bar

Chinese: Szechuan Impression

"We want people to leave with a good impression of Sichuan," co-owner Kelly Xiao likes to say, and by most accounts, the team has most definitely achieved that goal. Szechuan Impression is a champion for modern Sichuan cuisine, including pork kidney marinated with pureed green peppercorns, and glutinous cakes made with squash. These are the types of dishes that are currently trending in the Southwest Chinese province, so while there's a small portion of the menu dedicated to the classics (like water-boiled fish and kung pao chicken), modernity rules with excellent dishes that aren't available on any other menu in Los Angeles. Tea-smoked pork ribs gain their flavor from two days of smoking in green tea leaves straight from Sichuan. The dishes don’t hesitate to unleash the region’s signature spice, as the Leshan beef combination — a tripe and beef shank soup — is served with fresh and dried chiles on the side.

Photography courtesy of Clarissa Wei

Go to: Szechuan Impression

Tiki Bar: Tiki Ti

The tiki traditions of Los Angeles run deep, and the bar theme has seen a glorious resurgence in recent years. With monthly Polynesian-themed pop-ups as well as brand-new, over-the-top-designed bars, there is a growing number of ways to enjoy the kitschy yet classic trend. Pay homage to one of the city’s tiki legends by hitting up Tiki Ti. The iconic bar on Sunset Boulevard boasts a massive menu of tropical drinks, with very limited seating. Get there early to snag one of the 12 barstools and order a classic, like a mai tai, or something new, like a Space Pilot.

Photography by Natalie B. Compton 

Go to: Tiki Ti

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