LA, if you haven’t figured out by now, is absolutely massive. And you go to school in a tiny part of it. Which means that throughout your four years in college, you have a lot of places to explore and a lot of eating to do.
It can be overwhelming. But don’t let it stress you out - save that for figuring out who you’re taking to your invite (or, you know, homework). Let us be your LA restaurant spirit guide, starting with this list, a short and carefully selected collection of places in Los Angeles that you should hit if you’re new to town. These aren’t the hot, brand new spots - they’re the restaurants that are essential to eating in Los Angeles.
Study, party, eat, repeat.
Bestia is the restaurant that in 10 years (or maybe now?) we’ll all look back on and say “Yeah, that’s when it all changed.” LA’s been home to incredible restaurants for decades, but the opening of Bestia brought our city into the modern restaurant era and signaled to the rest of the world we aren’t f*cking around this time either. Located in an industrial warehouse in the Arts District, this the kind of fresh, modern Italian food that drives New Yorkers absolutely insane and makes Californians beam with pride. The charcuterie, that Alla’nduja pizza, the uni-topped spaghetti rustichella. It’s all magic. And an LA experience you can’t miss.
Republique is exciting because if you’ve ever wanted to eat lunch at a church in France, but don’t have the funds, now you can do it on La Brea. The space clearly speaks for itself, but it’s the food that ranks this more-casual-than-you-think French spot near the top. Republique’s dinner situation remains one of the best date nights in LA, but their daily order-at-the-counter lunch/brunch extravaganza has become the real bread and butter. We could make a stupid French restaurant pun here, but we’re better than that. And so is Republique.
Jones Hollywood is what we call an ace restaurant. Pull this casual Italian Weho spot out for any occasion or group of people that presents itself to you and Jones will get the job done and more. The menu is full of Italian staples, so expect your margherita pizzas and spaghetti and meatballs. And expect them to be excellent. The vibe inside is sexy and cool, but not in the way that makes your bones hurt. In the way that makes you so glad you’re at this old Hollywood classic and nowhere else. Choose to skip that apple pie at the end and choose to live a lesser life.
Cliff’s Edge could be considered one of the best restaurants in LA based off that back patio alone, but luckily, the food is phenomenal too. Eating at this hidden Silver Lake spot is like dining at a Jurassic World premium suite, but without the threat of enraged pterodactyls. And despite elevating itself over the last few years to become a truly elite restaurant, Cliff’s Edge still flies vastly under-the-radar. If you’re dining Eastside, Cliff’s Edge is as good as it gets.
Welcome to Los Angeles’s lovechild. A local LA kid opens up his own Thai restaurant attached to his parents old place on Sunset and launches an empire. In a city with the best Thai food scene in the country, Night + Market is top of the class. This is classic Thai street food with a modern twist, and we want all of it. Aside from the food itself, both the Weho and Silver Lake locations are straight-up parties with some of the best vibes in town. Beer towers or bust.
One thing that never fits into other cities’ stereotypes of what living in LA must be like is just how good our deli scene is. We have a handful of delicatessens we confidently know could go toe-to-toe with the best in America, but Langer’s is our undoubted leader. Their #19 pastrami sandwich is the stuff of legend at this point, but everything at this 70-year-old deli is worthy of an order. The best part of Langer’s though? Its Westlake location leaves it utterly devoid of the brochure tourists and Instagramming lifestyle bloggers that ruin places like this. Go enjoy an untampered classic.
LA’s best burger is easily our most polarizing. Some people will tell you Father’s Office isn’t all that great, and those are the same people who hated Titanic because they thought it made them look cool. Don’t trust them. Father’s Office is exceptional and the kind of first-rate, gourmet burger this city needed. The tiny order-at-the counter Santa Monica location can certainly get a bit hectic, but the classic spot remains the best place in town to grab a burger and a beer and enjoy not being one of those people who hates Titanic.
Every single person who arrives in LA has the exact same goal in mind: find the best Mexican food in town. And while we will always condone such a plan, the reality is there is no such thing. Our Mexican food scene is too large, too varied, and frankly too good to ever crown an official king. But that doesn’t mean we don’t have a favorite. El Compadre in Hollywood is the kind of raucous, old-school Mexican joint you could go to once a week for the rest of your life and not even realize it. The food is sloppy and excellent, the vibe is always right, and two of those flaming margaritas will put you under the table before you can even reach for more unlimited chips and salsa.
LA’s kale salad and green juice love affair plotline is wholeheartedly deserved. But it’s also very played out. Exhibit A: Animal. This dime-sized restaurant in Fairfax Village is the true holy grail for everything meat and one of the finest meals you can have not only in LA, but probably the country. No, Animal is not your once-a-week neighborhood drop-in spot. Animal is your roll-up-your-sleeves, put-on-your-big-boy-pants, and ball-out-hard destination experience. You’re going to eat pork belly and pig ears and oxtail and rabbit lard and an entire leg of turkey simply because you can. And your green juice will simply have to deal with it.
Let’s lay out some facts here. Bay Cities is not a restaurant. Bay Cities is a 90- year-old Italian grocer. And inside said grocer is a deli with one of the greatest sandwiches in existence - The Godmother. Prosciutto, mortadella, genoa salami, provolone cheese all on the freshest Italian bread this side of the Jersey turnpike. The lines at this Santa Monica staple are extreme, so call it in ahead of time and bypass the plebeians. Also, if you don’t get “the works” put on top, you can’t actually say you’ve eaten it. Rules are rules.
This city has no shortage of sushi empires. But anytime we’re asked where someone should go for their first bite of sushi in LA, we undoubtedly answer Sugarfish. The casual, prix-fixe menu spot from legendary Chef Nozawa has completely taken over this city (both literally and figuratively), and if you think they’re done growing, you’re sorely mistaken. But what’s most impressive about Sugarfish is despite the rapid expansion, the product on the table hasn’t slipped a notch.
The thing about Gjelina is that you should actually hate it. You just waited nearly two hours for a table, some guy at the bar just showed you his SAG/AFTRA card, and it’s 8:30pm and everyone at the table next to you is wearing sunglasses. So why is it still your favorite? The food. It’s incredible. And on a street not necessarily known for its high level of food (Abbot Kinney), Gjelina is an important anchor to the Venice scene as a whole. You will hear it billed as “New-age American” but know that the pizza and pastas are some of the best you’ll find - you should prepare for Italian. This is a meal you and your new-to-town friends are going to be talking about for awhile.
If Night + Market is the hot prince that everybody wants to f*ck, Jitlada is the old Queen who knows exactly what it takes to rule a city. This Thai Town strip-mall legend serves the kind of Southern Thai food that separates the men from the boys. And from those who think Thai food only means Pad Thai. How? Spice. And more of it than anywhere in town. Oh, but just ask them to make it less spicy, right? DON’T TELL A QUEEN WHAT TO DO. Dining-in at their kitschy Sunset location is a must, but their take-out operation is serious and our midweek go-to move.
You learn quickly in LA that Mexican food and tacos are almost two entirely different things, with entirely different scenes. And while there’s a pantheon of elite taco spots throughout LA, Guisados is our first move. With about 14 different kinds of tacos on the menu, there isn’t one you shouldn’t order. And that’s why you get the sampler platter. Six tacos of your choosing, $6.99 out of your wallet. Life is good. The taco behemoth is expanding rapidly, with locations stretching all the way from Boyle Heights to West Hollywood. Even better news for you and your uncontrollable taco urges.
Another day, another sandwich spot finds its way onto the Greatest Hits list. But as opposed to other sandwich entries on the list, Larchmont Wine + Cheese is a lesson in simplicity. Each sandwich at the back counter of this upscale wine shop can’t have more than five different ingredients a piece and yet, each ingredient is of the highest quality. There’s nothing flashy about this tiny shop on the charming and uncomfortably suburban Larchmont corridor and that’s exactly what makes it so essential. Simple food, quality ingredients, and the most well-executed sandwiches in the city. Our move is the #5, but this is a menu stacked with classics. Beware: Closed on Sundays.
Whatever Los Angeles lacks in Indian food is entirely made up with the presence of Al-Noor. Located on a horrible side street off the 405 in Lawndale, Al-Noor is the best Indian food in LA by a mile and the only proof you need to understand LA’s best food is always in strip-malls. But let’s slow our roll for second. What did we just say to you? Lawndale? Did we lose a bet? No, we didn’t. In fact, we feel like we won the lottery. Because six minutes from LAX is this no-frills (technically Pakistani) restaurant that’s worth the drive whether you’re catching a flight or not. Warning - all other garlic naan from here on out is ruined.
If you haven’t heard the name Nobu by now, we’re not sure what rock you’ve been hiding under, but our apologies, that thing must’ve been big. Because plain and simple, there are few names in the food world as recognizable as Nobu and LA claims him as their own. And while his landmark Matsuhisa in Beverly Hills was a game-changer for the entire sushi industry back in the day, it’s his jaw-dropping space out in Malibu that takes the cake these days. With views of the ocean and some of the highest quality sushi in the world, it doesn’t get more SoCal than this.
Great. Another over-priced, health-oriented sidewalk cafe full of bland grain bowls that only make us hungrier. Think again. Sqirl opened a few years back on a weird, run-down section of Virgil and frankly changed how people viewed consuming healthy food. No, we’re not running any calorie counts on that brioche toast anytime soon, but for the most part Sqirl is dishing out locally-sourced, sustainable, and whatever-other-buzzword-you-choose healthy food. And it’s great. REALLY great. Eating at Sqirl is like eating from the arms of Mother Nature herself (who, btw, really knows her sh*t). And that alone is worth waiting in line.
The cool thing about Fishing With Dynamite is it’s basically a neighborhood oyster shack, but happens to be one of the best restaurants in LA. The place is truly miniature, with maybe 12 tables to go around, so come peak dinner hours you’re definitely looking at a hefty wait. But sneak in early or swing by for lunch or just bite bullet and wait it out like an adult, and you’re in for one of the great seafood meals in LA. And then after dinner, feel free to walk the two blocks down to the water and thank the ocean for what you just experienced.
San Francisco has Chinatown, Miami has Little Havana, and NYC has the entirety of Queens, but we have Koreatown. And at three square miles, it’s one of the largest ethnic enclaves in the country and an integral part in our city’s food (and karaoke) culture. And that means three letters - BBQ. While you could go to a different Korean BBQ spot once a day for three months and not hit them all, our go-to is Kang Ho Dong Baekjeong. Nowhere do you get higher quality meats, better service, and the rowdy (re: drunk) environment that one seeks at a Korean BBQ spot better than here. Warning: With no reservations, this might be one of the hardest tables to snag in town. So put your name in early and go get Soju-hammered at Gaam next door.
This is Los Angeles. If we didn’t include a strip-mall sushi joint in our “Greatest Hits” List than we should all be fired. And there’s none better than Sushi Gen. The classic Little Tokyo spot is the kind of truly authentic sushi joint you’ve always imagined exists on every corner in LA. But you’re also there for one thing - the sashimi platter. At $15 for lunch and $26 for dinner, there isn’t a more epic sushi order in town and Sushi Gen knows it. They’ve designated a specific part of the restaurant for people only there to order the thing. And that’s a brand of discrimination we can get behind.