Welcome to Los Angeles’s Greatest Hits List.
You’re obviously very familiar with the concept of a “greatest hits” album, but unlike Mambo Mambo: Best of Lou Bega, this is one you actually need in your life. The Greatest Hits is a short and carefully-selected collection of the places in Los Angeles that you should hit first if you’re new to town - restaurants that are essential to LA dining, from world-class sushi on the beach to late-night Korean BBQ.
Just like you wouldn’t introduce your niece to Michael Jackson by throwing on History: Vol 1 and skipping right to “Heal The World,” we wouldn’t send someone unfamiliar with Los Angeles to a new Weho hotspot without telling them to go to these restaurants first. And you shouldn’t either.
Added on 1/16/19: Lawry’s, Zam Zam Market, Sushi Fumi, Mh Zh, Bestia, Gjusta, Howlin’ Ray’s.
If you’ve ever wanted to eat lunch at a church in France, but don’t have the funds, know that you can do it on La Brea. Republique’s space alone is incredible, but it’s the food that puts this more-casual-than-you-think French spot among our (and everyone else’s) favorite LA places. Republique’s dinner remains one of the best date nights in LA, although their daily order-at-the-counter lunch/brunch extravaganza has become their real bread and butter. We could make a stupid French food joke here, but we’re better than that. And so is Republique.
Whether you’ve lived in LA for 20 years or are visiting friends here for the first time, chances are you’ve at least heard of Bestia. Open since 2012, this iconic warehouse restaurant didn’t just set the bar for Italian food in LA, it put the Arts District on the map as a dining destination. For that reason, a meal here today is even more special than when it first opened, even though it’s still just as hard to get in the door. Whether you go for the giant board of charcuterie we’d take a bullet for, the spicy alla’nduja pizza, or a cavatelli that’s easily one of the top five best pasta dishes in town, you’ll see that Bestia has set a new standard for Italian food in Los Angeles.
Gjusta is the ultimate Venice neighborhood spot - an all-day deli that will both infuriate you and make you want to become a regular. Even though there are few irritating aspects, like the unruly ordering system, lack of seats, and your inability to decide what to eat, it’s somehow always worth the trouble. Come early in the morning to eat a breakfast bialy at the coffee bar, at lunch for a spread of salads and smoked fish, and at night for less of a crowd, a handful of special dishes, and the ability to BYO wine. Basically, you can order anything at Gjusta and feel very confident that it’s among the best of its kind in Los Angeles.
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. Aside from the food, which is Thai classics with modern twists, the Weho, Silver Lake, and Venice locations are straight-up parties with some of the most fun restaurant settings in town. Beer towers or bust.
Drive 10 miles east of DTLA and you’ll hit the San Gabriel Valley - a sprawling collection of suburbs where you’ll find some of the best Asian food in the country. If you’re looking for the best, head immediately to Chengdu Taste. This family-run operation in Alhambra serves classic Szechuan dishes involving insane flavor, tons of spice, and a peppercorn that will make your mouth go numb. Go try some cumin lamb, mapo tofu, and the best dan dan noodles in existence.
Here’s how a meal at Zam Zam, the tiny Pakistani market in Hawthorne, generally goes: you walk into the bare bones stripmall space, you ask what’s cooking today, and someone in the semi-open kitchen will rattle off a few things. They’re not asking you what you want - they’re telling you what you’re going to get. Sometimes it’s a giant platter of grilled meat and the best chicken biryani on the planet, and other times it’s a steady parade of la carte dishes until you’re full. No meal at Zam Zam is ever the same, and that’s exactly why it’s so exciting.
The cool Eastside restaurant is a category in its own right, and there might be no better example than Mh Zh. This Israeli spot doesn’t take reservations, doesn’t have a liquor license, has a name you’re probably pronouncing incorrectly, and most of the seats are really just wooden boxes. All that can seem a bit much (and a bit annoying), but we’d argue that Mh Zh is always worth the effort. The food is truly fantastic - from the simple hummus to the tahini-heavy lamb ragooo - and you can order the entire menu for under $100 if you so choose. A thing we always choose to do.
Sushi Fumi on La Cienega is one of LA’s great sushi restaurants, and it’s not just because they have incredible fish. It’s because any level of sushi eater will have a fantastic meal at this casual but lively strip mall spot whether it’s a regular Tuesday or an important date. Maybe you’re the kind of person who sticks mostly to rolls and a few recognizable pieces of sashimi, or maybe you live and breathe by the daily specials board. Either way, you’re in good hands. Order the yellowtail and jalapeno sashimi special, the moon roll, or our favorite amberjack in the city, and you’ll see what a great all-around sushi restaurant looks like.
Dan Tana’s is one of the most famous restaurants in LA, but it’ll never be the place your out-of-town friends beg you to take them when they’re visiting. Instead, this classic Italian restaurant in Weho is where you bring them to prove how very little ancient grain bowls and liquid metabolic boosts have to do with this city. Does Dan Tana’s have the best Italian food you’ve ever had in your life? No. But it also doesn’t matter. The chicken parm is a special kind of magic, the wine never stops flowing, and you’re low-key sitting next to your favorite actor who’s having just as good of a time as you.
LA’s kale salad and green juice love affair plotline is wholeheartedly deserved. But it’s also not the only plotline. Exhibit A: Animal. This dime-sized restaurant in Fairfax Village is the holy grail for everything meat, and one of the finest meals you can have in the city. No, Animal is not your once-a-week neighborhood drop-in spot. Animal is your roll-up-your-sleeves, 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.
Lawry’s is one of those restaurants you can’t suggest without someone asking, “Wait, like that Lawry’s?” Yes, that Lawry’s - the Beverly Hills original whose seasoning is in the back of every spice rack in America. A meal at their massive La Cienega location is certainly cheesy and you’ll feel like you’re eating dinner on a cruise ship, but the food is actually delicious. Between the spinning salad, the meat and potato martinis, and the glorious golden carts of prime rib that come right to your table, a dinner at Lawry’s is a show from start to finish and one you always want a ticket to.
Ask 20 people what the best taco is in Los Angeles and you’ll get 20 different answers. So let us help you - it’s Mariscos Jalisco. The Boyle Heights Mexican food truck has fantastic food across the board, but if you come here without eating at least one of their tacos dorado de cameron, you’re living a lesser life. Fresh shrimp, deep-fried to a golden brown, and covered in creamy avocados and housemade red salsa - it’s about as close to taco perfection as you get. Beware: there are tons of imitators with very similar names in the area trying to lure you in the wrong direction.
Jon & Vinny’s is one of those rare restaurants that felt like a classic from the second it opened. Owned and operated by the Animal guys (which it sits across from on Fairfax), Jon and Vinny’s is casual, affordable, and despite still being crowded, very accessible. You’re going to want the meatballs and the bucatini and burrata-covered LA Woman pizza, but you should also know that breakfast here is excellent. Bottom line - when you want to show an out-of-town friend the coolest restaurant in the city, you take them to Jon & Vinny’s.
Plain and simple, Sushi Park is life-changing. It’s not every day you’re going to want to spend $200 on omakase in a bare-bones sushi bar on the second floor of a random strip mall on Sunset, but when that day comes, your first choice should be Sushi Park. You will absolutely see a major celebrity by themselves here in flip flops.
One thing that never fits into the common stereotype of LA 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. The best part of Langer’s, though? Its Westlake location leaves it utterly devoid of the brochure tourists and Instagramming lifestyle bloggers that ruin other places like this. Go enjoy an unadulterated classic.
If you ever need a reminder of why you put up with terrible traffic, more pollution than is good for you, and way too many people who think they can heal you with their hands, Malibu Seafood is it. All you need to do is jump in your car, cruise along PCH with all your windows down, and end up at this eternally-busy seafood shack. Get the squid and fries or the peel-your-own shrimp, sit at a table overlooking the ocean, and wonder why you’d live anywhere else.
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 stripmall legend serves the kind of Southern Thai food that separates the men from the boys. How? Spice. And more of it than anywhere else 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 also serious.
Howlin’ Ray’s is one of those places you plan your weekend around. From a tiny storefront in Chinatown, this place serves the best Nashville hot chicken in Los Angeles - and has the lines to prove it. We’re talking hour to two hour-long waits, where you’ll inevitably make friends with the people around you who were smart enough to bring snacks. But once you end up with a spread of chicken, sandwiches, and secret menu items on one of the picnic tables outside, you’ll forget about the long lines as you take on the probably-too-ambitious spice level you opted for. Keep an eye on their Twitter feed for an idea of wait times.
Your New Yorker-who-just-moved-to-LA friend might complain about the lack of neighborhood Italian restaurants in this town, but really, they’re just not looking hard enough. Alimento is not just one of LA’s best neighborhood Italian spots - it’s one of the best restaurants in Los Angeles, period. This is the kind of place where you can point at three random dishes on the menu and they’ll be some of the greatest things you’ve eaten all year. Especially if one of them is the chicken milanese.
Taking up an entire three square miles, Koreatown is an integral part of LA’s food (and karaoke) culture. And 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 Park’s. Plain and simple, this is the highest-quality meat in Koreatown, and though that means higher prices, you get what you pay for. It’s also surprisingly easy to get a table, and you won’t have to deal with drunk teenagers bonging sake while you eat either.
If you eat out in LA, you’ve spent plenty of time in places that only serve persimmons for three days a year and list every farm they’ve ever bought herbs from on the menu. But Rustic Canyon is better than almost all of them. This is one of LA’s original farm-to-table restaurants (they’ve been open for over 10 years), and has only gotten better with age. The interesting wine list, helpful service, and menu full of hits (like the beets and berries and the pozole verde) make this our Westside go-to for every slightly-special dinner, whether it’s a meal with the parents or a casually impressive date.
Great. Another overpriced, health-oriented sidewalk cafe full of bland grain bowls that only make us hungrier. Think again. Sqirl opened a few years back on a forgotten section of Virgil and actually changed how people thought about consuming healthy food. No, we’re not running any calorie counts on that brioche toast anytime soon, but for the most part Sqirl serves locally-sourced, sustainable, and whatever-other-buzzword-you-choose healthy food. And it’s great. Eating at Sqirl is like eating from the arms of Mother Nature herself (who, btw, really knows her sh*t). It’s worth the unavoidable line.
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 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. The food is sloppy and excellent, the energy 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.
Porto’s is one of those LA institutions that only people in LA seem know about. And that makes it even more special. This classic Cuban bakery and cafe first opened in Echo Park in the 1960’s, and now operates out of three massive and always-crowded locations in Glendale, Burbank, and Downey. If there’s a better way to start your day than with their guava pastry and a Cubano, we don’t know it.
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 atmosphere inside is sexy and cool, but not in the way that makes your bones hurt - in the way that makes you glad you’re at this retro spot and nowhere else. Choose to skip that apple pie at the end and we no longer can be friends.
Guelaguetza is a Ktown institution and the place largely credited for bringing Oaxacan food into the American mainstream. A meal here involves multiple types of mole and big plates of meat perfect for sharing, and all of it is phenomenal. With a massive space, live mariachi music, and a never-ending mezcal menu, you won’t find many better big group dinner spots than Guelaguetza.
Located on a 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 believe that LA’s best food is always in strip-malls. But let’s rewind for a 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 restaurant that’s worth the drive whether you’re catching a flight or not. 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. There are few names in the food world as recognizable as Nobu, and LA claims him as their own. And while the landmark Matsuhisa in Beverly Hills was a game-changer for the entire sushi industry, it’s the jaw-dropping space out in Malibu that has become the flagship location for the entire empire. With views of the ocean and some of the highest-quality sushi in the world, Nobu Malibu is where you go to remind yourself that life in Los Angeles can be pretty incredible.
Fishing With Dynamite is basically a neighborhood oyster shack, but is worth braving all of that hellacious 405 traffic to get to. The place is miniature, with maybe 12 tables to go around, so come during peak dinner hours and you’re definitely looking at a hefty wait. But sneak in early or swing by for lunch or just bite the bullet and wait it out like an adult, and you’re in for one of the greatest seafood meals in LA. After dinner, feel free to walk the two blocks down to the water and thank the ocean for what you just experienced.
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, and 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.