Los Angeles Restaurant Recommendations
Every now and then, someone asks me for a local restaurant recommendation, or I have out-of-town guests who want to find some good places to eat. So I finally got around to writing up this list of my current favorites (most of which are located in the downtown and midtown parts of the city). Main criteria for inclusion here is that it's a place I've been drawn back to again and again (or, in the case of just two entries, would go back to immediately if I could afford it). There should be something here for almost all moods, tastes, occasions and budgets:
Parking is a pain around here, unless you want to spring for valet service, but the pizza is great. The restaurant boasts of being "the first pizzeria in the U.S. to bear the seal of approval of [the] Vera Pizza Napoletana Association, dedicated to maintaining the culinary tradition of the Neapolitan Pizza." All I know is that it features exquisitely fresh mozarella and other ingredients, and is about as far away from Domino's and Shakey's as you can get in the pizza universe (which is a good thing!).
Great big bowls of yummy noodles in a variety of flavors...and cheap enough for even a grad student's non-existent budget (my status when I originally discovered them).
The Authentic Cafe
Interesting and always tasty menu (which changes just often enough to keep semi-frequent visits from getting dull). Mostly southwestern in flavor, with some southern and Asian influences, too. Great mid-priced restaurant for out of town guests to experience distinctly "LA" cuisine.
This place is tiny - just one comfy couch and a chess table inside, with the rest of the tables outside - but it has the best iced-blended mocha I've ever had (beats Starbucks by a country mile -- made with stronger espresso and very high quality vanilla ice cream). Also, in addition to the eponymous drinks, they have all manner of coffee concoctions, lots of fruit juices, smoothies, shaved ice treats and a nice little menu of sandwiches and other food items. Open for both lunch and dinner. Oh, and did I mention the totally free wireless Internet access (no password; just boot up and go)?
Brasserie des Artistes
(NOTE: not to be confused with the Cafe des Artistes in Hollywood, which is more popular, but where the food, IMO, isn't nearly as good). Very French cafe, which features live music several times a week. Kind of pricey, but great for special occasions, and has a really lovely prix fixe Valentine's Day dinner each year.
Quite expensive, but definitely some of the best food in the city. Every meal is memorable. Also has a "family-style" night once a week where a prix fixe menu is pre-determined by the chefs, meals are served family-style, and prices are slightly cheaper than what you'd spend ordering off the menu on any other night.
Great old-fashioned deli that's been there forever, serving classic Kosher deli food. Nothing at all trendy or pretentious about the place. Fairly high star-sighting potential, too.
Clifton's Brookdale Cafeteria
One of the few remnants of LA's classic downtown scene - a vast, 1930s/40s-style serve-yourself cafeteria, with all the traditional variations on chicken, roast beef, overcooked vegetables, macaroni salads, jello and pie that you remember from your earliest childhood. All contained in some of the most truly-classic-kitch decor you'll ever see. Very cheap.
Cole's Pacific Electric Buffet
Another downtown classic - and the oldest continuously operating restaurant in LA (since 1909!). Located in the dark, cozy basement of the old Pacific Electric railway building. Contends with Phillippe's for the best French dip sandwiches (roast beef, corned beef, pastrami, etc.) in town.
East India Grill
Excellent Indian fare, good for dining in or take out.
Eat a Pita
Good shawarma and falafel served on styrofoam plates at an open-air stand with a fairly charming dining courtyard. Always fun to combine a dinner stop here with a show at the nearby Silent Movie Theater. And where else can you hear "The Macarena" playing on the Muzak system...sung in some indecipherable middle eastern language? A truly LA experience!
Somewhat Americanized Mexican food in a great old building filled with old LA relics and photos. Always crowded, but has a really fun atmosphere.
Not one restaurant, but a collection of almost 50 food stalls, of almost every type imaginable (and not really much of a "farmer's" market at all any more). Don't know what you want to eat and want some choices? This is the place. Got a group of people and everyone wants something different? This is the place. Want some of the best people-watching in town? This is the place. Great for breakfast, lunch, snacks, dinner, coffee and/or dessert. Be prepared for heavy crowds during weekend brunch hours, but otherwise usually very manageable, even with the behemoth Grove next door. Mostly very cheap prices.
Flame Chicken & Philly Steak
OK, my husband says it's too greasy for him, but I'm totally addicted to their chicken pita sandwiches, and just have to have one every couple of months or so: a good sized-pita stuffed with a bulging helping of juicy grilled chicken shreds, topped with lettuce, tomato, cucumber, parsley, hot peppers and some sort of white sauce that might be a variation on either tahini or ranch dressing. And then there's baklava for dessert! Mmmmm...(NOTE: this place changed names, and possibly ownership, recently...but a recent visit confirmed the chicken pitas are still the same yummy concoction as always - thank goodness!)
This restaurant is connected to the fabulous Rita Flora flower shop, and has tables inside a restaurant area, outside on the sidewalk, or in between, next to the open-air flower shop itself (this is my favorite place to sit, because you can watch the flower arrangers work, smell the flowers and eat, all at the same time - a real treat for the senses). Mostly a breakfast, lunch and Sunday brunch place, but also open for dinner. Great salad sampler plates at lunch time.
Grand Central Market
The downtown, much more urban, much more third world version of the Farmer's Market (see above), which offers about an equal number of prepared food stalls and genuine market stalls (not to mention a great juice bar). Stop in for lunch or a snack, and walk out with a bag full of fresh produce, fish, bakery goods or meat at truly rock-bottom prices. And don't forget to notice the restored neon signs over many of the stalls, which harken back to the days of the market's pre-1920 origins. People watching is great here, too...but it's definitely a working class paradise, and not at all a hipster venue.
If you like authentic smoky barbecue, forget the trendy "Pig" on North La Brea and come south about a mile to Greece's. Tiny hole in the wall with about two tables (takeout is always best), and so much smoke while they're cooking you often have to wait outside for your order or risk asphyxiation. But the risk is worth it. (Bonus: I live about 50 yards from this place, and if the wind is right, the smell when they're cooking often wafts deliciously into my yard and house. Great vicarious enjoyment!)
Authentic Oaxacan cuisine, specializing in moles (black, red and yellow). Definitely for more adventurous diners, but always delicious. And you can buy hand-packaged lumps of their mole paste to take home!
What LA restaurant list would be complete without a sushi place? This is our local favorite...always yummy, with a huge menu and very reasonable prices. It's tiny and very crowded at the dinner hour, however, so go early (before 7 p.m.) if possible.
Julio's Mexican Grill
Bright little hole-in-the-wall, formica-countertop lunch spot. Zero atomosphere but has terrific, huge burritos (order 'em "wet"!) and other standard Mexican fare, fixed fresh when you order.
Could be the most expensive meal you'll ever buy...but if you're looking for a once-in-a-lifetime dining and pampering experience, this could be it. The one time I went, the food was incredible (we're still talking about it five years later), we had an entire staff of waiters servicing our table (for just two people), and they even asked us if we wanted them to open the sliding roof for us. Provided a never-forget special-occasion evening that turned out to be worth the stratospheric cost.
Mario's Peruvian Seafood
Another zero-atmosphere, eminently affordable, hole in the wall...with super-tasty food and very generous portions. Stir frys, salads, stews and other concoctions made from shrimp, squid, mussels, octopus and almost any other sea creature you can imagine. May not be what usually comes to mind when you think of South American cuisine, but it's worth a trip to expand your horizons.
Musso & Frank
A staple on Hollywood Blvd. since 1919. Known for their red-coated professional waiters (all seemingly over the age of 60), classic old-style menu that's changed very little in the last 80 years, and martinis that are arguably the best in town. Also good star-sighting potential. Moderate prices, depending on what you order (I'd recommend the prime rib...or corned beef and cabbage).
There's a stretch of Fairfax, just south of Olympic, which has become a treasure trove of Ethiopian markets and restaurants. This is one of my two favorites (the other is Rosalind's, below). If you've never tried Ethiopian food before (or if you have and just can't limit yourself to one tasty dish), order a meat and/or vegetarian combo platter.
Paru's Indian Vegetarian Restaurant
Southern Indian vegetarian cuisine that's quite different from the majority of Indian restaurants. Know what a "dosa" is? Imagine an Indian "taquito" the size of a small purse. (But much tastier!) Also has terrific combo platters and lunch specials...and a print-out coupon on their website.
Pink's Hot Dogs
Just gotta have a chili cheese dog - or pastrami dog - or bagel dog - at 10 a.m...10 p.m....or 2 a.m.? Then you gotta come to this classic and historic hot dog stand...but there will still be a line, no matter what time you show up.
Also located on the "Ethiopian" stretch of Fairfax, just south of Olympic. Offerings very similar in selection and quality to Nyala (above), with the addition of live music several nights a week. Combo platters (meat and/or vegetarian) are also a best bet here.
Roscoe's House of Chicken and Waffles
First-time visitors' first question is always, "Chicken and waffles...together?!" And my answer is always, "Yes, if you want them that way!" It's a surprisingly good combination. But you can always order one or the other with more traditional accompaniments...such as eggs (for the waffles) or - my personal favorites - cornbread, collard greens and "smothered" potatoes (for the chicken). It's nice and cheap...and fans of the place are downright cultish in their devotion.
"Sophisticated Southwestern" cuisine. Kind of pricey, but everyone I've ever taken here has been thrilled with the food and it's a frequent favorite for treating out-of-town guests.
Tom Bergin's Tavern
Great Irish tavern, with excellent pub food (corned beef & cabbage, Irish stew, burgers, etc.) Chummy, often crowded bar room in front, nice quiet dining room in back, complete with lots of dark wood paneling and a cozy fireplace (good place for small group dinners because you can actually hear yourselves talk).
Good food, good people watching and housed in one of the architectural jewels of the city. Great for people who love any or all of those things. Fun destination after a ride on either Amtrak or the very nice new Red Line subway. Moderate to expensive prices.
Great Cuban food at great prices. Totally casual and non-trendy. One order of take-out garlic chicken (served with generous helpings of rice, beans and plantains) will easily and tastily feed two people - with leftovers - for less than $8.00. And your car will smell incredible all the way home.
Finallly, I'd also recommend a handy book:
Good luck...good eating...and enjoy!