The Day-Off Lunch Guide
Where to get a weekday meal when you don’t have to work.
Shout out to national holidays. Also, shout out to birthdays, “sick” days, and any other days when you don’t have to work. They’re when crossing town for a meal, or spending three hours at a restaurant, or getting to that one place you’ve wanted to eat at forever are possible. And in our opinion, the best way to do any of these things on your day off is to have lunch—it’s just as good as dinner, but you spend a lot less money and have a much better shot at not waiting for a table.
So here’s where you should go the next time your lunch hour is more than an hour. Pick one of these places and have a vacation in the middle of your day.
There is possibly no better day-off lunch in the greater Los Angeles area than Nobu. PCH traffic is non-existent on weekdays, you’ll get a prime table next to the water (maybe plan ahead and make a reservation, but you can always try your luck), and you’ll still probably see a celebrity (we’re pretty sure there’s a rule that there must be at least 2 C-list stars here at any given time). Nobu isn’t just about the scene though—the food here is so much better than it needs to be. Go here and remember, this is why you live in LA.
This classic spot on the Sunset Strip is where real Hollywood power players go to swig martinis, pick at cobb salads, and talk business. So if your ideal game plan for an off-day involves people watching, throw on a pair of sunglasses and grab a table by the pool. It’s one of the most entertaining lunch backdrops in town, and you can pretend to snack on tuna tartare and beef sliders while you eavesdrop.
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The Old Place
The Old Place is one of LA’s most unique historic restaurants, but due to its somewhat remote location in the Santa Monica Mountains, many people haven’t even heard of the place, let alone eaten there. Take the scenic drive up to this steakhouse on your next day off for a hearty lunch involving American comfort foods like bone-in ribeyes, glorious apple crisps, and something called a “noodle and cheese bake.” This historic saloon feels like you stepped into the first level of Westworld, but instead of killer robots, expect good beer and wine, live music, and a juicy steak.
Phnom Penh Noodle Shack
Traversing the 110 freeway during rush hour is something we wouldn’t wish upon our worst enemies. But if you catch during its midday lull, you can generally expect to sail, making a lunch trip down to Long Beach extremely doable. While the city is loaded with excellent places to eat, one of our all-time favorites is Phnom Penh Noodle Shack. Open Tuesday through Sunday from 7am-3pm, this tiny Cambodian noodle shop mostly specializes in breakfast dishes like rice porridge and meat pies, but it’s their house special noodle soup with pork bone broth you’ll want on your special day off. You can choose between rice or egg noodles, but we prefer asking for a mix of both.
photo credit: Brant Cox
Les Sisters' Southern Kitchen & BBQ
Even if you live in the deep Valley, getting to Chatsworth is not exactly an easy endeavor. But with a whole afternoon to yourself, suddenly a trip to Les Sisters’ becomes a doable conquest. This Valley institution has been around since the mid-80s, and is home to some of the best soul food in the city. Every meal at this tiny spot needs to start with the fried chicken, with its crackly, Cajun-spiced skin, but it’s the spicy chicken jambalaya you’ll be thinking about when you’re back at work tomorrow. Round out your meal with some gooey mac and cheese and black eyed peas.
Gardena Bowl Coffee Shop
A trip to Hawaii is a bit ambitious for your day off, but eating Hawaiian food is a solid way to recharge. Some of the best Hawaiian food in LA is served in a bowling alley in Gardena. So head to this tiny diner for some kimchi bacon fried rice or katsu loco moco. Then, spend the rest of the day improving your free arm swing by renting out your very own bowling lane.
photo credit: Jakob Layman
Pizzeria Sei is inspired by Tokyo’s Neo-Neapolitan movement, which generally means minimalist toppings and chewy-crisp crusts. Dinner crowds often line up outside this spot in Pico-Robertson for excellent pizza, so your best move is to go during lunch. There are only a few seats inside, so we recommend rolling in by yourself, sitting at the bar, and spending your downtime with an anchovy and caper-covered Neapoleta.
photo credit: Jessie Clapp
Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise—eating dim sum alone is an absolute power move, and why you’ll often find us at NBC Seafood on our days off. This massive Monterey Park spot is a classic and also one of the few SGV dim sum restaurants left that still offer cart service. The menu consists mostly of tried and true staples like juicy siu mai and crispy turnip cakes, but everything is delicious, and the thrill of ordering from a passing cart instead of a regular menu can’t be overstated. Wait times on the weekends can get intense, but if you come during the week, you’ll basically walk right in.
Mini Kabob is a Glendale institution that you should prioritize for incredible, affordable kebabs that you can enjoy while chatting with the eccentric older couple that runs the place. Most of the kebab platters inside this tiny shop hover under $20, and if you’re able to eat the entire plate in one sitting (it comes with rice, vegetables, hummus, and pita), you’ve earned our unwavering respect. Also, be sure to try the eggplant caviar and tarragon soda.
photo credit: Endless Color
Topanga Canyon’s days of hippie communes and off-the-grid living are long gone, but there are still plenty of quirks—and fun shopping— to validate a little day trip. Just be sure to grab some food at Endless Color while you’re in the area. Part natural wine shop, part retro vinyl store, and part pizza parlor, this funky, disco-ball adorned spot is a great place to post up with a nicely charred Neapolitan pie and a glass of wine from Puglia, and pretend for a few hours that you live here and have to get back to your sensory deprivation chamber soon.
You told your boss you’re taking a mental health day, but what that actually means is you’re going on an East LA taco crawl. The stretch of E. Olympic Blvd. between Soto St. and Indiana St. is lined with some of the best trucks in the city, but the one you’re stopping at first is Mariscos Jalisco. The seafood truck’s tacos de camaron (deep-fried and stuffed with fresh shrimp) are our favorite tacos in Los Angeles and something every resident in this city needs to eat at some point in their life. From there, head over to Tacos Y Birria La Unica for goat quesatacos and Los Originales Tacos Arabes de Puebla for giant pork tacos wrapped in a pita-like shell.
photo credit: Krystal Thompson
Chaaste Family Market
There’s no better to celebrate a water-main break underneath your office building than spending the day roaming around the well-manicured streets of Pasadena. And while you’re there, head to Chaaste Family Market. This colorful Filipino spot is one of our favorite restaurants in Pasadena—and it’s not even entirely a restaurant. You enter through a convenience store and head to a back counter where you order cafeteria-style, pointing out whatever looks good. Our order is usually the pork lumpia, eggplant with shrimp paste, and the vinegary chicken adobo, but whatever you do, don’t leave without some turon (banana-filled fried spring rolls). There’s a reason they sell them in boxes of five.
Sari Sari Store LA
Grand Central Market is a madhouse pretty much any day of the week, but the weekday crowds are a little less intense—and also more bearable—when you’re not trying to get in and out in half an hour. And the best reason to be there is Sari Sari Store, a Filipino rice bowl spot from the same people as Republique. The lines aren’t usually very long, and you can sit at the counter, have the lechon manok bowl with chicken and garlic rice (or the breakfast sandwich), but whatever you do, save room for the buko pie, described on the menu as “coconut, coconut, coconut,” and by us as “freaking delicious.”
Do you aspire to be a person of leisure? The kind who orders a bottle of riesling in the middle of the day to have with their poached chicken salad? Farmshop, in the Brentwood Country Mart, is full of your people. On any given visit you’re likely to see at least two movie stars and visible plastic surgery at every table, but you’ll also get to eat some tasty food. This is the kind of place that tells you which farm every ingredient came from, but it also serves a decent pastrami sandwich, so it balances itself out.
photo credit: Jakob Layman
Unless you live or work in Frogtown and eat here weekly, Wax Paper is probably on your list of "sandwiches you will make a special trip for." The problem is that Frogtown is really far away from almost everything and 45 minutes in the car is a real commitment for a sandwich. But we’re here to tell you that Wax Paper and their NPR-host-themed sandwiches are worth it. The Larry Mantle (bologna, capicola, pecorino) or the Ira Glass (avocado, cheddar, sprouts) are the way to go on your first visit.
A quick mindfulness exercise at lunch might be nice, but what's even better for high-stress is a vacation. And outside of using that precious PTO, a trip to Holbox is the next best thing. This Mexican mariscos spot serves seafood that'll make you question all the other seafood you've ever eaten. Get some raw oysters topped with vinegary hot sauce, the scallop aguachile bathed in a spicy, bright-green sauce, and crispy tostadas with super-fresh kanpachi and dollops of uni.
So your “casual weeknight dinner” turned into a very not casual bar hop. Time for an email to your boss to say that you’re “sick” before rolling over and sleeping until noon. Suddenly, it’s lunchtime, you need an unhealthy amount of food, and you have no one to lunch with. For the ultimate in solo sick-day eating, head straight for Petit Trois, order the steak tartare, followed by the omelette, and then the pastry cream-filled Napoleon. This cures any sickness, even the ones that aren’t real.
Fishing With Dynamite
The number of things worth driving to Manhattan Beach for are pretty limited. Living out your Olympic volleyball dreams is one, and Fishing With Dynamite is the other. This teeny seafood shack is at its best during the day, when the space feels bright and like you might actually be in Montauk. Obviously you’re getting oysters and obviously a glass of champagne needs to accompany them.
Destroyer is pretty hectic on the weekends, but during the week, it’s generally a breeze. The only problem? It’s only open from 8am-5pm Monday through Friday, meaning that unless you work nearby or have the kind of job (or lack of a job) where you can disappear for a 1.5-hour lunch, you probably haven’t made it here. But on your next day off, you’re coming. Ideally at 10:30am, so you can start with breakfast and have a second course of lunch. And yes, we’ve done that. Multiple times.
As much as we love the food at Gjusta, we will also be the first to admit it can be a complete and utter circus. Come here on a weekend and you’ll be waiting 30 minutes just to order, and god forbid you bring your dog, because then you’ll end up sitting in the parking lot on milk crates. But at 11am on a Tuesday? Gjusta is a glorious place to be. You’ll stroll up to the counter, order the tuna conserva sandwich, choose at least one of the daily changing salads, head to the patio, and sit in an actual chair with a back. You should probably get a slice of cake, too.