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.
Hidden inside a corner store in Highland Park, you’ll find this sandwich shop serving giant, deli-style sandwiches that we would put up against any in the city. If you’re really hungry, get the Jeff’s Special—hot pastrami, sauerkraut, and a big Gruyere crisp on rye—or the Dirty Baby, a turkey salad sandwich that involves housemade chili crisp, two kinds of smoked cheese, and pickled onions. All the food is ordered at the counter inside, and there’s a small sidewalk patio out front where you can kick up your feet and enjoy fresh air underneath a shady tree (or just take your food home to inhale on your couch).
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.
This Chinatown restaurant has the kind of cozy, come-as-you-are energy you want on a relaxing day off. The menu involves a clever blend of Cantonese staples and weekly specials that could anything from Japanese breakfast sets to baked clay pot rice. Show up in gym shorts and have a quiet meal at one of their long wooden tables, ending with an always-changing dessert option like gluten-free chocolate chip cookies, a dairy-free coconut pudding, or strawberry shortcake bolo buns.
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.
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.
Elite Restaurant is permanently closed
The San Gabriel Valley has no shortage of excellent dim sum restaurants, and Elite is one of the most consistent. It’s always crowded on weekends, which is why you’re coming in the middle of the week on your day off, when you can virtually walk right in. The massive space doesn’t have the traditional food carts whizzing by - all ordering is done from a tiny sheet you mark at your table. There are nearly 100 different things on the menu, but we recommend concentrating on the golden cream bun, crispy shrimp rice noodle, steamed taro cake, pork shu mai, and BBQ pork pastry.
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.
Sun Nong Dan
Your Slack notifications are turned off for the day which means your sweatpants are staying on and you’re heading to Sun Nong Dan. The classic Koreatown restaurant has a menu full of soups and giant platters of boiled meats, but everyone’s here to eat one thing: galbi jjim. It’s a huge cast-iron plate filled with spicy spare ribs, rice cakes, and vegetables in a red galbi sauce, and it’s one of our favorite things to eat in Ktown. Order it with cheese on top, and they’ll blowtorch it at your table to make it nice and bubbly. Tip: Make sure you do that.
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.
Unless you’re a USC student or regularly hang out near the 110-10 split, Holbox is the kind of place you probably need an excuse to pop into. But it’s your day off, you slept until 2pm, and now you’re hungry, which seems like reason enough to us. Make your way here for some giant Baja scallops doused in tongue-searing aguachile sauce, some deep-fried rockfish tacos, or some diver scallops topped with pickled fennel, and inky, jet-black braised octopus.
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.