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.

The Spots

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.

The San Gabriel Valley has no shortage of excellent dim sum restaurants, and Elite is one of the most consistent. It’s also one of the most consistently crowded, 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.

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.

Your office is getting exterminated for the fifth time this year and that 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 dishes 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.

It’s not every day you drop $150 on lunch, but after finally getting that major promotion over your nemesis yesterday, you’re “working from home,” a.k.a. treating your damn self to Matsumoto. This strip mall sushi spot in Beverly Grove doesn’t have the name recognition of LA’s other premiere sushi restaurants, and that’s exactly what makes it so special. You don’t need a long-standing reservation or a lengthy IMDb page to get a seat here. Just head to the bar, let Chef Matsumoto know your likes and dislikes, and be whisked off on a tailor-made omakase of your dreams.

If the plan for the day is to put on sweatpants and not take them off until tomorrow, we’d recommend your only excursion out of the house be to Breakfast By Salt’s Cure. Nothing says “It’s a Tuesday and I intend to achieve absolutely nothing with my day” more than having a giant stack of their griddle cakes for lunch before going home and rewatching all the Harry Potter movies again. Although that sounds like an actual achievement.

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 too long (yet), 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 “f*cking 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.

Unless you live or work in Frogtown and are already here weekly, Wax Paper is probably on your to-eat list. 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. We’re here to tell you that Wax Paper and their NPR-host-themed sandwiches are worth it. The Larry Mantle (bologna, capicola, and pecorino) is the way to go on your first visit.

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Holbox is the kind of place you need a reason to go to, unless you’re a USC student or regularly hang out near the 110-10 split. But it’s your day off, you slept until 2pm, and now you’re hungry, which seems like reason enough to us. Especially when there are some insanely good seafood tacos in your future.

Some (most) celebrity hangouts are complete and utter trash. But, somehow, Chateau Marmont manages to actually be kind of cool. Maybe it’s the fantastic patio or the former Scrubs star in the corner, but the Chateau wins us over every time, even though everyone here has their sunglasses permanently attached to their faces. The food is better than you’d think (i.e. actually edible), and they’ll let you take over a table for the afternoon as long as you keep ordering bottles of the cheapest rosé on the list and leave the celebrity wildlife to enjoy their natural habitat. Needless to say: No photos.

That thing we said about restaurants not being as busy in the daytime? It does not apply to Howlin’ Ray’s. The line for this Nashville hot chicken joint in Chinatown is always pretty extreme (expect at least 45 minutes to an hour), but on your day off, lines don’t matter. Take a friend, maybe grab a bao from Lao Tao to eat while you wait, and consider your work done for the day.

On a work day, eating a giant bowl of pasta at a wine bar probably isn’t going to happen. Going back to work and immediately needing a nap is both unrealistic and will probably get you fired. Which is why Cento Pasta Bar is made for that personal day you’re planning. It’s a pop-up that takes over Mignon Wine Bar during the day on Wednesdays through Saturdays, and while the menu changes constantly, you’ll know you’re in luck if you see uni spaghetti. Cheers to 3pm naps.

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.

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, obviously a glass of champagne needs to accompany them, and obviously you should not be driving yourself here.

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.

Malibu Farm review image

Malibu Farm

$$$$(310) 456-1112
Hours:MONDAY9:00AM to 3:30PM
Perfect For:BreakfastBrunch

Malibu is lovely and everything, but spending a house down-payment at Nobu can be less lovely. Malibu Farm Cafe, at the end of the Malibu Pier, has almost the exact same view for about one-sixteenth of the price. The food is simple, crowd-pleasing stuff - salads, a burger, salmon - but it’s all good. Eat here and you might actually be able to afford a house in Malibu one day. Although probably not.

Maybe you want to bring some meaning to your day off, as opposed to watching back-to-back Curbed episodes that you’ve already seen four times. Well, let that meaning be eating the best sushi in all of Los Angeles. Located in a West Hollywood strip mall, this place is omakase-only and completely no-frills - but that just means you can worship at the altar of mind-blowing sushi in peace.

A midweek day off is the perfect time to cruise down to Lawndale for an Indian feast. Al-Noor is our favorite Indian restaurant in the city, and while we have been known to endure the 405 South on a Wednesday at 6:30pm for their garlic naan, such dedication isn’t for everyone. The lamb palak tastes just as good at lunch, and as a bonus, you’ll probably be eating the leftovers for dinner on your couch later.

Destroyer review image


Hours:MONDAY8:00AM to 3:30PM

Destroyer is pretty hectic on the weekends, but during the week, it’s easier to get in. 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.

Pizzeria Mozza imageoverride image

Pizzeria Mozza

$$$$(323) 297-0101
Hours:MONDAY12:00PM to 12:00AM
Perfect For:BrunchDate Night

There are a lot of ways to have a perfect day off in LA, and this is one of them: Wake up at 6:30am as usual. Realize you don’t have to work today and celebrate by sleeping until 1pm. Go for a hike. Resolve to cancel out the hike. Head straight for Pizzeria Mozza, sit at the bar, order the goat cheese and bacon pizza and a glass of red. If you died now, you’d be very happy.

As much as we love the food at Gjusta, we will also be the first to admit it can be a complete and utter sh*tshow. 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.

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again - the best time to be at Jon & Vinny’s is for a late lunch, preferably one with plenty of wine. You will not have to throw any elbows to secure a table, but you will be able to eat all the linguine and clams and not have to shout at your table mate to pass the meatballs. If you spot some bombolone (filled Italian donuts) on the counter as you walk in, you’ll probably want to reserve space for a couple of those, too.

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