You’re in your car, maybe (probably) stuck in traffic, staring out the window as you wonder whether to actually risk your life and just buy a traffic-immune motorcycle, when you catch a glimpse of that place. The restaurant you always forget is there.
Maybe it’s the place you always make a mental note to remember to go to, but don’t. Or maybe it’s a restaurant around the corner from another, more popular spot. Some restaurants we all forget about are very much worth remembering. Obviously, they’re easier to get into, but they also make you feel like you’re in on a secret the rest of the city doesn’t know about. One with no three-month waiting lists, and some pretty excellent food.
We’re not sure why it’s been so long since we went to Broken Spanish. Maybe it’s the LA Live parking situation, or that we convinced ourselves we don’t need lamb neck tamales because the local taco truck is so good. Whatever the reason, it’s time to stop with the excuses. The food here is truly exceptional (the chicharron is a thing we regularly think about), the cocktails are fantastic, and getting a table is never a problem. Next time we need a fancy-but-not-too-fancy meal near DTLA, this is where we’re going. You should too.
There are restaurants you forget about, and then there are restaurants you never really knew about in the first place, like Papilles, a French bistro in a strip mall on a busy part of Franklin. It opened in 2011, but has somehow remained a neighborhood secret since then, meaning you can walk in and get a table pretty much any night of the week. This is a small, low-key spot that’s perfect for when you want to eat a $35 prix fixe meal (that will actually fill you up) and drink too much wine on a Tuesday.
Cape Seafood is in a very anonymous-looking mixed-use building on Fairfax that’s nowhere near the beach. Once you notice it you’ll find one of the city’s best fish markets that has a great chalkboard menu of lobster rolls, stuffed clams, and salmon bagels. They also have ceviche, fish tacos, and a weekend dollar oyster deal for when you need your seafood fix.
There are plenty of big, impressive restaurants with big, impressive spaces in Downtown LA, and Redbird is one that tends to get forgotten. But this cathedral-turned-restaurant remains a great spot for a pre-theater dinner or a nice meal with an ex-coworker who’s only in town for a night. The menu is huge, with shared plates that don’t stick to any one cuisine, and there’s a Happy Hour for a nice change from the rowdy spot near your office. The food here is very good too - the duck is the kind of entree you keep talking about for way too long, except you can eat it without getting a reservation a month in advance.
La Casita Mexicana is a restaurant in Bell that’s different from any other Mexican place in town. Mainly because this one serves stuffed peppers that will immediately improve your day/life. There’s usually a crowd of people having a great time, so go here when you want a party and excellent food. Trust your servers and try whatever they recommend, but be sure that includes the queso azteca and the chile en nogada.
Bäco Mercat has been Downtown LA’s neighborhood hangout for a while now, but there’s absolutely no reason why the rest of the city shouldn’t be here too. Come by to eat some giant pita tacos (sorry, “bacos”), and tasty sides. This place is casual but exciting, with attentive servers (who won’t scoff if you ask what albariño is) and fantastic Spanish/Mediterranean food. By LA standards, Baco Mercat is practically an old-timer (it’s been open since 2011), and it’s still one of the most reliable restaurants in town.
LA might be drowning in pizza places, but if you still haven’t made it to DeSano, you’re missing out. On a slightly random stretch of Santa Monica Blvd., this Neopolitan spot is in a huge warehouse filled with long picnic tables and people yelling about whatever Serie A match is on, and is just as much fun as that sounds. Make sure you order the Desano (sausage, pepperoni, and mozzarella) and the Bianca (four kinds of cheese and garlic). Bring some friends along so you don’t feel weird about ordering a calzone along with your pizzas.
Just like you have your go-to dry cleaner and fortune teller, you probably have your stand-bys when you’re looking for high-quality sushi at prices that won’t make you skip buying underwear this year. Sushi Ike should be one of them, except this place doesn’t draw the big crowds you might expect given that the quality of the fish is right up there with the best in town. There’s a fantastic lunch combo, and dinner will cost about $50 if you pick and choose off the menu.
When Scopa Italian Roots opened, it was one of those always-wild Venice party restaurants. It’s not quite as busy as it used to be, but we dig the toned down version, too. The menu hasn’t changed much since 2013, and it’s still the kind of excellent Italian food you’ll brave dealing with the parking in Venice for. The lasagna here is going to make you immediately forget you ever swore that frozen grocery store lasagna is “just as good as the real thing.”
This Vietnamese spot on La Brea (there’s one on Sawtelle too) is the perfect place for a night where you don’t feel like cooking, but also don’t really feel like eating out. There’s very little fuss involved here - you’ll find easy parking, the menu isn’t overwhelmingly big, and it’s both quick and affordable. The pho and banh mi are great here, but you’re missing out if you don’t get the cold noodle salad with pork.
The best part of camp meals was distracting the counselors so you could steal boxes of Gushers and not have to eat boiled hot dogs. Messhall has excellent comfort food that will help you forget all about the “meat” at Camp Winnipesaukee. This is a great spot for a no-fuss group meal on the Eastside, especially if you sit on the patio around one of the fire pits. And eating dollar oysters next to a fire is going to make you realize how much better camp is with alcohol.
It only took you three weeks to break your lease when you lived on Cahuenga (rats were the least of your problems), and that’s about how long most restaurants last in this area, too. So the fact that Stout has been around since 2009 is pretty impressive, and we suspect it’s because of their very good burgers and small but nearly perfect beer list. This calm spot in the middle of the Hollywood chaos always has a table available, and is an excellent place to start the night when you’re in this part of town.