I’ve been getting a lot of takeout in quarantine. Like, a lot a lot. While everyone else was busy learning how to bake, showing up on KTLA, or adopting cute, one-eyed puppies, I made the brave decision to stop growing spiritually and intellectually, by refusing to acquire even a single real-life skill. (Example: Cooking.)
And while my mom would probably cry at the sight of all the takeout containers I’ve amassed over the past few months, there is one silver lining: The food. From Postmates drop-offs and in-store pick-ups to random Venmo transactions and embarrassing moments at curbside drive-thrus, if you name a pandemic-food situation, there’s a good chance I’ve been in it. Plus, I now have enough takeout containers to start an underground Tupperware store (text me for details).
So after much deliberation, I hereby present to you: An incontestable list of my five favorite LA restaurants right now. Will all of this change by next week? Probably. Like I said, I order a lot of takeout.
Brilliance comes in many forms. Mozart wrote his first symphony at age eight. Nicki Minaj rhymed “bestest” with “asbestos” in the seminal Young Money hit “BedRock.” And Johnny Lee of Pearl River Deli makes some of the best Cantonese food in the city. Like any true artist, Lee - a.k.a. The Prince of Poultry - rejects the mundanity of rote repetition, constantly tweaking his menu offerings and experimenting with new dishes. One week you might get siu mai the size of softballs, another, Hong Kong-style duck served over soup noodles. But if you’re lucky, or catch him at the right time, he’ll extend his benevolence and make his signature Hainan chicken special (which can get quite labor-intensive). A dish he honed at his other shop, Side Chick, it’s Pearl River Deli’s piece de resistance - a beautiful, fragrant meal made with jasmine rice, accoutrements like cucumbers and cilantro, and poached chicken so tender you might think it were a film directed by Barry Jenkins.
FOR A NICE NIGHT OUT (IF YOU'RE INTO PATIOS):
So… I’m still on the fence on whether or not I’m into patios. What was once a fun, simple activity has morphed into a steaming hotbed of ethical implications. Am I putting the servers at risk? Is it morally bankrupt to want to eat outdoors? And while I’m not the least bit close to answering these questions, if you, like me, are beginning to explore the world of outdoor dining, there’s no better place to start that journey than at Republique. Much like a Penn & Teller magic show, a meal at this literal cathedral of French food still feels like a well-oiled machine. The tables on the sidewalk and patio are properly spaced out, servers leave a carafe of water with you instead of stopping by to refill your glasses, and I had one of the best corn agnolottis of my life here.
While I was doing some research in Boyle Heights for my Hawaiian Shave Ice guide (you’ve read it, haven’t you?), either by divine intervention, fate, or some holy mixture of the two, I found myself a block away from Los Cinco Puntos. We’ve written about the East LA market/deli in every Best Tacos guide imaginable (which you’ve also read, right?), but it really can’t be overstated - these tacos are so f*cking good. Specifically, the ones with crackling, crispy chicharrónes placed onto homemade tortillas so thick and fluffy, it feels like you’re eating one of those weighted blankets people buy for anxiety or TikTok videos.
WHEN I NEED A VEGETABLE, STAT:
Lalibela Ethiopian Restaurant
I don’t eat a lot of vegetables. I hate broccoli, have an adverse reaction to peas. So whenever I find myself in a particularly nutrient-destitute state, I head to Lalibela. This Little Ethiopia restaurant is one of my favorites in the area, in no small part due to their Veggie Utopia. As far as I’m concerned, The Garden of Eden’s got nothing on this heavenly, paradisiacal Erewhon (the science fiction novel, not the dystopian capitalist market). A huge spread of 14 plant-based dishes, it comes with red lentils, collard greens, sunflower seeds, and a massive amount of their spongy, slightly-sour injera flatbread. Plus, their website plays music, which is just fun.
Mateo's Ice Cream & Fruit Bars
Easily my favorite place on Earth. Seriously, I come here like, five times a week. They have an entire wall stocked with 30+ flavors of Oaxacan-style paletas, in flavors like fresa/strawberry, sandia/watermelon, and creamy leche quemada, a.k.a. smoked milk, which tastes exactly like someone took a gallon of dairy, then kippered it over an open flame. Which is all good and fine, but the ultimate popsicle here, the paleta of the palace (and my personal go-to) is their mango flavor. Made with nothing more than fresh, blended fruit (and no artificial flavoring), this sweet, tropical popsicle is simultaneously every purist’s dream and my dentist’s worst nightmare.