The South Bay is, to put it mildly, gigantic. Stretching from LAX down to San Pedro, there are almost as many places to eat here as there are beach volleyball courts. And if you’re in Lomita, you’re not exactly going to drive up to El Segundo for a breakfast burrito. So we’ve broken this guide down by city, with our favorite restaurants in each town between the 105 and Long Beach. Here are the 43 best places to eat in the South Bay.
An office park/strip mall near LAX is about as far as you can possibly get from a Roman piazza, but that’s where you’ll find Il Romanista. It’s a small Roman-style pizza spot with a handful of tables where you’ll inevitably spend too much time trying to decide which pizza(s) to have for lunch. The Curva Sud with potato and sausage and the mushroom-loaded Palatino are good places to start. Once you order, they’ll cut your slices, re-heat them, and bring them out quickly.
In a downtown El Segundo strip mall, Jame looks more like a Panera bread than a very legitimate Italian restaurant. But make no mistake, this tiny spot is home to some very good Italian food. Whether it be the giant plate of prosciutto, the pesto mandili, the pork shank, or the best kale salad we’ve ever eaten, the food at Jame is delicious across the board, and everything outside of the big plates falls under $20. Whatever you do, order the key lime pie at the end.
Here’s how a meal at Zam Zam, a tiny Pakistani market in Hawthorne, generally goes. You walk in, you ask the lady behind the counter for a plate of what’s cooking, and 20 minutes later you’ll be staring down at a giant platter of whatever curries, kebabs, tandoori, and naan they felt like making that day. This is the best biryani rice we’ve ever eaten, so whether or not you live or work in the area, Zam Zam is a destination everyone needs to experience even though there’s no real menu or service to speak of.
Al-Watan sits exactly one half block up from Zam Zam, but is a very different experience. It’s a full-service restaurant with a long menu of Pakistani and Indian staples. If you come during peak lunch rush, you’ll struggle to find a seat here, but the food is worth traveling long distances for. Get the mixed tandoori plate.
This family-operated Turkish/Mediterranean restaurant in Hawthorne is one of our favorite places in the South Bay for shawarma and falafel. You’re obviously getting the hummus sampler (nine different kinds of hummus for $4.95), but the best thing on the menu is the zucchini dumplings. They’re basically deep-fried balls of zucchini and cheese, and we’d drive back in rush hour just to eat them again.
Lawndale might not be that close to the beach, but that doesn’t get in the way of it being home to some ridiculously good fish tacos. This place is technically called Ensenada’s Surf N Turf Grill, but everyone still uses the old name - Baja California Fish Tacos. The star of the menu here comes with lightly-battered fish fried to order, just the right amounts of spice, cabbage, creamy sauce, and a double-layer of flour tortillas that won’t fall apart. The shrimp tacos are good too, but we prefer to go for multiples of the fish.
With locations all over the South Bay and even Miami, El Pollo Inka is a casual Peruvian chain with excellent food. Anything involving their rotisserie chicken is a going to be good, but we’re partial to the lomo saltado. Prepare for crowds during the lunch rush at their original location in Lawndale, where it’s almost always a party.
In-N-Out might be everyone’s usual move for a first LA meal after landing at LAX, but it’s time to switch it up and try Al-Noor, which we think is one of the best restaurants in Los Angeles. We haven’t found better Indian food than at this strip mall spot near the airport and have lost many hours of sleep thinking about their chicken korma, lamb palak, tikka masala, and perfectly cooked garlic naan.
We like to come to this casual Vietnamese strip-mall spot for a quiet solo lunch. The egg rolls come out so freshly fried that you won’t be able to eat them for at least 15 minutes, and the “small” bowl of the filet mignon pho is still plenty big, especially considering the rich, flavor-filled broth. Soon enough, you’ll be a regular with a usual order - just like almost everyone else in here.
Many people know Shin Sen Gumi as the very good ramen chain where you can customize your soup down to the firmness of noodle. But fewer know that the original location is actually a tiny yakitori shop in Gardena. Open since 1992, Shin Sen Gumi Yakitori is an institution you visit to eat perfect meat skewers in a low-key space. Our favorites are the marble kobe beef, bacon-wrapped quail egg, and the chicken meatballs.
If you know the laws of eating food inside of bowling alleys, you know to generally steer clear altogether. Break that law at Gardena Bowl Coffee Shop. This tiny diner inside a neighborhood bowling alley has a very good menu of every American breakfast staple in the book, but you’re here for their Hawaiian/Asian fusion dishes. The kimchi bacon fried rice is excellent and we wish we were eating the Hawaiian Royal - a massive plate of eggs, rice, chashu, and Portuguese sausage - right now.
Otafuku is a family-run Japanese restaurant that treats soba noodles like science. The three kinds of soba here vary in texture, size, and taste, but all are made in-house every day with flour imported from Japan. In other words, you don’t see them elsewhere around LA. The all-white seiro is our favorite, but whatever you choose will be served cold on a bamboo plate with a tiny dish of garlic soy sauce for dipping on the side. It’s simple, fresh, and exactly what we want during a heat wave.
If you think you’re in the wrong place, that means you’ve arrived at Eatalian Cafe. Located in a giant warehouse next to other giant warehouses, Eatalian Cafe isn’t exactly a cafe. It’s a giant Italian food emporium that feels like a laidback version of Eataly. There’s a long wrap-around pizza counter with a kitchen, espresso bar, gelato stand, and bakery. It’s overwhelming, so here’s your game plan: start with one of their pizzas (the prosciutto-topped Mimmo is our favorite), end with a cup of gelato, and take a box of pastries for your bedside table.
If you’re in or anywhere near Gardena for breakfast, head to Painter’s Tape. This order-at-the-counter cafe is open every day from 8am-3pm and has a tremendous Japanese-influenced breakfast menu where nothing is more than $10. Expect things like steamed organic rice in a chicken broth, shabu shabu steak buns, and a curry and cheddar donut that will make you question every donut you’ve ever eaten.
Every now and then, the temperature does go below 60 degrees in LA. When it does, prioritize eating at Kotohira. The tiny noodle shop in a Gardena strip mall has all sorts of udon, like curry, creamy, and green mochi. Our order is usually the mini katsudon set, where you get a big bowl of their tanuki udon (light broth) plus a side of their katsudon (fried pork and eggs over a bowl of rice). All of that only costs $10.95.
Little Sister is a modern Vietnamese spot a couple of blocks from the beach. It feels like one of those always loud and busy restaurants on Fairfax, but instead it’s located in the kids’ menu capital of the world. This is a place for pretty much any kind of adult (or kid that refuses to look at menus with chicken nuggets on them) - all the food here is great, from the pretty-traditional shaky shaky beef, to the not-at-all traditional beef tartare.
Fishing With Dynamite is a very small seafood spot with a handful of tables and one of the best raw bars in the city. While there’s an easygoing feel here, don’t get too comfortable. You will certainly be asked to wear shoes if you try to come in straight from the beach for crab cakes, chowder, and piles of oysters. It’s a great spot for a date or an extravagant lunch, but we especially love getting off a plane at LAX and waiting out the traffic here with multiple orders of Peruvian scallops.
Like any good diner, North End Caffe has a very large menu of similarly enormous sandwiches and salads. Also, they do way more than just pancakes and tuna melts. For breakfast, the huevos divorciados - eggs with fried corn tortillas, bacon, and two kinds of salsa - are your best bet. And for a filling lunch try the egg rolls stuffed with pork, cabbage, cured ham, and swiss cheese. Make sure you get a table on the sidewalk so you can watch surfers jaywalk with their boards across Highland Ave.
Love & Salt has become one of Manhattan Beach’s old reliables. The menu at this Italian place is both crowd-pleasing and interesting, with lots of pizzas and pastas, plus an excellent brunch burger and English muffins so good you should eat them at dinner. This is a place that works for almost any occasion, whether that’s dinner with your parents, a solo pasta and glass of wine, or a laid-back brunch.
M.B. Post was one of the first restaurants people outside of Manhattan Beach made a point of going to, and while it isn’t quite the destination place it once was, it has earned its place as a neighborhood staple. That’s especially the case at brunch, when you can order those cheddar bacon biscuits and enormous slabs of french toast.
The hidden gem strip mall restaurant is an absolute LA cliche at this point, but Baran’s shows why we won’t ever get sick of the genre. A good distance away from the Hermosa Pier and the weekend warrior crowd, you’ll find this neighborhood-y spot with lots of wine by the glass and interesting food - like cheesy focaccia with tomato umami butter, a shrimp-stuffed tostada, and perfectly-cooked filet mignon that comes on top of corn puree. The service is extremely friendly, too. The staff will pour you tastes of wine to help you decide, give you advice on what to eat, and also banter about politics or sports with you as needed.
This Italian-American spot has been open for over 40 years, and attracts a loyal crowd of locals on casual date nights working their way through the big wine list. It’s the kind of place where you’ll end up with seven pastas on your table because you can’t make a decision, but the staff here will help you narrow down your order. Whatever you do, make sure you get the fried calamari, the lobster angel hair, and a spot on the front patio.
A little further south of most of the stores on Hermosa Ave., Mickey’s is a Hermosa Beach legend. This Italian deli is always busy, with a line of people waiting to order giant sandwiches and pizzas. Those pizzas bear a strong resemblance to New York slices, and they’re pretty good, but the sandwiches are the main event here. They’re solid versions of the classics - the Italian involves all the things a solid Italian sandwich should, and the pastrami deluxe is a true monster. Given that you’re half a block from the ocean, this is where you should be picking up all your beach day snacks.
You’ve likely had plenty of build-your-own, assembly-line poke bowls over the past few years. Jus’ Poke is different, and resembles what you’d find in Hawaii - meaning it’s super fresh and you won’t be able to overwhelm your bowl with too many options. There are six types of pre-marinated tuna (get the original or spicy) or a tofu option, to which you can add rice or seaweed salad. The servings are enormous, and the crowd is mostly local office people picking up lunch.
Sushi Chitose has a fantastic, affordable omakase in an almost impossible-to-spot building on PCH. It gets pretty crowded, so come early or make a reservation, preferably at the bar where you can watch baseball behind the heads of the people preparing your fish. For $45, you’ll get somewhere around 15 pieces of fish, and the $60 premium option adds on an appetizer, some belly cuts, and a dessert. All the sushi here is great, but you’ll probably end up asking for another piece of the fantastic, shiso-topped snapper.
If all that sitting on the beach and looking at the ocean has made you hungry for seafood, head to Quality Seafood on the Redondo pier. This multi-level spot has tanks full of fish, oysters, and crabs, and is pretty chaotic, so you’ll need a strategy. One person should order at the counter (prepare to be shout-asked how you want your fish cooked) and someone else should position themselves to claim a picnic table in a game of survival of the fittest. If you’re having a hard time making a food decision, here’s where to start: steamed littlenecks, raw Pacific Northwest oysters, and fried snapper.
You’re at this cash-only breakfast spot on PCH for one reason - the carne asada breakfast burrito with avocado. It’s the perfect way to start a slow-moving weekend when you’re near the ocean. There will probably be a line (you’re not going to be the only one here trying to make your head hurt a little less), but service is quick and the coffee is great.
Gabi James is an extremely new restaurant by South Bay standards, but it’s already one of our favorites. Located a few blocks from the water in Redondo Beach, this modern Spanish restaurant has a bright space, excellent cocktails, and a menu that’s refreshingly different. The oxtail ragu comes with sauteed penne that kind of tastes like French fries (this is a good thing) and the tortilla Espanola is basically a giant piece of potato cake and we can’t stop thinking about it. Put Gabi James into your date night rolodex immediately.
This order-at-the-counter spot serves very good Memphis-style barbecue out of a stripmall. The dry-rubbed brisket and pork ribs are the things to get here - they’re moist and tender, but not so fatty that you won’t be able to make it to the parking lot after your meal. We’re not sure it lives up to the World Champion title, but that doesn’t mean you won’t try to figure out how you’re going to smuggle a bottle of homemade spicy barbecue sauce out of here without being noticed.
There’s always a crowd of locals hanging out at the bar and eating upscale pub food at Hudson House. The best thing here is the lamb bolognese that comes with harissa yogurt and roasted yams instead of pasta that will make you forget all about how much you love gluten. They often bring everything out all at once, so you might want to order in stages.
This upscale spot in Redondo draws big crowds for their excellent Indian classics. Even on a Tuesday afternoon you’ll have to wait for the hordes of people on their lunch breaks, the book club discussing Jodi Picoult over beef vindaloo, and a group of cops trying not to get chicken khorma on their uniforms before you get a table. The speciality here is Rogan Josh, made with perfectly tender lamb. None of the tables around you forgot to order the garlic naan, so make sure you don’t either.
Madre is an excellent place for a casual weeknight dinner, business lunch, or a date with someone you don’t know very well. This modern Oaxacan spot has plenty of space, so your conversation isn’t going to get derailed because the table next to you is having a heated argument about whether Tupac is still alive. Get the mezcal margarita, and order the queso fundido to start. For entrees, focus on the moles - we like the coloradito best - with either chicken thighs or short ribs.
This strip mall spot is a very good place for affordable sushi. Try to grab one of the five seats at the Dodger bobblehead-decorated bar and order the No. 8 Special. It involves nine pieces of sushi and two rolls, and at $13.50, it’s the most expensive thing on the menu. Add on an order of the fantastic, salty mirugai (giant geoduck clam) if they have it.
Torihei is a strip mall izakaya with long lines and fantastic robata. Make a reservation if you can, otherwise, they hold some tables for the line of walk-ins. When you do eventually sit down, pick something from the long and affordable list of sake and shoju, and then order the karaage and xiao long bao oden (Chinese-style shrimp dumplings in Japanese hot pot) to start. The robata choices are all excellent, just make sure your order includes the butter scallops and wasabi beef tongue.
King’s Hawaiian Bakery doesn’t just make the grocery store rolls you’ve been buying for cookouts since you were a kid. They’ve also got a restaurant in Torrance with pretty forgettable food. But the restaurant isn’t why you’re here - the bakery up front serves a huge variety of excellent mostly Hawaiian pastries. The almond stars are good, and the malasadas are the biggest, fluffiest donut holes you’ll ever eat. You’ll get them to go, but probably spend a few minutes on the patio eating one by yourself before you take them back to the office.
Back Home In Lahaina’s interior - complete with string lighting, street signs, and giant paintings of humpback whales splashing in the ocean - looks a bit like a restaurant you might find in an aquarium. Don’t let the cheesy aesthetic fool you, this casual spot in Carson serves tasty Hawaiian staples across-the-board. The loco moco is one of our favorite versions in LA and their Hawaiian-style fried chicken is sweet, crunchy, and flat-out addicting. A slice of the haupia cheesecake at the end is mandatory.
This old-school fish counter is in a strip mall across from the StubHub Center. It’s Louisiana-style here, meaning you’ll pick between snapper, sole, catfish, or shrimp, and they’ll fry it right in front of you. Everything is available a la carte, but we like the combo specials, which get you several pieces of fish and two sides (you want the hush puppies) for well under $10.
The menu at this casual spot on Narbonne is full of Mexican classics, but you should be concentrating on the Platos Oaxaqueños section. Among these Oaxacan dishes, our favorites are the enchiladas topped with mole (get the mole negro), pork ribs with cactus, and the tlayuda - a crispy tortilla that’s bigger than a dinner plate and topped with black beans, cheese, cabbage, and whatever meat you feel like. And by whatever meat you feel like, we mean you have to get the fantastic chorizo.
A small restaurant in a big Lomita strip mall, Hikari is a Japanese BBQ spot where you eat Japanese chicken carbonara and grill a whole lot of meat over hot coals. It’s a small space, and the wood dividers between each table make you feel like you rented a private room for free. The menu is pretty big, but the staff are there to help you decide which cuts of meat to get. Feel free to skip the appetizers and order an extra plate of the very good hanging tender cut (similar to hanger steak) instead.
Rancho Palos Verdes
One could argue that the real reason you come to Mar’sel is look out over the ocean. That said, this upscale restaurant inside the Terranea Resort in Palos Verdes does serve good food. The menu isn’t exactly a beacon of innovation, but sometimes charcuterie, vegetables, and big plates of meat are enough while you try to look for dolphins on the horizon. If you’re trying to find a fancy date spot that you haven’t been to a hundred times, Mar’sel is a great option.
There’s an overwhelming choice of sweet things at Amalfitano, from cakes to cookies and Italian pastries. But we’d just focus on this Italian bakery’s truly excellent cannolis. They have regular and chocolate versions (involving both chocolate filling and chocolate-dipped cannoli cones), and you should get one of each.
On a residential street in San Pedro, The Chori-Man is a chorizo shop that mostly sells to restaurants. But four days a week, any regular person can walk in and get a few sausages, tacos, or a truly fantastic breakfast burrito. There are four different types of chorizo you can add to any of their dishes, and while they’re all good, we especially like the poblano chili-heavy green pork one. There are just a few spots to sit out front, so there’s a possibility you’ll end up eating standing in the street - there’s no way you’ll be able to wait till you get to your car.
Busy Bee has hardly changed in the last 20 years, and neither have the guys who’ve been making sandwiches here for decades. There’s a seemingly permanent line at this deli, but it moves pretty fast (and you can pick up a pre-made cold-cut filled Torpedo from the counter if you’re in a rush). But the hot sandwiches are worth waiting for, especially the pastrami that they soak in jus, and serve on soft Italian bread with cheese, mustard or mayo, and pickles. Know in advance that there’s nowhere to sit here, and it’s cash only.