LAGuide

The First Timer’s Guide To Eating In LA

These restaurants will help you get acquainted with Los Angeles.

The First Timer’s Guide To Eating In LA guide image

Visiting LA for the first time? Just moved here with a still unloaded U-Haul? Obviously, we have some opinions. Firstly, check where you parked that U-Haul—street cleaning takes no prisoners in this town. Secondly, be prepared to experience the blood-curdling rush that comes with merging onto a six-lane freeway. Thirdly, get ready to eat.

What you see before you isn’t meant to be a definitive list of this city’s best restaurants—it’s just what we’d do if we were in your shoes. If you're visiting and planning out where to eat, or just made LA your new home, let this guide lead the way.

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THE SPOTS

Holbox imageoverride image
9.5

Holbox

Although this causal-counter spot located in the colorful Mercado La Paloma in South LA might look like any other food stall you’d find in America, don’t be fooled: we gave Holbox a 9.5/10 rating, the second-highest in the whole city. Why? Super fresh, inventive seafood dishes that’ll make you question all other seafood you’ve ever eaten. There are giant Baja scallops, buttery and soft, and doused in tongue-searing aguachile sauce. Tacos come with deep-fried rockfish, diver scallops topped with pickled fennel, and inky, jet-black braised octopus. But the main event here is kanpachi and uni tostada, an eye-popping dish with heaps of sea bass ceviche, chopped lime and onions, and uni all but hanging off a freshly fried tostada. You need to order this.

If you have a working Spectrum connection and an Instagram account, chances are, you’ve heard of Courage Bagels. Everyone from the New York Times to our very own Editor in Chief claims that this tiny Virgil Village shop pumps out bagels that are (gasp) even better than the ones made in New York City. Which, of course, is a really big deal if you grew up on the East Coast or, like, care about that kind of stuff. But even if you don’t, a trip to Courage Bagels should be at the top of your to-do list. The order-at-the-window spot specializes in Montreal-style bagels—a denser, crispier version than what you’ll find in New York, and are topped with unique ingredients like salmon roe, heirloom tomatoes, handfuls of dill, or cucumbers that taste like they were picked that morning. Lines tend to get pretty long here (we’re talking hour-plus), so either come right when they open or be prepared to wait.

Ask 10 people in LA what the best taco in town is and you’ll get 15 different responses. Ask us, and we’ll tell you it’s Mariscos Jalisco’s taco de camaron. This classic seafood truck on an industrial stretch of Boyle Heights—they also have three other locations now—only has one taco on the menu (among various tostadas, ceviches, etc), but it is downright glorious. Deep-fried and stuffed with massive, sweet shrimp, and topped with salsa and fresh avocado, this is arguably the most iconic plate of food in the city, and no trip to LA is complete without trying it.

Horses opened in 2021, but the space itself is a historical landmark. Before it was Horses, it was the Pikey, and before the Pikey, it was Ye Coach & Horses. In short, this has been a Hollywood hang for almost a century. And the space hasn't changed much over time. These days it’s a sexy Hollywood staple with great food and clientele in intimidating outfits. This is the new "it" spot and based on how hard it is to get a reservation, that's not changing any time soon. Plan this reservation well in advance, and you'll be delighted with edgy horse decor and seasonal, French-ish food. From the endive caesar to the adorable Cornish hen with dandelion panzanella, Horses’ menu is full of tasty surprises.

Even if you’ve never been to LA, chances are you’ve heard there’s really good Thai food here. We can confirm those rumors. But if you’re serious about finding great Thai food, you need to head to Luv2Eat. Located in a nondescript Hollywood strip mall (three words that often mean you’re close to great food), this tiny place has a good-sized menu of stir-fried meats and noodles, but you’ll want to concentrate on the “Chef’s Special” section, a mixed bag of dishes that showcase the two chefs’ family recipes from Phuket. Highlights include the sweet and spicy Phuket-style crab curry, jade noodles with three different kinds of barbecued meats, and moo ping, a marinated pork skewer that’s so sweet and tender, you might have to take it home and introduce it to your parents.

There’s nothing more satisfying than seeing the look on an East Coaster’s face when you tell them LA has the best pastrami. So we’ll go ahead and say it again: LA has the best pastrami. You’ll find proof at places like Wexler’s, Brent’s, and Johnny’s, but if you want to get to the heart of LA’s pastrami culture, go to Langer’s. This Westlake institution has been serving classic deli staples since 1947 and the pièce de résistance is the #19. This massive pastrami sandwich comes stacked with swiss cheese and Russian-style coleslaw, squished between two pieces of soft rye bread. It’s a perfect sandwich that needs to be on every visitor’s to-do list.

People who have lived in LA for a while like to talk about how LA is a city of neighborhoods. And there’s no neighborhood that provokes more of a reaction than crystal-, surfer-, and start-up-filled Venice, and if you want to understand why, go eat breakfast or lunch at Gjusta. This deli a few blocks back from the beach is big, busy, and perfect for surveying the Venice crowd. The sandwiches and salads, along with whatever else is in the deli case, are best in class. Try the burrata and tomato sandwich or open-faced bagel with an entire farmers' market’s worth of produce and housemade gravlax stacked on top, and we think you’ll understand why Gjusta has so many devotees.

photo credit: Jakob Layman

Dan Sung Sa  imageoverride image
8.9

Dan Sung Sa

$$$$(213) 384-5825
Hours:TUE
4PM-2AM

Not to take anything away from the endless bars in WeHo or Downtown’s warehouse parties, but LA’s best nightlife is in Koreatown. It’s one of the few areas left where you can go without a plan and head wherever the night takes you. Just make sure you eventually end up at Dan Sung Sa. Walking into this dimly lit tavern on a Saturday night is an essential LA experience. The sounds of sizzling skewers and thwacking knives emanate from the central grill, smoke hangs like mist over the graffitied, wooden booths, and everywhere you look, groups of friends pound Hite like it’s the last batch in the world.

Nobu imageoverride image
8.5

Nobu

RESERVE A TABLE

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open table
$$$$310.317.9140
Hours:TUE
12PM-10PM

This is the flagship restaurant of the Nobu empire, complete with stunning ocean views, exorbitantly priced miso black cod, and a patio packed with celebrities in sunglasses. When you’re eating rock shrimp tempura at a beachside fortress that looks like it’s owned by a Bond supervillain, there’s never a dull moment. This is definitely one of the toughest reservations in LA, but the experience is worth the hassle of getting in—from the fantastic sashimi to the paparazzi sitting outside. If you can’t snag a table, but still want to visit a classic Malibu hangout, drive down PCH to Neptune’s Net for some equally stunning views and a bowl of creamy clam chowder.

Angelenos get really worked up over tacos. But if you ask us where to go eat some great ones on your first trip to town, we’ll point you in the direction of Sonoratown, a Northern Mexican-style taqueria with two locations in LA. What sets this counter-service operation apart are their housemade flour tortillas—they’re chewy, tender, and essentially melt in your mouth. We usually order the carmelo taco, which is loaded with smoky mesquite-grilled asada, pinto beans, and chiltepin salsa. But we also love their perfectly-sized chivichangas—mini burritos filled with braised meat, roasted chile peppers, and lots of molten cheese—all rolled up in those legendary flour tortillas and browned on a grill until glorious char marks show.

Republique is this city’s most famous brunch place—known to draw big crowds on weekdays and even bigger crowds on weekends. This all-day spot also offers dinner service, but we much prefer to snag a table inside their palatial dining hall with huge skylights during the day. Republique is widely known as a powerhouse of French pastries, and that's the real reason why you should stand in line for upwards of thirty minutes to eat here. Come early and splurge on a box of crackly kouign amann, creamy black sesame eclairs, and rich guava coconut cakes before they sell out. For the full brunch experience, order some french toast and sit underneath the castle-like archways as mobs of people scurry around your table.

If you’ve heard LA proper doesn’t have great Chinese food, just know it’s a lie. Sort of. The best Chinese restaurants here are in the San Gabriel Valley, a sprawling stretch of suburbs 20 minutes east of DTLA. Though a weekend of SGV exploration is something we highly endorse, as first-timers, you might be low on time or without the means to get there (i.e., a car). If that’s the case, make Sichuan Impression a priority. This busy Sichuanese spot originated in Alhambra, but now has locations in West LA and Tustin, meaning you’re never too far from one of their sprawling dining rooms. You’ll eat big plates of tea-smoked ribs, cumin-laced lamb on toothpicks, and silky mapo tofu. Beware though—spice levels are high here and they won’t be adjusted. Plan accordingly and maybe ask for a cup of ice. 

Tower Bar is best known for ice cream sundaes and enraged talent agents throwing cellphones into the pool, but this hotel restaurant and bar is also an idyllic place to drink many ounces of vodka and practice your eavesdropping skills. Located right on The Strip in West Hollywood, Tower Bar is an unmitigated joyful mess—a spot that makes people-watching at other sceney LA spots feel like a waste of time. Spend an hour here and you’ll see stressed-out managers sobbing in the corner, the Olsen twins sucking the youth out of anyone who gets too close, and all those agents desperately fishing their burner phones out of the pool. Tower Bar is a power lunch mecca, but our preference is to show up right at 6pm when they reopen for dinner, as there are always a few open tables and the sunset provides an ideal backdrop for the imminent drama to come.

Mini Kabob is a family-run institution located in the geographic heart of Glendale, a city that’s home to the one of largest Armenian immigrant communities in the world. Yes, the grilled kebabs at this takeout spot are excellent and the friendly mom-and-pop owners are an attraction unto themselves, but a meal here is also an excuse to go wild at the various Armenian markets and bakeries in the surrounding blocks, whether it's picking up fresh-baked lahmajoun at Sasoun Bakery or a bottle of Armenian brandy from Kozanyan Super Meat & Liquor. But back to Mini Kabob: our usual order is the combo plate, which comes with a ground chicken lule plus two shish kebabs, plus roasted jalapeños and tomatoes, hummus, raw onions with parsley (crucial), warm lavash bread, and rice. Better throw on some eggplant caviar and a tarragon soda, too.

Despite what you’ve gleaned from Bravo over the years, LA is one of the most diverse cities in the world, a place where over 230 different languages are spoken. If you want to experience how all that comes together on a menu, book a table at Here’s Looking At You. The menu at this fancy-ish spot in Koreatown pulls influence from LA in two ways, drawing from the different cultures that inhabit it—Mexican, Peruvian, Thai, Vietnamese, etc.—but also staying rooted in California produce and ingredients. Standout dishes include frog legs in spicy salsa negra, tamari-laden steak tartare, and crispy duck confit—plus excellent tiki-inspired cocktails from the bar.

If you have an image of what a “Los Angeles coffee shop” looks like, you probably just described All Time. Located just a few blocks south of Griffith Park in Los Feliz, All Time is a trendy all-day (get it?) cafe with a backyard patio, plenty of options made with peak season produce, and natural wine on the shelves. You’ll probably spot a celebrity while eating here. Although open for breakfast/brunch and dinner, we prefer to come during the day—nights can get expensive (about $150 per person) and besides, you’re here to soak in the California sun, eat a gorgeous salad, and contemplate moving to LA permanently.  

LA’s Koreatown is an immense, densely packed neighborhood that’s home to 2.7 square miles of tofu shops, late-night bars, and a multistory H-Mart. There are so many great Korean BBQ options, even locals can feel overwhelmed. Here’s where to start: Magal BBQ. This slightly under-the-radar spot offers tons of energy and quality grilled meats without having to wait in line for two hours. K-pop plays on TVs, the banchan—a generous spread of kimchi, salad, marinated pickles, and more—is fantastic, and the tabletop grill has a neat little perimeter for frying eggs. The move here is to skip the combo platters and order a la carte, specifically the marinated beef options and any pork that catches your eye.

Sceney rooftops are as quintessentially LA as farmers’ markets overflowing with gorgeous produce. This one, perched above the Santa Monica Proper Hotel, happens to be one of our favorites on the Westside. Calabra is a splashy Mediterranean restaurant with an indoor lounge, poolside patio, and curved couches that you can rent out for more privacy. The music is loud and people get dressed up to be seen sipping mai tais by the giant circular bar. Located a couple of blocks from the water, you’ll get ocean views, lots of design inspiration for your future apartment, and you might even ride up the elevator with an A-lister.

The San Gabriel Valley is like Lucy Liu’s IMDb page—extremely vast, home to mostly hits (Kill Bill, Charlie’s Angels, etc.), but also some misses (her Saturday Night Live appearance in 2000). In other words, you’ll need a guide. The sprawling region is filled with dozens of top-tier Chinese restaurants, and Lunasia is among the best: an extremely popular dim sum house in Alhambra serving glorious baskets of hargow, crispy shrimp rolls, and softball-sized shumai. Between the lazy susans and the dining room full of 20-somethings waiting to come back to life, there’s almost nowhere better for a slow-moving Sunday brunch

We consider some proper soul food essential eating for anyone visiting LA for the first time. And while it can be impossible to pick favorites, this classic spot in Inglewood is one you don’t want to miss. Since the early ‘80s, The Serving Spoon has been cooking a menu that is the epitome of Southern comfort, from grits and fried catfish to chicken drumettes and our favorite waffles in town. No matter what day of the week you visit, expect lines. But on the other side of that wait is a tremendous compilation of deep-fried and golden brown dishes that are named after Black celebrities like comedian Mo'nique and musician Stevie Wonder. If that’s not enough, the restaurant is owned by an adorable husband and wife team that will make even the toughest cynic feel romantic.

Home to the most Oaxacan restaurants outside of the country itself, Los Angeles is the unofficial U.S. capital of mole. The Southern Mexican state of Oaxaca, known for its rich Indigenous heritage and culinary traditions that date back centuries, has roots all over the city (there’s a superb City of Ghosts episode about it). And there’s no better place to join in on the party than Guelaguetza, a Koreatown institution where the palomas flow and there’s live mariachi music most nights. You'll find a very pretty, very colorful patio outside where families split large tlayuda platters and friends chat over assorted grilled meats. The place is also home to over 150 different types of mezcal and tequila, and (of course) some of the best mole in town.

Nearly a decade after it opened, Bestia remains one of the city’s most consistent hot spots. This Italian restaurant with lots of exposed brick and medieval-looking light fixtures almost single-handedly turned the Arts District into a dining destination and hasn’t taken its foot off the gas since. It’s not hard to see why the formula still works: the dining room feels buzzy and fun, the cocktails and wine list are stellar, and the food is gleefully rich, whether you go for the mussels with spicy 'nduja sausage, the roasted lamb neck with smoked anchovies, or a simple plate of pasta or pizza (even then, the toppings won’t be boring). And if you come with a group, definitely get the housemade salumi platter. In fact, the trickiest part about Bestia might be getting a reservation—the good news is this is a meal worth scheduling around.

photo credit: Holly Liss

Katsu-Ya review image
8.0

Katsu-Ya

$$$$(818) 985-6976
Hours:TUE
11:30AM-2PM5:30PM-10PM

Sushi Katsu-Ya is one of the most recognizable sushi brands in the world, with locations from LA Live to Dubai. Most of those locations, however, are franchised by a global nightlife corporation and cater to a stiletto-wearing club crowd. That’s not the case at the original location in Studio City. This strip mall spot is independently owned, meaning the prices are lower, the quality is higher, and the quiet, rustic space is filled with people who are actually there to eat good sushi. If you’re looking for a quintessential low-key sushi experience in LA, lunch at this Valley classic is not to be missed. Order the crispy tuna rice, a few baked crab rolls, and whatever cuts the chef behind the counter says are good that day. 

Eating street tacos at 1am in a random parking lot is an LA rite of passage, and while there are more great options than you can count, one place that always hits the spot is Tacos Leo. For starters, there are now eight different trucks around the greater LA area ranging from Echo Park to Northridge, to their original location in a Mid-City gas station. Plus, every location is open until around 2am on the weekends. Leo’s has a full taqueria menu with dishes ranging from torta cubanas to asada fries, but really, everyone is here for a plateful of their signature al pastor tacos. For a show before dinner, watch the skilled taqueros slice the marinated pork straight from the rotating spit, complete with a flick of pineapple tossed through the air onto each taco.

Porto’s is a family-run Cuban bakery that’s been around since the 1970s, but now has four locations across the Southland. From guava pastries to potato balls to our favorite Cubano in the city, Porto’s food is fantastic across the board, and it’s an ideal lunch spot when you don’t want to have another fight with your family about what to eat. If you’re already worried about missing LA too much after flying home, snag an extra box of pastries for the plane—it’ll help cure your sadness until your next trip. 

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