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The First Timer’s Guide To Eating In LA

PHOTO: Jakob Layman

Visiting LA for the first time? Obviously we have some opinions. Firstly, do not stay in Hollywood, even if your Aunt LeAnne says the motel she stayed at last year was “perfectly fine.” In no way could it ever be fine. Secondly, be prepared to be on very familiar terms with Lyft and Uber. Thirdly, maybe don’t do anything else but 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, with a weekend in front of us and a whole lot of options to sort through. Other than those two “meetings” you have on the calendar, we all know the main business at hand is to eat as much as possible in a 72-hour period.

Let this guide lead you.

The Spots

Gjusta

Venice
320 Sunset Ave
8.7
MAP

People who have lived in LA for a while like to talk about how LA is a city of neighborhoods. There’s no neighborhood that provokes more of a reaction than crystal and startup-filled Venice, and if you want to understand why that is, you should go eat lunch at Gjusta. This deli a few blocks back from the beach is big, busy, and kind of a pain in the ass. You have to take a number, wait approximately an eternity, order your food, and then wait an eternity again, but by the time you’re eating housemade cured fish and a burrata and tomato sandwich, you’ll have forgotten all about that. And probably be completely sold on Venice.

Mh Zh

Silver Lake
3536 W Sunset Blvd
9.2
MAP

If you’re visiting LA for the first time, chances are you’re staying west of the 405. The beach and Gjusta are nice and all, but at some point, be sure to venture east. When you do so, head straight to Mh Zh. This Mediterranean restaurant in Silver Lake is basically a glorified sidewalk cafe, with tiny wooden boxes to sit on and a menu written on the back of a brown paper bag. But the real selling point here is the food. Whether it’s hummus with pickles, grilled beets, or a perfectly-cooked ribeye, this is one of our favorite meals in the city and one that won’t break the bank either. They don’t take reservations, but you can grab a drink at Cliff’s Edge next door while you wait.

Photo: Jakob Layman

Elite Restaurant

Monterey Park
700 S Atlantic Blvd
8.5
MAP

Just east of downtown sits the San Gabriel Valley, a sprawling collection of suburbs where you’ll find some of the best Asian food on the West Coast. There’s a ton of ground to cover here, but Elite should be your starting point. This dim sum spot in Monterey Park is a bonafide institution where there are always lines out the door. The menu has over a 100 different things on it, so instead of fighting over what to order, just go for the golden cream bun, crispy shrimp rice noodle, steamed taro cake, pork shu mai, macau egg custard, and BBQ pork pastry.

Hinano Cafe

Venice
15 Washington Blvd
7.7
MAP

On a first trip to LA, it’s inevitable you’ll end up at the Venice Boardwalk, even if you’ll only last five minutes before needing a breather from the smoke-filled air and people who think they’re in Stomp. When you’re ready for that breather, head to Hinano. This dive bar on Washington is a much better representation of what Venice is, with sawdust on the floor, regulars at the bar, and some people playing pool in the back. They also have an extremely good burger that comes with a bag of chips.

Park's BBQ

Koreatown
955 S Vermont Ave
8.7
MAP

Koreatown is one of the largest neighborhoods in LA. You could eat at a good restaurant here every week for a year and barely scratch the surface. But since you’re only here for a few days, you need to go to the best of the best - Park’s. This Korean BBQ staple is a bit pricier than others in the area, but their high-quality meats and banchan are better than anywhere else. . This is your ideal big group dinner spot.

8.9
MAP

Yes, we talk about the weather a lot in Los Angeles. But that’s just because most of us are from places where you can’t go outside for seven months of the year, and we’re still in awe that we never have to put one of those puffy down jackets on. And when we truly want to revel in the fact that it’s 60 degrees in January, we eat at Salazar. This entirely outdoor restaurant in Frogtown is worth making the trip even if you’re on the Westside. Have a seat on the patio, drink a cocktail, and eat a lot of truly excellent tacos.

Porto's

Glendale
15 N Brand Blvd.
8.5
MAP

Porto’s is a family-run Cuban bakery that’s been around since the 1970s. From guava pastries to potato balls to our favorite cubano in the city, Porto’s food is fantastic across-the-board and an ideal easy lunch spot when you don’t want to fight with your family about what to eat again. With locations in Burbank, Glendale, and Downey, you’re never too far from one of these LA institutions.

8.8
MAP

You already know LA sushi is a thing, but what about Thai? It’s very much a thing. And while pretty much anything you stumble into in Thai Town will be good, you should not pass up what’s happening at Night + Market. It’s a casual spot on the Sunset Strip (there’s one in Silver Lake as well) that’s one of the best restaurant parties in LA. And the Thai food is fantastic. Order some papaya salad, some chicken wings, and a tower of Chang beer with friends - your Friday night is figured out.

Want a snapshot of the food scene in LA? Just take a lap around Grand Central Market and you’ll get the idea. The last several years have seen an influx of new vendors, but the market has managed to keep much of its original charm. On your first visit, we definitely recommend going for the carnitas tacos at Tacos Tumbras A Tomas, but most everything is good here - we would drive across town for the falafel at Madcapra, the pastrami at Wexler’s, and the panang curry at Sticky Rice. For the full breakdown, consult our Grand Central Market Guide while you’re waiting in line, and see how many places you can hit before you have to call a timeout.

Photo: Holly Liss

Animal

Hollywood
435 N. Fairfax Ave.
9.0
MAP

You know why we love Animal? Besides the fact that the food is incredible? We love it because it flies in the face of everything that Angelenos hold dear. Most meals at Animal go something like, “Oh, you had a green juice today? That’s wonderful. Here’s this pig ear salad.” Make this your number one dinner destination.

Jon & Vinny's

Fairfax
412 N. Fairfax Ave.
9.3
MAP

Still worried about eating that pig ear salad and what it might do for you waistline? Good. Now, here’s some pizza and pasta to go with it. The folks over at Animal opened up this modern Italian spot across the street, and it is glorious. Yes, the interior looks more like a thermal spa in Reykjavik than an Italian restaurant, but rest assured, you’re in very good hands here. Order the meatballs and the cavatelli and the LA Woman pizza.

Bay Cities

Santa Monica
1517 Lincoln Blvd.
8.9
MAP

Yes, we are telling you to go to an Italian deli in Santa Monica for a sandwich, knowing full well that you may be reading this from New York, or half Italian, or both. But any self-respecting LA resident will tell you that eating a Godmother from Bay Cities is a rite of passage.

Sqirl

Silver Lake
720 N. Virgil Ave.
8.9
MAP

Disclaimer: If you are considering a visit to Sqirl on a weekend, don’t. Unless you get there at 8am, you’re going to be waiting for the entire day for a piece of toast. If you are reading this on a Tuesday morning, proceed. Sqirl is best known for the things they do over a piece of bread, and inside a rice bowl, but the small cafe has other excellent things to start your day with as well. And on a weekday, you might actually get in.

Dan Tana's

West Hollywood
9071 Santa Monica Blvd
8.6
MAP

Dan Tana’s makes this list because it’s a true Hollywood classic, and where you go to eat a bunch of red-sauce pasta, watch celebrities get drunk, and realize there’s a lot more to this city than just probiotic salad bars and moon juice. You aren’t just gawking at those celebrities either - Dan Tana’s is small and cramped, so chances are you’re sitting right next to them, getting just as drunk as they are, and contemplating if you should order a chicken parm for the road or not.

Tacos Leo

Mid-Wilshire
1515 S LA Brea Ave
7.7
MAP

So, you might’ve heard LA has good tacos. We do. So many that you need an entire week (or three) to eat them all. If you’re short on time and need to pick one, make it Tacos Leo. This taco truck located in the parking lot of a gas station at La Brea and Venice Blvd. has great tacos across the board, but everyone’s here for one thing - the al pastor. Cooked on a rotating spit outside the truck, people stand and stare at this thing like it’s the Mona Lisa of meat. And it basically is.

Canter's Deli

Fairfax
419 N. Fairfax Ave.
8.0
MAP

Langer’s might make the best pastrami in town (and probably the world), but Canter’s isn’t too far behind. Plus, it’s open 24/7, meaning you can eat it when you’re hammered on a Saturday night and their pastrami reuben is your destiny. In a city that lacks quality late-night food, Canter’s more than pulls its weight. See you there.

In-N-Out Burger

Hollywood
7009 W Sunset Blvd
8.6
MAP

Yea, you’ve heard of In-N-Out. Maybe you’ve even been to one, in Vegas or (god forbid) Arizona. But you haven’t really had an In-N-Out burger until you’ve had one in LA. Pick any location you can find, say “double double, animal style” to anyone wearing a paper hat that will listen, and prepare for nirvana.

8.0
MAP

Let’s face it - LA is never going to be a pizza town. But that doesn’t mean we’re completely lacking great options either. Pizzeria Mozza is an LA classic for the simple fact that it’s never tried to copy anyone else. This is razor thin, LA-style (yep, we’re making that a thing) pizza with toppings that range from braised fennel and prosciutto to goat cheese and bacon. And everything else on the menu is just as delicious.

Salt & Straw

Venice
1357 Abbot Kinney Blvd

Salt and Straw may not be an LA original (thank you again, Portland), but it’s still the best ice cream being served in the city. Just don’t expect to come here looking for your simple scoop of chocolate. Flavors at Salt and Straw range from exotic to straight-up unheard of. Roasted strawberry coconut, avocado and Oaxacan fudge, and a black olive brittle and goat cheese that will change what you thought was possible for ice cream. And now with five locations citywide, you’re never far away from one.

Neptune's Net

Malibu
42505 Pacific Coast Hwy
7.7
MAP

No trip to LA is complete without a jaunt up PCH to Malibu. You’re here to catch a wave, track down Cher’s (completely incorrect) home address, and eat a lot of seafood. And while there are several great seafood shacks dotting the coast, your first move is always Neptune’s Net. The Malibu landmark is a PCH road trip fixture and has the lines to prove it. But its good seafood, great ocean views, and 1950’s Americana feel make it all worth it.

9.1
MAP

One of LA’s all-time greatest restaurants, and one that played a significant part in the rapid development of the still booming downtown Arts District. Just know that a meal at Bestia is not a casual or quick occasion. Make a reservation way in advance, set aside two hours and a few hundred bucks and do it correctly.

Mama Shelter

Hollywood
6500 Selma Ave
MAP

Obviously you want to soak up some rays while you’re in LA, but deep down the beach really grosses you out. You need a rooftop patio and you need it to be at Mama Shelter. The hotel rooftop in the heart of Hollywood is huge, with a lot of stuff to keep you entertained: a full restaurant, a separate bar area, foosball tables, movies at night, and an entire section of daybeds dedicated to napping. Weekends definitely require a reservation, but if you come on a weekday, you’ll walk right in.

Photo: Frank Wonho Lee

Sushi Park

West Hollywood
8539 W Sunset Blvd #20
9.5
MAP

There is a sign outside of Sushi Park, hanging near the door. It lists some things that you best not be expecting if you plan on eating there, including “NO Trendy Sushi, NO Takeout, and NO Spicy Tuna Roll.” So what do you get instead? An expensive but life-changing omakase that might include a few pieces of fish you’ve never seen or tasted before. Just don’t plan on documenting your experience. NO pictures are allowed either.

Spago

Beverly Hills
176 N Canon Dr
8.2
MAP

Spago is one of those classic LA restaurants you’d assume couldn’t possibly still be good. But Wolfgang Puck’s flagship restaurant is still very much worth checking out. Yes, this massive Beverly Hills spot is a total scene, but that’s why you’re here. Watch Jane Fonda sip Dom Perignon at 12:30pm, scarf down some off-menu salmon pizza and spicy tuna tartare cones, and sit back with big sunglasses pretending you also just closed that Marvel movie deal.

7.8
MAP

Home of the original French Dip sandwich. Be prepared to fight anyone you meet that tries to tell you that the title belongs to Phillipe’s sort-of rival Cole’s. This is where the real magic happens, a perfect roast beef sandwich on a perfect bun, perfect for dipping into beef juice. Don’t bother ordering anything else.

Absolutely insist on seeing a celebrity while you’re in LA? Head for Chateau Marmont, ask for a table in the courtyard, and be prepared for an Olsen sighting. Once you’ve checked that off your list, you’ll find that the food is way better than it needs to be, and that the big patio is the perfect place to spend an afternoon, preferably sipping rosé. Just don’t try for a photo opp with any of those stars - you’ll be asked to leave faster than the paparazzi are able to sniff out a Kardashian.

Photo: Chateau Marmont / Facebook
8.4
MAP

No trip to LA is complete without eating sushi, and Sugarfish is a perfect place to start. Started by the man who created the legendary Sushi Nozawa, Sugarfish now has locations across the city, each serving incredibly high-quality sushi that you’ll pay far below market for. As a matter of fact, at $32 for eight courses ($27 at lunch), this is the best deal in town, and one you should cross off your list.

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