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


The First Timer’s Guide To Eating In LA

These restaurants will help you get acquainted with Los Angeles.

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.




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. This tiny Virgil Village shop pumps out bagels that are (gasp) even better than the ones made in New York City. Needless to say, a trip here 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.

The Apple Pan might be LA’s most iconic burger joint, second only to In-N-Out. This diner in Cheviot Hills hasn’t changed much since it opened in 1947, with classic red leather chairs, cooks wearing soda jerk hats, and plaid wallpaper that was on trend the year Singin’ In The Rain premiered. The menu is virtually the same, too: tuna melts, their famous banana cream pie, and the delicious–and often divisive–hickory burger. This Apple Pan original has a distinctive sweet-tangy glaze that’s somewhere between ketchup and barbecue sauce. You won’t find anything like it elsewhere in town, and, most importantly, you’re eating inside a true historic landmark that feels timeless. 

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.

You’ve probably heard LA has great sushi—we can confirm the rumors. And because deciding on a place can lead to long-term family fights, make it easy on yourself and go to Sushi Gen. This classic Little Tokyo sushi bar is rightly famous for its $23 lunch time sashimi special: a platter of premium fish, plus rice, soup, and pickles. It’s so popular, crowds line up well before the restaurant opens at 11am just to order it. It’s only available in certain areas of the dining room, though, so if they’re fully booked when you get there, just sit at the bar instead. You can’t order the sashimi platter, but you’ll have access to all the daily nigiri and hand rolls, which are every bit as good as the sashimi.

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.

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.

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. 

Located right on The Strip in West Hollywood, Tower Bar is an unmitigated joyful mess—a spot that makes people-watching at other scene-y 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. 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.

Don’t worry if you missed your exit on the I-10 (twice), you’re probably still less than 20 minutes away from an Angel’s Tacos. With 12 locations between Long Beach and Sylmar, Angel’s remains one of LA’s most consistently great taco stand operations, with pressed-to-order tortillas, huge trompos of juicy al pastor, and bright salsas that make your lips tingle. Both the braised cabeza and ultra-crispy asada are excellent, and be sure to get at least one of them inside a crispy, gooey quesotaco that quickly kisses the griddle. Yes, there’s no seating, but when in LA, do as the Angelenos do (eat on your car).

Every inaugural trip to LA should include a drive up PCH to gawk at the beaches, the mountains, and the cryptocurrency mansions. It should also include a stop at Malibu Seafood for lunch. This stretch of coastline has a handful of great roadside seafood shacks like Reel Inn and Neptune’s Net, but this classic spot is the most consistent of the bunch. From fish and chips to fried calamari, everything here is fresh, hearty, and exactly what you want after a day at the beach. There will definitely be a line on the weekends, but who cares? The sun is out, there’s sand in your hair, and you can smell the ocean from your spot in line.

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 types of mezcal and tequila, and (of course) some of the best mole in town.

Sceney rooftops are as quintessentially LA as farmers’ markets overflowing with gorgeous produce. But this one, located on top of the Waldorf Astoria in Beverly Hills, offers some of the most impressive skyline views in the city. You’ll take a very shiny elevator up 12 floors to get here, and come face-to-face with a crowd that looks extremely ready for its close-up. The food here is fairly unremarkable (and expensive, obviously), so we recommend treating Rooftop by JG like a very luxurious bar, especially if you’re in the mood for sparkling wine or a martini at sunset. You will need a reservation for a table on weekends, but during weekday Happy Hour, the place is usually wide open for walk-ins.

There’s a whole universe of great food in LA’s Koreatown, but if it’s your first time, most everyone will tell you to eat Korean barbecue. We couldn’t agree more. Start by heading to the OG: Soot Bull Jeep. One of the only KBBQ restaurants that still cooks over charcoal, this old-school spot is famous for its tender marinated pork ribs, plus thick cuts of ribeye and short rib. The grills give the meat a charred flavor, which goes great with the simple banchan spread. It’s also one of the more laid-back KBBQ places in town, so expect a dining room packed with families and regulars—all of whom have made peace with their clothes smelling like a campfire afterward.

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. 

Funke is the third restaurant from the chef behind Felix and Mother Wolf, and it's arguably the biggest and splashiest of the bunch. Located in a historic Art Deco building a short walk from the Beverly Hills sign, the three-story Italian restaurant centers around a large glass pasta lab that provides some live theater. The menu is mostly a greatest hits of pastas and pizzas from the chef's other two restaurants, plus a handful of grilled steak and fish plates. When you're in the mood to put on nice clothes and have a blowout Italian meal, this is where to do it. And if you don’t want to wait for a reservation, try the walk-in-only rooftop bar.

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photo credit: Jakob Layman

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