You love going out to eat and feel pretty confident in your LA restaurant knowledge. But there’s always that one person in your life - maybe it’s a roommate, or Eric from accounting - who has somehow managed to eat everywhere. You’re terrified to make a dinner plan with them because you don’t want to be ridiculed for choosing a place for plebeians. Relax. This is LA, and you have plenty of options. Here is a list of lesser-known spots both old and new that are exciting but not mainstream. Your move, Eric.
Located right on Sunset Blvd. in the heart of Echo Park, Bar Avalon is in one of the most restaurant-dense neighborhoods in the city, and yet, this wine bar/restaurant is still a complete secret. You can certainly come here during the day and snag an excellent beef tongue Reuben, but Bar Avalon is at their best during dinner. Delicious, interesting food (including our favorite roast chicken in town), wine for any budget, and a warm atmosphere that feels like you’re eating at your friend’s house - Bar Avalon has all the ingredients to be a neighborhood staple, so go with your snotty co-workers now, before they claim to have discovered it first.
That guy Trevor in your on-camera class loves telling you that the best food in LA is in strip malls, but you already knew that. Plus, you’re fairly certain that he hasn’t been to one of the greatest strip mall spots in town - Biriyani Kabob House. Located in Little Bangladesh on the northern fringe of Koreatown, this order-at-the-counter Indian/Bangladeshi/Pakistani restaurant is the kind of place you take friends to once, then two days later they’re texting you to go back. As the name suggests, biriyani and kabobs are definitely house specialties here, but you definitely can’t leave without getting a few curries as well. The spicy nali nihari (curry stew) is a must.
Alhambra is home to some of the most well-known, iconic Chinese restaurants in LA - Kang Kang is not one of them. This tiny spot is much more of a cafeteria than an actual food court, but those details are irrelevant when the food is this good. The menu is large and covers a lot of ground, but your focus should be on the dumplings and beef roll. The fried bao is easily the most popular dish here (it’s on every table), and while it’s very good, we prefer the slightly sweet steamed crab and pork bao even more. Cash only.
If you have to listen to your coworkers fight about their favorite shawarma spots again, you’re calling HR. Here’s our tip: Take them to Furn Saj, then watch them realize this family-run bakery in Granada Hills is way better than the places they were screaming about. The menu has over 70 items on it, but we recommend snagging one of their giant shawarma platters, then spending some time exploring their baked goods case. The saroukh (cheese, onion, and parsley-filled bread) is crunchy, savory, and just a little spicy, and you can wash it all down with some rice pudding at the end.
The Old Place is one of LA’s most iconic restaurants, but due to their remote location up in the Santa Monica Mountains, many people haven’t even heard of them - let alone eaten there. That’s good news for you and the new guy you’re seeing who claims he’s eaten at every steakhouse on La Cienega. This historic saloon (it’s been standing since the late 1880s) feels like you stepped into the first level of Westworld, but instead of killer robots, expect good beer and wine, live music, and a steak that puts any on La Cienega to shame.
You just matched with someone who has “sushi snob” in their bio, so you know you can’t go to Sugarfish until you’re exclusive. In the meantime, plan a date at Sushi I-Naba. The tiny spot in Manhattan Beach feels less like a sushi bar and more like a meeting of the Secret Society Of Sushi. The room is about the size of a toolshed, the BYOB policy is liberal - in part, we suspect, so you can share a drink with the chef - and the excellent fish on the menu isn’t just rare, it’s presented in a lacquered box that makes it feel like it’s part of an initiation rite.
As you walk into Banadir Somali in Inglewood, you’ll realize quickly that you aren’t just eating at a restaurant, you’re experiencing life inside a bona fide community center, where everyone from the neighborhood congregates on a daily basis. The fact they’re also serving some of the best Somali food in LA is merely a reason to always show up hungry. Banadir has a super-small menu of breakfast and lunch/dinner options, but if you arrive around 11am, you’ll be able to order from both sides of the menu. Our favorite dishes are the goat and rice, ful (a hearty bean stew), and as much anjero - a slightly sweet, crepe-like bread - as we can get our hands on.
There is no shortage of fun group-dinner spots in Koreatown, but Tokyo Hamburg is one of our favorites - and certainly less known than the nearby KBBQ staples. This rowdy Japanese restaurant feels like a party from the moment you walk in - pop music blasting over the speakers, beer and sake being chugged at a Friday night pace (even if it’s Tuesday), and the smell of burger patties sizzling on individual stone grills. They’re basically a DIY smashburger situation, and though it seems a bit gimmicky, the meat itself is fantastic and exactly what you want to be putting into your body before a long night of drinking.
Your co-worker Jeanine loves to talk about all of the pricey tasting menus she’s experienced across the globe, but when you mentioned Dialogue in Santa Monica, her face went blank. Despite the fact that they opened in 2017, Dialogue’s hidden location on The Third Street Promenade has kept the place somewhat mysterious. The tiny, bare-bones space isn’t particularly noteworthy and dinner for two here will set you back about $600. But if money’s not an issue tonight (is it ever for Jeanine?), this 20ish-course meal is surprisingly unpretentious and full of hyper-modern food that’s truly delicious.
This private supper club has been roaming around the Eastside since 2011, and though they’ve officially settled into a permanent residence in Los Feliz, it’s still very difficult to eat here. The best strategy to secure a dinner reservation is to stay informed via their mailing list and then proceed to bug them (via email) until space becomes available. There are only a few dinners each month, which involve a group of chefs freestyling a meal where seafood is the star of the menu. It’s also entirely BYOB, and the six-course, hyper-modern dinner is unlike anything you and your friends have experienced before.
Located on a stretch of North Hollywood generally reserved for car mechanics and acting studios, Cahuenga General Store feels stepping into another world. Or at the very least, the mid-1800s. The all-wood floors are old and creaky, there are chairs hanging from the ceiling, and there’s homemade soap on the shelves. It’s not until you spot the cash register in the back that you realize you’re still in modern-day LA - and at a coffee/sandwich shop. The 30-item menu can be a little overwhelming at first, but you’ll be happy as long as you order anything that involves the house-made pesto. If you hang out long enough, you’ll catch some live music on the stage in the corner.
Otafuku is a family-run Japanese restaurant in Gardena that treats soba noodles like a science. The three kinds of soba served here vary in size, texture, and taste, but all are made daily in-house from flour that’s imported from Japan. Our favorite is usually the all-white seiro, but whatever you choose will be served cold on a bamboo plate with a tiny dish of garlic soy sauce for side-dipping. It’s light, refreshing, and unlike anything we’ve had in LA.