The sprawl of Los Angeles can sometimes seem a daunting feat on an empty stomach, but thankfully the county features a rich patchwork of neighborhoods packed with phenomenal eating destinations -- so long as you’re willing to brave the traffic. We zig-zagged across the culinary landscape to bring you the best focal points and ranked them based on the density of exceptional and exciting eateries, giving bonus points for eclectic variety. Chances are you’ll be wondering about some of the smaller enclaves such as Little Ethiopia or the great Indian spots in Artesia, but we decided they were a bit too one-note. And while Long Beach undoubtedly has some great spots, we felt it hasn’t quite garnered enough destination restaurants.

Mariscos Jalisco | Flickr/dabruins07

17. Boyle Heights/East LA

Essential restaurants: Guisados, Mariscos Jaliscos, La Azteca Tortilleria, Vaka Burgers

If you’re looking for some of LA’s best tacos, tortas, and burritos -- in a town full of greats -- you’ll find a bounty of legends just east of the LA River. From the shrimp tacos dorados and aquachile of the Mariscos Jalisco truck to the fluffy tortillas of La Azteca Tortilleria’s burritos, it’s hard to go far without finding an unassuming goldmine. And new-school spots like the original location of Guisados with their rich stews and thick tortillas or the towering feasts of Vaka Burgers are helping to carry the siren call of the area’s delicious options further across LA. That said, the river still seems to stand as psychological barrier to many itinerant eaters, and there hasn’t been quite the build up of new eateries as the neighboring Arts District.

Howlin' Ray's

16. Chinatown

Essential restaurants: Pok Pok LA, Howlin’ Rays, Philippe The Original, The Little Jewel Of New Orleans

One of LA’s oldest food-centric destination, Chinatown is in the early stages of a dramatic resurgence after decades of neglect and with it comes an exciting and eclectic mix of options. Much of the recent excitement has been focused on Far East Plaza where you’ll find Roy Choi’s Chego, the coveted Nashville hot chicken of Howlin’ Ray's, the Taiwanese street food of recently opened Lao Tao, innovative eats coming from culinary incubator Unit 120, and several others. Just around the corner you’ll find hearty po-boys at The Little Jewel of New Orleans, and further down the road the iconic French dips of Philippe The Original. Wander in the other direction and you’ll find Portland’s famed Thai spot Pok Pok, while up the hill is Eastside Market Italian Deli, a classic remanent from LA’s former Little Italy. And if you’re feeling nostalgic, there’s always slippery shrimp at Yang Chow.

Recess Eatery

15. Highland Park

Essential restaurants: Maximiliano, Good Girl Dinette, Sonny’s Hideaway, El Huarache Azteca

This northeastern hood is full of plenty of old-school favorites, more recent foodie destinations, and what seems like a buzzy new opening every week. So while it’s an exciting place to eat, it hasn’t quite reached the top 10 (yet) -- and we suspect longtime locals are totally cool with that. At El Huarache Azteca, you’ll find the Mexico City-style huaraches -- sandal-shaped masa topped with beans, meat or veggies, crumbled cotija cheese, and other fixings. Maximiliano hooks you up with excellent wood-fired pizzas and handmade pastas, Good Girl Dinette has your American-diner-meets-Vietnamese comfort fare, while dimly lit Sonny’s Hideaway offers elevated gastropub bites. You’ll also want to keep an eye on recent openings like Ramen of York, Recess Eatery, and Cafe Birdie for your latest new spots.

Post & Beam | Post & Beam

14. South LA

Essential Restaurant’s: Phillip’s Bar-B-Que, Coni’Seafood, Orleans & York Deli, Post & Beam

While the geographic scope of South LA doesn’t make for a great walkable eating destination, the magnetism of the region’s top spots is hard to resist. The lure of slow-smoked goodness in the ribs and brisket of Phillip’s BBQ is undeniable, while the smoked marlin tacos and ceviche of Coni’Seafood are essentials. You’ll find amazing po-boys and subs at Orleans & York, towering patties at Hawkins House of Burgers, drool-worthy chicken & waffles at The Serving Spoon and Pann’s, and soul food classics at places like Post & Beam and Harold & Belle’s. On second thought, maybe a brisk walk would be advisable after such hearty eats.

Courtesy of Alimento

13. Silver Lake

Essential restaurants: Night + Market Song, Alimento, Cliff’s Edge, Cafe Stella

Silver Lake has consistently remained a reliable eating destination with a diverse range of options within walking distance, and that’s true now more than ever. Some of LA’s most creative Italian fare is going down at Alimento, while Thai street food has been taken to new heights at Night + Market Song (both places also happen to have two of the city’s best fried chicken sandwiches). The romantic, tree-covered patio of Cliff’s Edge remains a quintessential brunch destination, while French stalwart Cafe Stella has date night written all over it. And if you’re in need of a seafood fix, look no further than L&E Oyster and Knuckle & Claw.

Little Dom's

12. Thai Town/Little Armenia/Los Feliz

Essential restaurants: Jitlada, Carousel, Little Dom’s, Yuca’s, Messhall

With the curries and noodles of the only official Thai Town in the US overlapping with the bakeries and kabobs of Little Armenia, you already know you’re in a great place to eat. Add to that the nearby sidewalk patios and excellent eateries of pedestrian-friendly Los Feliz, and you won’t be walking far for your next memorable meal. The extensive offerings and off-menu Jazz burger of cult favorite Jitlada only scratches the surface of the neighborhood's Thai specialties. Down the street you’ll find the lamajunes (essentially mini Armenian pizzas) of Taron Bakery or the bountiful kebab platters of Carousel and the rotisserie chicken of crowd favorite Zankou. Or you could meander up Vermont or Hillhurst avenues for a smorgasbord of neighborhood spots like taco stand legend Yuca’s or the adjacent date/brunch spots of Little Dom’s and Messhall.

Barrel and Ashes | Jeff Miller/Thrillist

11. Ventura Blvd

Essential restaurants: The Bellwether, Barrel & Ashes, Ramen by Omae, Asanebo

While you could roam the vast expanse of the San Fernando Valley in search of good eats, we find that Ventura Blvd serves as an excellent divining rod to navigate the Valley’s best. From the exceptional omakase of Asanebo or the smoky brisket and tri-tip of Barrel & Ashes in Studio City, to the burnt miso broth of Ramen by Omae and the charred octopus and other internationally minded fare at neighborhood darling The Bellwether, there’s no shortage of top-shelf options along the boulevard.

Hatchet Hall

10. Culver City

Essential restaurants: Father’s Office, Lukshon, The Cannibal, Hatchet Hall

Culver City seems to have a habit of going through waves of boom and bust every few years with several notable restaurants closing in the last few months alone. Thankfully though, some classic spots have held on while new exciting newcomers -- especially on the outskirts of Downtown Culver -- show promise of staying power, helping to keep it in the top 10. Debate all you want about the city’s best burger, but Father’s Office really kicked off the recent gourmet burger trend and is still a worthy contender, while Chef Sang Yoon's neighboring spot Lukshon remains a go-to spot for upscale Southeast Asian greatness. If you’re in search of house-cured meats, nose-to-tail feasts, and an insane selection of craft beer, then make your way recent NY-transplant The Cannibal. And if you’re in need of Southern-inspired fare with a twist like cornbread with shishitos or fried quail with persimmons, look no further than Hatchet Hall.

Love & Salt | Andrea Bricco

9. South Bay

Essential restaurants: Love & Salt, MB Post, The Standing Room, Ichimi Ann Bamboo Garden

All right, we get it: the South Bay is a large area and each city has a collection of hits (and misses), but collectively the culinary power of the region is stronger. So, let’s just agree to split the Uber and eat some incredible food. Whether it’s the addictive bucatini and duck egg pizza at Love & Salt, or the mussels with green curry at MB Post, the ridiculous burgers from The Standing Room or the legendary udon from Ichimi Ann Bamboo Garden, we’re down for a food tour through the South Bay any day.

Courtesy of Plan Check

8. Sawtelle/Westwood Blvd

Essential restaurants: Tsujita, Plan Check, Farsi Café, Attari Sandwich Shop

If you were to be blindfolded and dropped along Sawtelle Blvd. somewhere between Olympic and Santa Monica boulevards, you’d have a great chance of stumbling upon an excellent meal (assuming you’re okay eating blindfolded). While officially known as Sawtelle Japantown and home to excellent sushi, Japanese curries, izakaya spots and some of the cities best ramen at places like Tsujita, you’ll also stumble upon great choices for Taiwanese, Chinese, Korean, and Vietnamese eats. You can even grab burgers at Plan Check or stellar Southern vittles at Flores & Sons. Then it’s just a short Uber ride over to Westwood Blvd, along a stretch known as Little Tehran, where you’ll find Persian kabobs and much more at places like Farsi Café, and ridiculously good tongue sandwiches at Attari Sandwich Shop.

Animal | Jeff Miller/Thrillist

7. West Hollywood/Beverly Grove/Fairfax

Essential restaurants: Lucques, Connie & Ted’s, Animal, Terrine

The area bordered by Doheny Dr and Fairfax Ave to the west and east, and Sunset Blvd and West Third St to the north and south, harnesses some seriously culinary star power. When you’ve got places like acclaimed Cal-Mediterranean bistro Lucques, the outstanding seafood of Connie & Ted’s, the carnivore-centric Animal, and the exceptional French-leaning fare and patio of Terrine, you’re in good company. Sure, you have to dodge some unsatisfying trendy spots, but more often than not, you’ll score big in these parts.

Courtesy of Cassia

6. Santa Monica/Malibu

Essential restaurants: Cassia, Bay Cities, Malibu Seafood, Nobu

While you may need to occasionally dodge hordes of tourists, you can go from fantastic high-end spots in Santa Monica like Cassia and Tar & Roses to trusted lunch legends like Bay Cities and Tacos Punta Cabras and all points in between without much trouble. If you’re in need of a seafood fix, head further up the PCH to the fish shack with a view Malibu Seafood or go for the sushi gold with Nobu. Sure, the traffic can be brutal at times, but the pay off around here is worth it.

Kang Ho Dong Baekjeong

5. Koreatown

Essential restaurants: Kang Ho Dong Baekjeong, POT, Guelaguetza, Beer Belly

Koreatown has a mind-bending plethora of incredible spots to eat that aren’t just limited to KBBQ legends like Kang Ho Dong Baekjeong or more modern spins like Roy Choi’s POT -- even though those alone are worth the visit. You can also feast on Oaxacan moles and tlayudas at Guelaguetza, or spicy wings and duck fat fries at Beer Belly. Or maybe you’re in need of the excellent Salvadorian pupusas at Jaraguá, or the $1 oysters at EMC Seafood & Raw Bar. Any direction you head, there’s a huge range of delicious feasts in store.

Courtesy of Din Tai Fung

4. San Gabriel Valley/Pasadena

Essential restaurants: Din Tai Fung, Chengdu Taste, Union, Pie 'n Burger

You could devote weekend after weekend to exploring the Chinese, Taiwanese, and other Asian eateries of the San Gabriel Valley like Din Tai Fung and Chendu Taste, and still feel like you were just scratching the surface of the tremendous offerings. (Also, can you invite us along next weekend?) And if you’re traveling out the 210 freeway to explore all of those gems, you might as well carve out time to explore the wealth of exceptional eats in Pasadena, like chef Bruce Kalman’s stunning porchetta at Union or the irresistible combo of classic mainstay Pie ‘n Burger.

Papilles

3. Hollywood

Essential restaurants: Pizzeria Mozza, Trois Mec, Baroo, Papilles

While you might think more of clubs and crowds when venturing into Hollywood, the neighborhood is packed with some of LA’s most exciting new eateries, and the numbers are only growing. From the incredible pizzas, pastas, and cured meats of the Mozza mini-empire, it’s just a short walk to the one-two French punch of Trois Mec and Petit Trois. And speaking hidden strip-mall gems, the fermented wonders and grain bowls of Baroo and the tiny French spot Papilles are worth venturing off the worn path to explore.

Courtesy of Leona

2. Venice

Essential restaurants: Gjelina, The Tasting Kitchen, Scopa Italian Roots, Leona

Venice seems to be in a perpetual state of reinvention -- a thrilling or devastating trend depending on whom you ask -- but one thing remains constant: a high density of creative and delicious spots to eat. From the Neapolitan pies and patio of Gjelina to the charcuterie and seafood for The Tasting Kitchen, and the hearty rabbit tagliatelle of Scopa Italian Roots or the lamb belly wontons and kimchee latkes of Leona, you’d be well served to hop on a bicycle and cruise through Venice on a culinary tour.

Broken Spanish

1. Downtown/Arts District/Little Tokyo

Essential restaurants: Grand Central Market, Broken Spanish, Bestia, Daikokuya

While it may seem unfair to turn over the No. 1 spot to a three-way tie, the tremendous eating potential of these three neighborhoods is difficult to parse out due to their proximity. It seems like nearly every week an exciting new spot opens in Grand Central Market, while recent Downtown openings like Broken Spanish have drawn not only local praise, but deserved national attention. The streets and warehouses of the Arts District no longer fall quiet at night, but are fertile ground for successes like Bestia and Factory Kitchen. And you’d be remiss in planning a feast Downtown without considering the must-visit classics like ramen at Daikokuya or Hama Sushi.

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Danny Jensen is the Thrillist LA interim editor who can be found crisscrossing his way through these neighborhoods most days. Politely tell him how he missed your favorite neighborhood on Twitter and Instagram.

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