10 Restaurants Outside of LA That Are Totally Worth the Drive
The LA basin is big, but the tempura, tacos, sour beer, and wild boar on this list are worth making the trek.
In LA, everywhere is a suburb to someone. There are Westsiders who have never been to Alhambra, foothills folks who visit San Diego beaches more often than Santa Monica, and Valley people who never make it past where the 134 forks off from the 101.
So think of this less as a list labeling your town a suburb, and more as a guide to restaurants scattered around the outer edges of the LA basin and just beyond, the kind of places that are worth the drive from anywhere. And if you happen to live near one or more of them, well, lucky you. Here are 10 restaurants that are worth the inflated gas money:
It might be hard to imagine baked goods that are worth the slow crawl on the 710 down to Long Beach, but if there was ever a concha worth crawling for, Gusto’s is it. The organic panaderia on Long Beach’s happening 4th street uses masa madre—their naturally leavened sourdough base—for all of their baked goods, which gives everything from breads to pastries just the right subtle tang. The Nixtamal Queen, their take on a Kouign-Amann, includes laminated layers of that masa madre mixed with heirloom corn that they nixtamalize in house, which gives it a distinct corn counterpoint to all of the usual butter and sugar. It helps that they also have a fantastic beverage program, with killer Cafe de Olla, Aguas Frescas, and hot chocolate; and their Buckwheat Chocolate Chip Cookie is among the best in the area.
How to book: Walk-ins only.
Yes, it’s a little unfair to lump these places together, but if you’re out in Riverside it’s worth cruising through the whole complex. There are a lot of great options in the Food Lab, so maybe pick up some Gumbo at Dhat Creole, a couple pieces of Hot Chicken at Baba’s, and some Chicano Tacos on handmade tortillas from Mi Vida Gorda. Take a stroll around charming downtown Riverside, maybe amble through the historic Riverside Mission Inn, and then head back to the Food Lab for a Cafe de Olla cold brew from Mi Cafecito or something local and hoppy from BeerFarm, and an order of Beignets from Dhat Creole for the ride home.
How to book: Walk-ins accepted everywhere, or order ahead online for pickup or local delivery.
Chorizo is ordinary, on almost every taqueria menu citywide, but what Humberto Raygoza is doing at The Chori-Man in San Pedro is anything but. Raygoza is a fourth-generation chorizo maker, who learned his craft from family in Zacatecas before opening as a door-to-door chorizo salesman in 2013. Word spread of his Zacatecano Red and Tolucan Green Chorizo, and he moved his operation into a small storefront deli and restaurant in San Pedro. Now they serve tacos, quesadillas, and one of the best breakfast burritos in town, packed full of that outstanding chorizo. The red is more familiar, earthy and gently spiced with guajillo chiles, and the green is a little more unusual, herbal and bright with poblano peppers and spices; both are excellent tucked into a tortilla with eggs, potatoes, and cheese. They also travel well, in case you’re planning to pop down to one of the gorgeous hidden coves along the Palos Verdes Peninsula. Bonus points for Colossus Bread, an excellent bakery which shares a central wall with The Chori-Man.
How to book: Walk in, or order online for pickup.
Even if you live in Calabasas or Agoura Hills, a trip up to Cornell, tucked away in the Malibu Hills, feels like a breath of fresh air. The dry river bed of Peter Strauss Ranch runs through the area, and even after the devastating Woolsey Fire of 2019, it is gorgeous and verdant, undeniably out of town. The Old Place restaurant itself is Cornell’s former general store and post office, a rough-hewn wood building that belongs on the set of an old Western, and the menu is its perfect match. Everything is cooked on a live grill that only burns local oak, culled from the mountains nearby and often split by owner Morgan Runyon himself. That muscular smoke permeates the air, the walls, and the food, from the signature Steak and Loaded Baked Potatoes to the Grilled Mushrooms and Sourdough Toast. Hours are short and they haven’t re-opened the dining room, so for now you order takeout and find a seat at one of their outdoor tables, but that only makes it feel more like a vacation.
How to book: Walk-ins only for outdoor dining and takeout.
It may not strike you as a natural pairing, but it turns out there are few things that go better with Oxnard’s crisp beachy air than a heaping pile of carnitas. Carnitas El Rey is a small taqueria at the eastern edge of Oxnard’s pedestrian-friendly center, before the town peters out into train tracks and warehouses and then farmland; it is also a true specialist, where the question is not what to order but how much. You can order by the pound or order individual tacos, and there are some simple sides like rice, beans, and pickled carrots with chiles, but that’s about it. Order a little more than you think you should and take your hefty tray down to the dunes to drink in some sun, sand, and costillas.
How to book: Walk-ins or place takeout orders by phone at 805-290-8794.
There are plenty of places to get good tempura, but getting great tempura is a rare treat. At Tendon Tempura Carlos Jr., Chef Carlos Pinto’s temple to fried food, great tempura is all they serve. You can order pieces individually or you can get a combo plate, you can get it with soba on the side or served over rice, but in any permutation you will get fresh-fried fish and veggies with a batter that is perfectly light. Shrimp, pumpkin, and shishito peppers are the go-tos, but to truly maximize your experience make sure you get something with that tempura egg. It is a minor miracle, a crisp, fried shell around a still-liquid yolk, perfectly cooked such that it oozes out just so when you break it over a bowl of rice. Stir it up and then douse with the house-made tare, a sauce that Chef Pinto created based on one he learned as a chef at a tempura shop in Tokyo. As you might imagine, it all pairs exceedingly well with a midday beer; you’ve earned it, I’m sure.
How to book: Walk in or call 424-271-7004 for takeout.
You’re already driving a ways from LA proper to get here, so it only feels natural to let your meal take you even further south and west across the ocean. Jus’Poke is a tiny poke shop right on busy PCH as it blows through Redondo Beach, but it’s about as close as you can get to the original Hawaiian dish around here—you won’t find bells, whistles, or truffled yuzu albacore, just a long deli-style counter with trays of poke in classic varieties, served with Seaweed Salad and a big scoop of rice. The fish is great quality and the marinades are punchy, so it makes the perfect takeout lunch to carry along and eat on the sand at RAT beach, just a few minutes down the road.
How to book: Walk in or order online.
It isn’t a destination list without LA’s OG destination spot, Neptune’s Net, the Southland’s go-to place for fried fish, cold beer, and great people watching for almost 70 years. The roadhouse-style restaurant is nestled between the mountains, the beach, and the Ventura County line, so it attracts a wide variety of surfers, hikers, bikers, and families. Yes, it can be a mob scene, and yes, it’s touristy as hell, but that’s half the fun. Grab a cold craft beer, a plate of fried shrimp, and settle in. Then maybe take a walk over to the ocean to check out the windsurfers across the street.
How to book: Walk-ins only.
The Rancho Cucamonga business park that houses Sour Cellars looks perfectly typical for a brewery. There are rows of anonymous warehouses in an area chock full of them, plenty of parking and some understated signage. But when you step inside, you are whisked a world away from the usual big windows and blonde wood; this is not the place to come kick back with your bros and watch the game. Instead, the vibe is like if your aunt’s book club met at the house from What We Do In The Shadows, and the beers are the perfect match. Sour Cellars, as you might imagine, makes only sour beers, most of them spontaneously fermented and aged in oak barrels in the Belgian tradition, often with an infusion of fruit like boysenberry, nectarine, or cactus pear. The beers are precise creations, focused and intensely flavorful, sometimes delicate but never weak, and—as with the tasting room itself—utterly unlike any other brewery within a reasonable radius.
How to book: Walk-ins only for the tasting room, bottles also available for shipping within California.
About 100 years ago, the Dodrill family expanded their gas station along the old Sierra Highway to include a roadside cafe. Some 50 years later, Juan Alonso bought the cafe and turned it into a French restaurant, and Le Chéne has been going strong in Santa Clarita Valley as Agua Dulce’s finest dining ever since. The menu is big and skews classic, with Escargot, Pate, and plenty of proteins done almondine, au poivre, meunière, or provençale. There is also a strong selection of game meat, elk and rabbit, buffalo and boar; it feels a fitting nod to Agua Dulce’s cowboy culture, a matter of course out here in a way that would be surprising back in LA proper. Perhaps most important of all, the wine list is expansive, featuring labels from local wineries and old-world heavy hitters alike. There’s no better way to finish your day of hiking at Vasquez Rocks than pairing Elk Chops with a Burgundian Banger.
How to book: Reservations can be booked via their website.