The 27 Most Essential LA Food Experiences
From numbing mala dumplings to taco crawls, you can’t call yourself an Angeleno until you’ve tried all of these
It is a rite of passage for every Angeleno to be badgered by visiting friends, relatives, friends of relatives, relatives of friends, and sometimes by random strangers on the internet who demand to know where to eat on their trip to LA. It’s an understandable impulse—LA is a stunningly good food city, and dishes that become popular here often pave the way for culinary trends that bounce around the country.
More than that, our restaurants are a lens through which we experience the city. They’re an excuse to travel across town, to dive into neighborhoods and cultures, to experience diverse ways of living and being and moving through the world. LA’s restaurants are creative and courageous and spectacular, whether you’re looking for hot new places or classic institutions, high-end tasting menus or chain food, buzzy pop-ups or a comforting breakfast. So we’ve put 27 of the city’s most essential food and dining experiences all together in one list. At best, you may encounter something that changes your perspective; at worst, you’ll have a damn good meal.
Try creative modern barbecue with a multicultural LA spin
For a long time LA was considered a barbecue desert. It was always a mischaracterization—we’ve had great barbecue since the ’70s at least, and long before then if you count Santa Maria barbecue—but over the last half-dozen years or so the scene has exploded with new talent bringing clever, personal ideas to the art of smoked meats. Many of them started as underground pop-ups, several of which gained enough of a following to put down roots in brick-and-mortar spaces, and all of the best options are presenting their own unique spin on the genre. Try Moo’s Craft Barbecue for Texas classics with an Angeleno twist, Smoke Queen for Malaysian-Chinese inspiration, A’s BBQ for that East Los soul, Battambong BBQ for a Cambodian touch, AGL’s for purist Texas stuff and regular specials, and so many more.
How to book: Most places take orders in advance, and the pop-ups generally post locations on Instagram ahead of time.
Eat a wood-grilled steak in a historic post office at The Old Place
Cornell, Santa Monica Mountains
Everyone thinks about the asphalt sprawl of LA, the 14-lane 405 freeway and the flat grid of the valley, but it’s easier than people realize to get up and out of the city. The Santa Monica Mountains are a spectacular coastal range that is readily accessible, and it’s a pleasantly winding drive up to Cornell, the small unincorporated community which is home to The Old Place. The restaurant has been open as such since 1970, when the late actor, writer, chef, and man-about-town Tom Runyon converted it from a shuttered general store and post office. The rustic wood-paneled restaurant regularly hosted celebrities like Steve McQueen, Bob Dylan, and Sam Peckinpah in addition to roughneck locals and bikers cruising the mountains, and that fun and rambunctious spirit is intact today under the stewardship of Runyon’s son Morgan. The food is wildly transportive, cooked over local red oak on a giant grill that perfumes the dishes, the restaurant, the parking lot, and your clothes with the tang of smoke. The muscular cowboy cooking includes steaks, grilled vegetables, stew, mussels, and a perfect wine and beer list.
How to book: Reservations available for bar seating through their website.
Dive into a bowl at legendary Pho 79
There is excellent Vietnamese food to be found all over the LA basin, but it doesn’t get more iconic than the jewel of Garden Grove, Pho 79. The 40-year-old restaurant was one of the first places to introduce beef pho to the area, and it has a James Beard Award, a Michelin Bib Gourmand, and a legion of longtime fans to its name. The oxtail pho is the restaurant’s best-loved dish, and it is magnificent, rich and pungent with a snap of anise. The rest of the menu is worth exploring too, including the rice dishes, papaya salads, spring rolls, and Vietnamese desserts, but it is that pho that keeps the lines long and the dining room buzzing.
How to book: Walk in only.
Get verklempt over pastrami at Langer’s Deli
You read a lot about the #19, the iconic sandwich from the 75-year-old deli by MacArthur Park. There are rhapsodic paragraphs splashed all over the internet about the combination of pastrami, Swiss cheese, cole slaw, and Russian dressing on Langer’s warm sourdough, and if you go on a weekend you will see exclamations of delight popping over the head of every booth like action onomatopoeia in a vintage comic book. You read less about the rest of the menu, and that’s a bit of a shame—they have the full gamut of Jewish deli cuisine, and much of it is well-executed in its own right. There’s matzo ball soup, egg salad, chopped liver, corned beef hash, and so much more—each of which makes a great accompaniment to a pastrami sandwich, which you really should get on its own, with just a smear of mustard, at least the first time you go. Then you can start messing with coleslaw and Russian dressing and all that nonsense.
How to book: No reservations, but you can order online for pickup or delivery.
Turn your night around with a breakfast burrito from Lucky Boy
There are plenty of good breakfast burritos in LA, but there are a lot fewer breakfast burritos that are available until midnight 363 days per year, and none that have as much clarity of purpose as the one at Lucky Boy. The Lucky Boy breakfast burrito is not innovative or elevated, it’s just a properly executed delivery method for an absolute pile of breakfast food—a mound of potatoes with some crispy edges, two generous fistfuls of bacon, a carton of eggs scrambled hard, and a pile of cheese that is sometimes only half melted, but in a good way. You can get it with avocado (you should), and it comes with a cup or three of weird salsa the color of which swings between a deep olive green and the muddy brown of a High Sierra lakebed, depending on the day. When it’s all rolled up together it creates a rough-and-ready masterpiece, a meal to cure a hangover, a bad mood, or just plain old hunger.
How to order: Walk-ins accepted, and they sometimes take phone orders at 626-793-0120, depending on how the day’s going and who’s answering.
Throw a carne asada cookout
In LA, we don’t really need an excuse to get outside, grill carne asada, and drink beer earlier in the day than might be technically acceptable; the weather is the only justification necessary. Pick up some cans from one of your favorite local breweries, then snag carne asada and fixins from a local carniceria, a supermarket like Vallarta, or go big with the USDA prime ranchera preparada from La Carniceria. Set up in the backyard, the driveway, a park, or find someone with a pool and just show up; if you bring beer and carne asada, they’ll be happy to see you. And if it happens to be football season, so much the better—throw your grill, some red plastic cups, and maybe a ping-pong ball or two in the back of the car and head to Inglewood, downtown, or the most beautiful stadium in America.
How to order: Walk into your local carniceria, and some breweries accept online orders or do delivery.
Numb your gums with Sichuan peppercorns
Out of the many regional Chinese cuisines represented in the San Gabriel Valley, Sichuanese is the one that has seen the largest citywide surge in recent years. The cuisine is known for its intensity, powered by the generous usage of chilis and the unique flavor combination of ma la, numbing and spicy, brought by the Sichuan peppercorn. But numb does not at all mean bland—the electric floral zing of the peppercorns is like biting into a nine-volt battery, and the thrill is addictive. These days you don’t need to trek out to the SGV to get your fix, with great options like Mian expanding to West Adams, Sichuan Impression in West LA, or Ruiji Sichuan Cuisine in the South Bay. That said, it’s hard to beat the SGV’s legion of ma la hotspots like Chengdu Taste, Chong Qing Special Noodles, and Xiang La Hui.
How to order: Walk-ins and phone orders accepted everywhere, and some are available via services like GrubHub, DoorDash, or Postmates.
Get stuffed on Armenian baked goods
Los Angeles is home to the largest Armenian population in the US, and food from across the Armenian diaspora is woven into the city’s restaurant landscape. Some of the best, most affordable meals come from Levantine-Armenian bakeries in the form of lahmajune, little flatbread discs topped with a tomato-pepper spread and ground meat like an Armenian tlayuda, which pour from massive ovens in an endless stream at the small bakery chain Sasoun. There are also manaish, which crackle with fresh za’atar, and the hearty stuffed turnovers called borek, and from other specialists there are yogurt and tomato-coated mante dumplings, the green herb-stuffed wraps called zhengyalov hatz, and so much more.
How to order: Walk-ins are welcome, and many places take phone orders as well.
Pucker up with a local sour beer
Sour beers are not new—the genre has been brewed and blended in Belgium and Germany since the 1700s or earlier—but for a long time it was hard to get a good one in LA. Thankfully we’ve reached a critical mass of breweries skillfully manipulating wild yeast like brettanomyces and bacteria like lactobacillus, dialing in their additions of fruit and herbs, and refining their blending techniques in the image of the Belgian legends, who mix various years of spontaneously fermented beers to find the right balance of sourness, carbonation, and funk. In Long Beach, the mad scientists at Beachwood Blendery are creating a local version of classic Belgian Gueuze. Bright, tart, and funky options abound from the Inland Empire to the South Bay and everywhere in between. With all that acid, don’t forget to pack your Tums.
How to order: Walk into your local brewery, bottle shop, or beer bar, and many also take online orders.
First opened in 1917, Grand Central Market represents LA’s largest and oldest public market, with 40 food stalls that showcase the diverse communities that have historically shaped our city, including legacy vendors like China Cafe who have been serving customers on their 22-seat counter since 1959. In recent years the market has become an incubator for exciting new food concepts like the now world-famous breakfast spot Eggslut, pasta at Knead from restaurateur Maria Petulla (Union, U Street Pizza), and coffee from G&B, the bar that launched a local empire. Whether your craving leads you to woodfired pizzas, vegan ramen bowls, pupusas, carnitas, or a decked-out PB&J sando, Grand Central Market is the perfect place to fuel up before or after your Downtown adventures.
As you might imagine based on our location along the shore of the Pacific Ocean, LA is a killer seafood destination, with eye-catching raw bar displays that are among our favorite restaurant centerpieces. Dive into the trend with a half- or full-dozen order of oysters—Pacific oysters are the most common variety you’ll find, but there are also briny Kusshis, nutty Kumamotos, creamy Lunas, sweet and layered Olympias, and even sea-salt crisp Atlantic oysters at places like Rappahannock Oyster Bar, The Oyster Gourmet, The Jolly Oyster, Found Oyster, Broad Street Oyster Co, and Dudley Market. For a fine-dining experience, make a reservation at L&E Oyster Bar in Silver Lake or Water Grill’s Santa Monica or Downtown location. Or keep things casual with $1 oysters at ETA or Mexican-style oyster shooters at Mariscos El Faro.
Compare Chicago, Brooklyn, Detroit, and even Roman-style pizzas
LA is a town full of transplants, and as those transplants have made our city into their permanent home, they’ve brought with them their most nostalgic dishes and ingredients, meaning that we never have to travel far to experience global food trends. Take pizza, for example. While Chicago and NYC duke it out over whose style reigns supreme, we can enjoy the lively debate from the sidelines while alternating between biting into chunky deep dish and thin, wide slices meant for folding. Bring your appetite to Masa in Echo Park for Chicago-style, deep-dish pies, or visit Prime Pizza for thin, crispy NY-style pies with house-made dough, Wisconsin cheese, and sauce made from local California tomatoes. You can taste Detroit’s signature chewy, rectangle pies at Apollonia's, or place an order at Quarter Sheets to try the “least authentic” Detroit-style pizza in town. Bite into Roman-style pinsas at Oste, one of LA’s best new restaurants and one of just a few in the entire state that’s firing up these light and crunchy pies that are not only more digestible, but offer 50% less sugar, 85% less fat, and 100% less cholesterol than your typical ‘za.
How to book: Visit individual websites for information on how to order or book a reservation.
Sample the best of regional Mexican cuisine
Just as we shouldn’t limit the definitions of American cuisine to one region, we shouldn’t assume that Mexican food begins and ends with carne asada burritos; the cuisine is deeply nuanced and full of regional specialties. Luckily, here in LA we can easily tour the country’s vibrant dishes without booking a flight. Try birria inspired by Jalisco or Zacatecas, complex Oaxacan moles from Guelaguetza or Rocio’s, bright and spicy Sinaloan seafood from El Paradero, sizeable Sonoran flour tortillas at El Ruso, the slow-roasted Yucatecan pork dish cochinita pibil at Chichen Itza, Tijuana-style tacos cooked hot and fast over mesquite charcoal at El Viejon or Tire Shop Taqueria, and the elevated Mexican-American cooking at Guerrilla Tacos or Taco Maria.
Impress carnivorous friends with plant-based eating
Ok, fine, this is one where the stereotypes might be accurate—LA is an outstanding city for vegetarian, vegan, and plant-based food. Not only are we privy to a vast array of locally grown produce that’s available year-round, but many chefs have created stunning plant-based versions of their favorite meat-and-dairy dishes. For example, Crossroads Kitchen’s excellent spring menu features artichoke oysters, a wedge salad with shiitake pancetta, and mushrooms done up like Scallops Rockefeller. Or for something casual, check out one of LA’s plentiful plant-based pop-ups like B’Ivrit for Cauliflower Shawarma, the wild loaded egg rolls at Vegan AF, or Chef Denise Vallejo’s Mesoamerican Plant Magick (mushroom al pastor or wheat-based carne asada) at Alchemy Organica. For a vegan morning, there are the baked goods and breakfast dishes at Just What I Kneaded or the marvelous vegan viennoiserie at Baker’s Bench. For even more can’t-believe-it’s-not-meat meals, check out our fave vegan and vegetarian spots in the city.
Eat like (and perhaps next to) a celebrity
Maybe this entry is speaking more to the tourists among us, but wouldn’t it be great to have a list at the ready when a starstruck friend inquires how many celebrities you’ve seen? And even though you’re not guaranteed a sighting at these spots, sometimes it’s nice to go out and feel like a celeb yourself. While the days of spotting stars on The Ivy’s vine-strewn, street-front patio on Robertson Blvd are long gone, you might get lucky with a reality show taping or have the opportunity to photobomb an influencer while you dip into $17 guac and chips. If not, try your luck at Catch LA, a stunning West Hollywood rooftop with whimsical floral details that lend it a fairy tale glow, plus a seafood-focused menu that might distract you from the Hollywood crowd—especially the signature Truffle Sashimi. Other places to add to your star tour include French bistro La Poubelle in Franklin Village, Harriet’s Rooftop on the 1 Hotel in West Hollywood, Nobu’s Japanese-Peruvian fare in Malibu, Mr. Chow’s in Beverly Hills, and Gigi’s or Mother Wolf in Hollywood’sbuzzy Vinyl District for an opulent evening you won’t soon forget.
Another prime spot for people-watching, family-owned Musso & Frank’s has been serving Hollywood’s elite for over a century, including the likes of screen legends like Greta Garbo, Charlie Chaplin, and Marilyn Monroe. Throw on your snazziest get up and pull up a stool at the ornate bar or slide into a white-tableclothed booth and prepare to be wowed by waiters outfitted in red tuxedo jackets, plus classic cocktails that pack a Prohibition-just-ended punch. The menu tends towards steaks and other filling dishes; if you really want to time travel, try Chaplin’s go-to order of roasted lamb kidneys. Is a steak dinner not your thing? There are plenty more old-school restaurants to enjoy in LA if you’re feeling nostalgic.
How to book: via Opentable.
Is it our fault that former President Barack Obama had good taste? The Obama Special, or #9 for the OGs, is the perfect introduction to the LA chain that put fried chicken and waffles on the map. It comes with three Southern fried chicken wings and a buttermilk waffle, plus potato salad or french fries (as if that’s even a choice). Add a #22 (mac and cheese, collard greens, and cornbread) or #23 (candied yams, collard greens, and cornbread) to make your order extra Presidential.
How to order: Call for pickup or order delivery through Postmates, UberEats, GrubHub, and Doordash.
Chomp cheeseburgers at Hinano Cafe
Renowned for being Jim Morrison’s favorite Venice haunt, Hinano Cafe has been serving up burgers and brews since 1962. The no-frills shoreside hut off the Venice Boardwalk is cash only and open from 8am to midnight or later every day of the year, excluding Thanksgiving and Christmas. Stroll up and order a world famous Hinano cheeseburger with a beer, cider, or wine and enjoy it inside with pool tables or outside on the converted patio parklet.
Classic LA diners Philippe the Original and Cole’s have each claimed themselves as the originator of the French dip sandwich and you’re not a real Angeleno until you’ve tasted both for yourself. Cole’s might have a perceived leg up since they hold the title of LA’s oldest bar—they claim the sandwich was made at their restaurant nine to ten years before it was even a twinkle in Philippe’s eyes—but most of their evidence is hearsay while Philippe’s original owner Philippe Mathieu went on record with his version of events in the LA Times in 1951. With no personal stakes in the rivalry, you’re free to enjoy both sandwiches in peace.
How to order: For Philippe’s, walk-ins welcome for patio dining, nationwide delivery is available through GoldBelly, and pickup via Chownow. For Cole’s, walk-ins are welcome for indoor and patio dining or call 213-622-4090 for takeout.
Los Angeles is a melting pot of a city, and one thing that sets our food scene apart is the abundance of authentic cuisine from all over the globe. When you’re in the mood for down-home New Orleans Creole cooking, look no further than Harold & Belle’s, a family-run restaurant that’s served the community for more than 50 years. With dark roux, ground sassafras, shrimp, sausage, ham, blue crab, and chicken, a pot of file gumbo is a must for special occasions, while the po’boy sandwiches are great for wolfing down on the go.
How to order: Call 323-735-9023 for indoor and outdoor dining reservations. Pickup and delivery available through ChowNow.
Take advantage of all-you-can-eat Korean BBQ
A densely populated neighborhood in Central LA, Koreatown is home to one of the largest Korean immigrant communities in the country, meaning there are few places stateside that are better for Korean food, and bar none when it comes to Korean BBQ. Korean BBQ refers to a communal, DIY-style of preparing meat on gas or charcoal grills that are built into dining tables. Locals can never agree on the best KBBQ in the city (and it will depend on factors like quality and types of meat, wait times, and cost) so check out our roundup of the best spots and find one that fits your needs.
How to order: Call your preferred restaurant for dining, pickup, and delivery options.
Saffron & Rose owner Ali Kashani- Rafye first began making ice cream in Tehran, Iran over 75 years ago and brought his unique, Persian-style ice cream with him when he relocated to Southern California in the 1970s. Kashani-Rafye’s family still runs the Westside ice cream joint, which is a great option for your vegan and dairy-free friends—their menu includes a long list of fruity, floral, and nutty flavors, with Saffron & Pistachio being their signature choice, alongside standouts like Fig & Cranberry, Poppy Seed Slush, and Lavender.
How to order: Walk-ins are welcome.
Beachside dining in Malibu is a beloved rite of passage that will put to bed any doubts you might have about silly things like cost of living and bumper-to-bumper traffic—it’s all worth it when you take in the view from Malibu Pier. You can choose to dine at the original Malibu Farm Cafe at the end of the pier that overlooks the ocean if you prefer a casual cafe experience, or Malibu Farm Restaurant at the beginning of the pier if you’re coming for weekend brunch or dinner and drinks. Both the cafe and restaurant menus feature simple, seasonal ingredients with fresh-picked produce and sustainably sourced meats in classic LA style.
How to order: Walk-ins welcome at Malibu Farm Cafe. Reservations for Malibu Farm Restaurant can be made on Yelp; pickup and delivery through Toast Tab.
Take a crash course in taco studies on Olympic in Boyle Heights
You can zip all over LA and get a full education in regional Mexican cuisine (as discussed above), but if you want a blast of taco knowledge like Keanu learning Kung Fu there’s no better spot than the dense stretch of Olympic affectionately known as taco row. Start at Pepe’s Red Tacos just East of Soto for rich beef birria, then cruise southeast on Olympic for Zacatecano burritos, tacos de canasta, more birria, the most famous shrimp tacos in town, carnitas, smoky Tijuana-style carne asada, and anywhere else that looks good until you hit legendary Los Originales Tacos Arabes de Puebla.
Scarf down Zankou Chicken straight from the takeout box
We’re mostly a pretty chill group of people, but if you want to see an Angeleno angry insult their neighborhood, the Dodgers, or Zankou chicken. The Armenian fast-casual chain is a local icon, and though it may look run-of-the-mill on the surface, it is a foundational meal for many Angelenos. The spit-roasted meats are a marvel, powerfully seasoned with just the right textural balance of juicy pieces and crunchy bits, and the shawarma wraps are the perfect quick lunch, ripe for ripping into as soon as you walk out the door. Just make sure you don’t have a date with Debra later—their proprietary version of the garlic sauce toum is pungent as hell, the kind of thing that sticks on your tongue and leaks from your pores well into the next morning.
How to book: Order ahead through their website.
Chef/owner Sarintip “Jazz” Singsanong has built a cult following since she and her brother, the late Chef Tui Sungkamee, took over Jitlada in 2006, specializing in Southern Thai dishes that reminded them of home. Be warned that their “medium spicy” food label packs real heat, and that enduring their spicy challenge just might permanently sear your taste buds. The green mussels in curry is a standout dish, and the super-spicy, lettuce-wrapped burger that finally got added to the menu after years of being a by-request-only dish is one of the best in LA.
How to order: Walk-ins only for dine-in. Call 323-667-9809 for takeout; delivery through UberEats, DoorDash, and Grubhub.
Head to the SGV for a self-guided dumpling tour
Monterey Park, Alhambra, San Gabriel
The San Gabriel Valley is a mecca for Asian cuisine, thanks to a large Asian immigrant and Asian-American community. So the next time that dumpling craving strikes, head east and take your pick from options like Cantonese hargow, shengjianbao hailing from Shanghai, and silky Sichuan chaoshou, that you’ll find steamed, boiled, fried, or a combination of all three. Try Mama Lu’s guotie, with pan-fried bottoms that add a pleasant crunch to softly steamed dumplings. Or put in an order at You Kitchen for soup dumplings that burst with broth. Whatever kind of dumpling you’re looking for, you’re sure to find it in SGV.