Going out to eat pretty much anywhere in the country usually goes something like this: you go to a restaurant, you eat, you pay, you go home, you take your pants off, and you watch four episodes of Homeland. Going out in LA though? Yeah, not so much.
If you're new to the LA eating-out game, here's everything you're up against:
There will be a car involved, at some point
Unless you're someone who lives walking distance from a metro stop (hahaha), only goes to restaurants that are ALSO walking distance from metro stops (hahahahahaha), and understands our city's byzantine bus system (not entirely sure this person exists), listen up: there will be a car involved, whether it's your own, a taxi, or a rideshare. This means a) someone will be running late, b) that person will blame traffic, and c) you will know they are full of shit because you came from the same direction, in a car, and hit no traffic. Also, there will be a discussion about how many drinks you can have if you're driving, and someone will say that Uber has changed that for them while they order their third drink. And also...
If you're driving, you're valeting
I've spent a lot of time in NY/CHI/SF and I can't recall ever seeing a valet stand there, but here it can literally be a non-starter: if you're planning on going to a restaurant, and it doesn't have valet, and you can't find parking in, like, five minutes, it's not getting your business. Sorry, restaurant. Maybe next time.
You don't *really* need a reservation
There are some exceptions to this rule, namely Maude and Trois Mec, both of which are so tiny -- and so in demand -- that a sellout literally means a sellout. But even other hard-to-get-into spots (Bestia comes to mind, as does Pizzeria Mozza) aren't impossible nuts to crack: nearly all of them have a walk-in communal table or bar, and if you plan your timing right, you won't even need to wait for them (in some cases -- like the mozzarella bar at Osteria Mozza -- they're really the best seats in the house). And if your spot is full? One of the best things about LA being so spread out is that there's bound to be an equally great restaurant with no wait at all within a half-mile. It just means you may need to get back in your car. Sorry.
There are some things you just don't talk about
And those things are generally entertainment related, because if, say, you're talking loudly about how you can't believe the new Fantastic Four was such a shitshow, it's not entirely impossible that the dude behind you produced Fantastic Four, and will literally either punch you in the face, or punch you in the face AND add your name to some sort of blacklist.
Our farm-to-table is ACTUALLY farm-to-table
You can thank our weather for many, many things (bikinis! Tank tops! Other bikinis!) but this is one of the best ones: many restaurants in town (and not just the schmancy ones) either have their own gardens to source produce from, or they hit the Santa Monica Farmers Market (considered by many to be the best in the country), or both. What sets us apart? They can do this YEAR-ROUND, which you just can't pull off in any of our other big-city competitors (come at us, NY!), which means when your food here is fresh, it's FRESH.
The dress code is... there is no dress code
Flip-flops? Tee shirts? Knit caps? With just a couple exceptions, you won't even get a second look if you're wearing one, two, or all of these things, even at high-end restaurants -- and even at those exceptions (Providence and Maestro's, mostly), the patrons may give you dirty looks, but they're not gonna turn you away -- as long as your credit card is good, so are you.
There's more than just the weather to pull top-notch chefs here
What else can chefs get in LA that they can't get anywhere else? Duh: TV time. Of course, this is both a good and bad thing -- for every Curtis Stone who's opened up a top-notch place in town, there's a Chopped loser who's using their passing TV fame to lure in tourists and serve them mediocre short rib. But if you've got food-obsessed visitors who want to make sure to see someone they've watched on their flatscreen, you don't even need to throw down a ton of money to have a ton of options: I literally just ran into Top Chef Masters contestant Susan Feniger setting up umbrellas at her new window right next to Mud Hen Tavern; Top Chef winner Michael Voltaggio is often not just in the kitchen at ink. but behind the counter at ink.sack, and Eric Greenspan -- who hosts his own show on Nat Geo and has been a Food Network fixture -- gives gregarious greetings at his new seafood restaurant Mare as well as at his ultra-casual next-door Greenspan's Grilled Cheese.
Semi-related: just because reality-show celebs go to a restaurant doesn't mean it's good
If you're getting your eating tips from any non-cooking show on Bravo, especially if "Real" or "Housewives" is somewhere in the name, something is horribly, terribly wrong with you.
Someone you're with is ordering something with a substitution...
... or on the side, or as a juice, or with extra vegetables, or with no vegetables. That's 'cause they're on a diet you've never heard of, but they expect the chefs to be able to accommodate. And they will. Because they have no choice.
If you're eating after midnight, hopefully you like Asian food, or delis
This one's kind of a bummer, but it's true: there's just not much great late-night food in LA -- despite many, many chefs' desire to make a late-night hangout spot for food pros akin to chefs-hang spots in NY and SF. The latest casualty was Red Medicine (RIP) which opened a few years ago with the idea that it'd be open for food past last call nightly -- and then its hours got earlier and earlier until it was operating at typical-restaurant speed. The saving grace? The curries in Thaitown and the BBQ in K-town aren't just great at 3am, they're great ALL THE TIME, and if you end up at Canter's, you'll likely run into at least one of the most iconic characters in LA. And of course, if you want an alcohol-busting old-school steak, both Downtown and Santa Monica still have outposts of the open-all-night Pacific Dining Car.
Give up the "where's the good pizza" whining, because, uh, our tacos > your pizza
How many times have you heard someone visiting complain that there's no slice joints open for a quick bite? Next time, tell them to stop their bitching, hoof it to the nearest taco truck, and watch their eyes explode when they bite into perfect al pastor. It's time to give up this debate once and for all: our street tacos are the same as any other city's pizza places, in that they're affordable, accessible, open all night, and uniformly delicious; of course, there are standouts (Leo's! Taco Zone! Mariscos Jalisco!) but you literally can do no wrong, whether it's from an illegal streetside tabletop set-up or one of those killer standbys. Who needs pizza, anyways?