How to do Los Angeles: Food

Part 7 of my How to do Los Angeles series: on food!

Food is one of my favorite aspects of traveling. Every place has their own cuisine, their own specialties, and while some are better than others, each one I’ve been to has been really good. As for Los Angeles, while it isn’t a “food city” per se, it has lots of great eats. In this post I’ll list my favorite food places throughout the city!

Before we begin, I should address what exactly southern California food is. To answer this, I made a chart:

so cal food flowchart

Getting a little more technical, California is a fusion cuisine that focuses on fruits, vegetables, and lean meats. It was most influenced by French, Italian, Mexican, and Japanese cuisines, although several other cuisines have been influential as well. Portions in California cuisine are generally smaller and presentation is more important than in the rest of the United States.

Of course, because Los Angeles is so international and diverse, the city has lots of other cuisines in addition to California cuisine. Most notable is Mexican, with French, Italian, Chinese, Indian, Thai, and Japanese also in abundance. Look harder and you’ll also find great southern, Cuban, Jamaican, Salvadorian, Peruvian, Brazilian, Argentinian, Spanish, Irish, British, German, Russian, Jewish, Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, Ethiopian, Mongolian, and Korean cuisines (and probably more I haven’t discovered yet).

To keep it simple, I’ll summarize with this, the most important foods to try when visiting Los Angeles: hamburgers, avocado (in a salad or on a sandwich), Mexican and Asian cuisines, fusion cuisines, and tri tip.

Below I’ve listed my favorite restaurants in Los Angeles; you won’t be able to try them all but each one is worth visiting if you can make it. I’ve divided my list by district, and as you’ll see from the entries, I know some districts better than others.

Finally, before we begin, a quick key:

$ – under $10 meals
$$ – $10-20
$$$ – $20-35
$$$$ – $35+ (there won’t be too many of these here)
*** – top ten LA eats

Alright, enough stalling, onto the eats! Up first:

Chains (locations that not only are everywhere, but are the same everywhere)

***In N Out, hamburgers, $ – If you only eat at one place on your trip to California, make it here. This is best fast food in the world, and the best hamburger you’ll ever have for the price. Their shakes are great too and they also have a secret menu, which includes grilled cheeses and animal-style fries. This place is an institution, you must eat here. There is a location near my Hollywood walk.

El Pollo Loco, Mexican chicken, $ – I don’t eat fast food but I make exceptions for In N Out and this. Fire roasted chicken grilled right behind the counter, this place is delicious and is a great place to grab a quick, inexpensive Mexican dish. There are locations on my downtown walk (across from the Bradbury building) and near my Hollywood walk.

Tommy’s, hamburgers, $ – Alright, I lied; there is one other fast food restaurant I eat at, and this is it. The specialty of this place is chili burgers, and while they aren’t as good as the hamburgers at In N Out, they are delicious and are a great choice if you’re looking for something different. There is a location near my Hollywood walk.

Urth Cafe, coffee, $ – The trendiest, most happening coffee places in LA. The coffee is good (so I’ve heard, I’m not a coffee aficionado) and these places are always packed, almost exclusively with 20 and 30-somethings. There are locations near my downtown and beach walks.

Food trucks, everything, $$ – These kitchens on wheels are super-popular and while they aren’t exactly cheap, they aren’t expensive either. Each truck brings its own quality, but on the whole, they’re pretty good.


Philippe’s the Original, Chinatown, French dip sandwiches, $ – Opened in 1908 and one of the oldest restaurants in Los Angeles, this cafeteria/diner still retains its old-time charm. You’re getting a French dip sandwich if you come here, that and sides are pretty much all they offer. They also are one of two LA restaurants (see next entry) that claim to have invented the French dip. Located near my downtown walk.

***Cole’s, Historic Core, French dip sandwiches, $$ – The other restaurant that claims ownership of the French dip (no one knows which of the two restaurants actually invented it). Opened in 1908, unlike Philippe’s, Cole’s is a full service bar and restaurant; it even has a prohibition era speakeasy in the back. Located near my downtown walk.

***Clifton’s Cafeteria, Historic Core, American, $$ – This cafeteria, currently the largest public cafeteria in the world, opened in 1932 and was the second (and is the only remaining) in an eight cafeteria Los Angeles chain. In its heyday, Clifton’s Cafeteria had a policy of serving patrons even if they couldn’t pay, which resulted in a lot of free meals during the Great Depression and also to Ray Bradbury when he was a struggling writer. Recently reopened after a four year renovation, this is a fun, creative, and happening place. It is also part of my downtown walk.

Original Pantry Cafe, South Park, old-time American, $$ – The last of downtown’s historic restaurants, this restaurant is open 24 hours and claims to have never closed since its grand opening in 1924. The food is simple, and the restaurant serves coleslaw with every meal, including breakfast. Located near my downtown walk.

LA Cafe, Historic Core, French/California cuisine, $ – A modern day, French inspired counter-service cafe. Open 24 hours. Located near my downtown walk.

El Cholo, South Park, Mexican, $$/$$$ – A branch of the famous mid-city restaurant. See Central LA for more information.

Olvera Street, Chinatown, Mexican $/$$ – The birthplace of Los Angeles and one of the most historic and authentically-Mexican spots in the city. The food here is great. There’s tons to choose from and lots of competition, so every place delicious (they won’t survive otherwise). Part of my downtown walk.

St Vincent Square, Jewelry District, Mediterranean/Middle Eastern, $/$$ – Another authentic and fun downtown food court. It used to be better when the restaurants put tables in the dead-end street they are on; unfortunately the city has cracked down on this to ensure access to the Los Angeles Theater’s loading zone. But the restaurants are still there and the food is still good and this is another unique place in downtown Los Angeles. Part of my downtown walk.

Central LA

***Musso and Frank, Hollywood, French, $$$$ – There won’t be a lot of $$$$ restaurants in this post, but this one has to be here. Opened in 1919, this is Hollywood’s oldest restaurant and one of the greatest restaurants in the entire US. This is primarily because the Writer’s Guild used to be across the street, so almost every great 20th century American writer ate here. So did many Hollywood players, and many still do. The food is great, the martinis are ranked top ten in the country, and the ambiance is the best of it all: dining here feels like going back in time. Part of my Hollywood walk.

***Miceli’s, Hollywood, Italian, $$$ – Opened in 1949, this is Hollywood’s oldest Italian restaurant. I however have only been to the Studio City location, so see the East Valley section to learn more about this one. Part of my Hollywood walk.

Pig N Whistle, Hollywood, American/California cuisine, $$ – Opened in 1927, this restaurant catered to Egyptian theater patrons in a time before theaters had their own concessions. Like Musso and Frank, lots of classic Hollywood players ate here. Part of my Hollywood walk.

Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles, Hollywood and Mid-city, soul food, $$ – A branch of the famous Long Beach restaurant. See Gateway Cities for more information. This location is near my Hollywood walk.

Golfo de Fonseca, Vermont area, Mexican/Salvadorian, $ – This place is no frills, not in the best area, and the servers barely speak English, but the food is so good (and cheap) that it is definitely worth visiting. I always get their burritos, and I never get over what a great deal this place is.

Canters, Mid-city, Jewish deli, $$ – A delicious Jewish-American eatery that will serve you just fine if you don’t feel like trekking all the way to LA’s best Jewish deli (see West Valley).

Pink’s, Mid-city, hot dogs, $ – The most famous hot dogs in Los Angeles, outside of maybe a Dodger Dog at Dodger stadium. Chili dogs are actually what this place is known for, and they are good. This is another Los Angeles institution.

***El Cholo, Mid-city, Mexican, $$/$$$ – Opened in 1927, this is the original of what is now a multi-restaurant LA chain. This restaurant claims to have introduced nachos to Los Angeles, and also to be the first restaurant to use premium tequila in their margaritas. All locations are family owned, their food is delicious, and whether their margarita claim is true or not, their margaritas are the best (the third $ is for a margarita).

La La’s Grill, Mid-city, Argentinian, $$$ – Owned by Argentenian-Americans, the food here is delicious, not as good as in Argentina, but how could it be?

Little Ethiopia, Mid City, Ethiopian, $$ – How many places in the world can you get Ethiopian food?  This block long stretch has numerous options, all very unique and the ones I’ve been to (don’t remember which ones) were delicious!

Restaurant Row, Beverly Hills, American/French/Japanese/more, $$$$ – These restaurants are expensive, but they are also some of the best in Los Angeles/the entire US. Probably not affordable for anyone reading my LA series, but this is one of if not the most famous restaurant districts in the city, so I am including it.

West LA

***Diddy Reese, Westwood, ice cream, $ – The best ice-cream sandwiches you’ll find in LA, and for dirt cheap. An institution amongst UCLA students.

Cha Cha Chicken, Santa Monica, Jamaican, $$ – Delicious food, great theming, and walking distance from the beach. Bring your own alcohol. Located near my beach walk.

El Cholo, Santa Monica, Mexican, $$/$$$ – A branch of the famous mid-city restaurant. See Central LA for more information.

The Gallery, Santa Monica, steak and seafood, $$$ – Opened in 1934, this is Santa Monica’s oldest restaurant. It has a unique nautical theming, good food, and a great salad dressing story. Located near my beach walk.

Senor G’s, Playa del Rey, Mexican, $ – Great Mexican food (and smoothies?). Their grande burrito can feed three people.

South LA

Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles, Inglewood, soul food, $$ – A branch of the famous Long Beach restaurant. See Gateway Cities for more information.

Gateway Cities

***Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles, Long Beach, soul food, $$ – Finally, we get to the original location of this famous multi-location LA institution. Founded in 1975, this restaurant took off quick, thanks to the owner’s Motown friends, who talked the place up. While the combination may sound strange, fried chicken and waffles is actually really good.

El Cholo, La Habra, Mexican, $$/$$$ – A branch of the famous mid-city restaurant. See Central LA for more information.

Porto’s, Downey, Cuban, $ – A branch of the Burbank/Glendale bakery. See East Valley for more information.

San Gabriel Valley

Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles, Pasadena, soul food, $$ – A branch of the famous Long Beach restaurant. See Gateway Cities for more information.

Colorado Blvd, Pasadena, everything, $$/$$$ – Another great restaurant strip, similar to Ventura Blvd (see East Valley) but with better nightlife.

Alhambra and its adjacent cities, Chinese, $/$$/$$$ – The best Chinese food in LA.

East Valley 

Miceli’s, Studio City, Italian, $$$ – Hollywood is the original but I’ve only been to this one, and I love this place. Good food, amazing theming, but what makes this place the best is their waitstaff: all are singers and on Friday and Saturday nights, they are constantly belting out power ballad-style showtunes for the whole restaurant to enjoy. It is great!

***Aroma Cafe, Studio City, California cuisine, $$ – A super-trendy aspiring filmmaker location, this one filled with writers and actors. Seriously, every time you come here, you find people with laptops open working on a script. This place doesn’t have quite the inspiring vibe that Republic of Pie has (see next entry), but it is still a great place, and the food is delicious.

Republic of Pie, No Ho Arts District, coffee and pie (and pot pies), $ – I’m not big on hipsters and this place is super hipster, but for some reason I like it. It’s got great food, a wonderful environment, and it’s always filled with Hollywood hopefuls, less so actors and more writers and directors. It is an inspiring place.

Porto’s, Burbank and Glendale, Cuban, $ – A bakery and sandwich shop, and the baked goods are unbelievably cheap. This place is really popular: there are two counters with two separate lines, and both of them are generally out the door.

Joe Peeps, Valley Village, pizza, $ – Los Angeles doesn’t claim pizza like Chicago and New York do, but this place is awesome. Delicious cheese, great crust, and more toppings than I’ve ever seen on a single slice or whole pizza.

La La’s Grill, Studio City, Argentinian, $$$ – A branch of the mid-city restaurant. See Central LA for more information.

Ventura Blvd, Studio City/Sherman Oaks, everything, $$/$$$ – City dwellers might disagree, but after Restaurant Row, this is the best strip of restaurants in LA. Catering to the aspiring actor crowd, this strip is trendy and hip, and has more affordable prices than the other side of the hill. The strip continues in Encino and Woodland Hills, but the Studio City portion is the best.

West Valley 

***Brent’s Deli, Northridge and Westlake, Jewish deli, $$ – The mid-city/westside locals won’t admit it, but this is the best Jewish deli in Los Angeles. And the best Jewish deli in Los Angeles puts it in the running for best Jewish deli in the world. Family owned, this place is so good it’s ridiculous. Their corned beef sandwich has been featured on the Food Network.

My Hero, Northridge, sandwiches, $ – Another deli way up in Northridge. Also family owned, they top their sandwiches with an amazing family recipe tomato-cucumber salad.

El Indio, Northridge, Mexican, $ – Mexican food the way it is meant to be, out of a grungy hole-in-the-wall, lean and cheap. This place is open 24 hours and during their last remodel they got rid of the metal bars protecting the place; that must mean they’re no longer needed, so you can feel safe!

Delicious Bakery, Northridge, bakery, $ – The best bakery I’ve been to outside of Europe.

Stonefire Grill, West Hills and Chatsworth, California BBQ, $$ – Remember that tri-tip I was talking about? This is the place to get it. Or get their chicken or ribs, they’re still prepared in the unique California BBQ way. Also be sure to get a roll, they are the best.

Blue Dog Tavern, Sepulveda Pass, hamburgers, $$ – Really innovative hamburgers, like you can’t find anywhere else. Also a great beer selection. But my favorite part isn’t the food or the drinks, it’s the restaurant’s walls, covered with photos of patrons’ dogs. Bring a framed photo (4×6) of your dog and they’ll add it to their collection.

That’s all I have! I know I’m missing a lot, especially in South LA and the Gateway Cities. Feel free to reply, let me know what I missed!

Featured image photography by Arnold Gatilao, Source: Seoul on Wheels – Korean Tacos. CC 2.0


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