Welcome to Los Angeles’s Greatest Hits List.
You’re obviously very familiar with the concept of a “greatest hits” album, but unlike Mambo Mambo: Best of Lou Bega, this is one you actually need in your life. It’s our carefully curated collection of the LA spots you should hit first if you’re new to town, or must eat at immediately if you want to consider yourself a true Angeleno - restaurants that are essential to LA dining, from world-class sushi to late-night Korean BBQ.
Added on 1/27/20: Brent’s Deli, Felix, The Old Place, Coni’Seafood, Spoon By H, Mapo Galbi, Sushi Note, Pho 79, Taco María.
LA’s cathedral of French cuisine, Republique’s space is incredible in and of itself, but it’s the food that puts this more-casual-than-you-think spot among our (and everyone else’s) favorite LA places. Republique’s dinner remains one of the best date nights in LA, although their daily order-at-the-counter lunch/brunch extravaganza has become their real bread and butter. We could make a stupid French food joke here, but we’re better than that. And so is Republique.
Brent’s has been in operation since 1967, and just might be the best Jewish deli in Los Angeles. Come here any day of the week and you’ll find the massive dining room filled with large families, hungover college kids, weekly book clubs, and solo diners who haven’t opened the menu in three decades. With over 650 different items, that menu is an actual encyclopedia, so make sure you come in with a game plan. The black pastrami Reuben (swap out the steak fries for curly fries), latke and blintz sampler, and split-pea soup are all must-orders, and if you’re with a big group, tack on the ortega brisket melt and stuffed cabbage rolls. If you don’t walk out of Brent’s with at least one bag of leftovers, you did it wrong at this LA institution.
Felix opened in 2017 and almost overnight became the go-to spot for great pasta in Los Angeles (or, at the very least, on the Westside). That’s still true. Plain and simple, you won’t find a better bowl of Italian noodles than the ones at this upscale Italian restaurant on Abbot Kinney in Venice. Whether it’s the perfectly al dente rigatoni all’amatriciana, cacio e pepe, or orecchiette with spicy sausage ragu, Felix’s pasta is a masterclass in not just execution, but consistency as well. Tables are still incredibly hard to come by, so if your cravings are too intense to wait a month, just walk into the bar - where it’s always first come, first serve.
LA’s Koreatown is stacked with some of best Korean restaurants in the country, and yet, one of our favorites isn’t even located there. Instead, they’re in a strip mall in Beverly Grove next to Papa John’s, and their name is Spoon By H. Though they appear to be a simple dessert cafe from the outside, this tiny shop secretly dishes out Korean noodle bowls that will make everything that’s wrong in life fade away for a few hours. The pork belly dumpling soup is their signature dish and should be ordered at least twice in one sitting, but make sure you ask what the daily specials are, too - Spoon By H always has more secrets up their sleeve.
There are a number of great ways to escape the chaos and congestion of LA, but none compare to the magic of a meal at The Old Place. Located up in the Santa Monica Mountains, stepping into this 19th-century saloon/steakhouse (it was originally a general store and post office) feels like you’ve entered another world - Westworld, in fact - except everyone here is immediately your best friend, not a killer robot. The menu is full of tremendous comfort food staples like chicken pot pie, apple crisp, and a 32oz. bone-in ribeye that’s one of our favorite cuts of meat in town. Just make sure you arrive early, so you can explore the tiny town of Cornell and get a few rounds of chardonnay in your body at the wine bar next door.
Jitlada’s Sunset Blvd. space is cramped and kitschy, and while you’ll probably spot a few celebrities, the real star of the show is Jazz, the legendary owner who still goes around to every table asking if you loved your meal. Don’t worry, your answer will always be a resounding “Yes.” With over 400 items, the menu is objectively overwhelming, so our tip is to steer clear of the dishes you can find at any Thai restaurant, and go all-in on the ones that make Jitlada the gold standard for LA - the crispy catfish salad, full Dungeness crab with garlic, taepo curry, or the secret off-menu Jazz Burger.
Coni’Seafood is a family-run Mexican seafood spot in Inglewood, and one of the most essential dining experiences in LA. Located right off the 105 Freeway, it’s definitely a bit more expensive than other restaurants in the area, but that’s the price you pay for some of the freshest seafood in the city. You can’t go wrong with any of the ceviches or aguachiles, but the marlin tacos and whole snook need to hit the table, or you can’t actually tell your friends you came here.
There are several reasons Sushi Note stands out from LA’s other great sushi spots - they’re not in a strip mall, there’s designer lighting, and their tiny space on Ventura Blvd. in Sherman Oaks is just as much a wine bar as it is a sushi restaurant. But the thing that makes Sushi Note truly great is simple - it’s the sushi. We haven’t had many better cuts of fish than the very-traditional red snapper or the not-at-all-traditional gravlax. If you like wine, sushi, and consuming too much of both those things, then a night at Sushi Note is one you need right now.
Here’s how a meal at Zam Zam, the tiny Pakistani market in Hawthorne, generally goes: You walk into the bare-bones strip mall space, you ask what’s cooking today, and someone in the semi-open kitchen will rattle off a few things. They’re not asking you what you want - they’re telling you what you’re going to get. Sometimes it’s a giant platter of grilled meat and the best chicken biryani on the planet, and other times it’s a steady parade of la carte dishes until you’re full. No meal at Zam Zam is ever the same, and that’s exactly why it’s so exciting.
Gjusta is the ultimate Venice neighborhood spot - an all-day deli that will both infuriate you and make you want to become a regular. Even though there are few irritating aspects, like the unruly ordering system, lack of seats, and your inability to decide what to eat, it’s somehow always worth the trouble. Come early in the morning to eat a breakfast bialy at the coffee bar, at lunch for a spread of salads and smoked fish, and at night for less of a crowd, a handful of special dishes, and the ability to BYO wine. Basically, you can order anything at Gjusta and feel very confident that it’s among the best of its kind in Los Angeles.
When we need to get out of LA and reset, but don’t have the vacation days to do so, you will find us heading down the 405 to Taco María in Costa Mesa. Located in the middle of a giant mall, this upscale Mexican restaurant is certainly more expensive than most Mexican spots in LA, but considering you’re eating near-perfect food, $79 for a four-dish prix fixe is actually a steal. You get to choose from two options for every course here, so we recommend bringing along a friend; that way you can team up and tackle the entire menu. Trust us - there’s not one dish you’ll want to miss at Taco María.
Mapo Galbi is a quiet restaurant on the outskirts of Koreatown where you’ll find one of our single favorite dishes in all of Los Angeles - dak galbi. A simple dish of chicken, vegetables, and rice noodles, stir-fried in a spicy sauce at your table, the flavors are so intense and complex that you’ll take breaks throughout the meal to permanently ingrain this moment into your mind. Then comes the second course - which involves a heaping pile of nori-topped white rice that’s smashed onto the same grill and cooked until it’s crispy. Correction: Mapo Galbi has two of our favorite dishes in all of Los Angeles.
This landmark Vietnamese restaurant in Garden Grove opened in 1982, and is one of the most well-known restaurants in all of Orange County - with an hour-long wait every day to prove it. But frankly, we’d wait two hours for pho this special. You can put a variety of different meats into the soup (the oxtail is their signature), but at the end of the day, it’s about the broth. Simmered in oxtail for 12 hours and infused with star anise, it’s rich, cinnamon-y, and unlike any other pho you’ll find in California. Cash only.
Whether you’ve lived in LA for 20 years or are visiting friends here for the first time, chances are you’ve at least heard of Bestia. Open since 2012, this iconic warehouse restaurant didn’t just set the bar for Italian food in LA, it put the Arts District on the map as a dining destination. For that reason, a meal here today is even more special than when they first opened, even though it’s still just as hard to get in the door. Whether you go for the giant board of charcuterie we’d take a bullet for, the spicy alla ’nduja pizza, or a cavatelli that’s easily one of the top five best pasta dishes in town, you’ll see that Bestia has set a new standard for Italian food in Los Angeles.
Here’s a real Hollywood story: A local kid opens up his own Thai restaurant attached to his parents’ old place on Sunset and launches an empire. In a city with the best Thai food in the country, Night + Market is top of the class. Aside from the food, which is Thai classics with modern twists, the Weho, Silver Lake, and Venice locations are straight-up party spots - get a beer tower for the table or get the f*ck out.
Drive ten miles east of DTLA and you’ll hit the San Gabriel Valley - a sprawling collection of suburbs where you’ll find some of the best Asian food in the country. But if you’re looking for the best, head to Chengdu Taste. This family-run operation in Alhambra serves classic Szechuan dishes involving insane flavor, tons of spice, and a peppercorn that will make your mouth go numb. Go try some cumin lamb, mapo tofu, and the best dan dan noodles in existence.
The cool Eastside restaurant is a category in its own right, and there might be no better example than Mh Zh. This Israeli spot doesn’t take reservations, doesn’t have a liquor license, has a name you’re probably pronouncing incorrectly, and most of the seats are really just wooden boxes. All that can seem a bit much (and a bit annoying), but we’d argue that Mh Zh is always worth the effort. The food is truly fantastic, and the menu changes often, but some of our favorites include the simple hummus and the tahini-heavy lamb ragu (or “ragoooo”, as it’s written on the menu) - and you can all of it for around $130 if you so choose. And you should.
Sushi Fumi on La Cienega is one of LA’s great sushi restaurants, and it’s not just because they have incredible fish. It’s because any level of sushi eater will have a fantastic meal at this casual-but-lively strip mall spot, whether it’s a regular Tuesday or an important date. Maybe you’re the kind of person who sticks mostly to rolls and a few recognizable pieces of sashimi, or maybe you live and breathe by the daily specials board. Either way, you’re in good hands. Order the yellowtail and jalapeno sashimi special, the moon roll, or our favorite amberjack in the city, and you’ll see what a great all-around sushi restaurant looks like.
Dan Tana’s is one of the most famous restaurants in LA, but it’ll never be the place your out-of-town friends beg you to take them when they’re visiting. Instead, this classic Italian restaurant in Weho is where you bring them to prove how very little ancient grain bowls and liquid metabolic boosts have to do with this city. Does Dan Tana’s have the best Italian food you’ve ever had in your life? No. But it also doesn’t matter. The chicken parm is a special kind of magic, the wine never stops flowing, and you’re low-key sitting next to your favorite actor, who’s having just as good a time as you are.
Ask 20 people to name the best taco in Los Angeles, and you’ll get 20 different answers. So let us help you - it’s Mariscos Jalisco. The Boyle Heights Mexican food truck has fantastic food across the board, but if you come here without eating at least one of their tacos dorado de camaron, you’re living a lesser life. Fresh shrimp, deep-fried to a golden brown, and covered in creamy avocados and house-made red salsa - it’s about as close to taco perfection as you get. Beware: There are tons of imitators with very similar names in the area trying to lure you in the wrong direction.
Lawry’s is one of those restaurants you can’t suggest without someone asking, “Wait, like that Lawry’s?” Yes, that Lawry’s - the Beverly Hills original whose seasoning is in the back of every spice rack in America. A meal at their massive La Cienega location is certainly cheesy, and you’ll definitely feel like you’re eating dinner on a cruise ship, but the food is actually delicious. Between the spinning salad, the meat and potato martinis, and the glorious carts of prime rib that come right to your table, a dinner at Lawry’s is a show from start to finish, and one you always want a ticket to.
Jon & Vinny’s is one of those rare restaurants that felt like a classic from the second they opened. Owned and operated by the Animal guys (which it sits across from on Fairfax), Jon & Vinny’s is casual, affordable, and despite still being crowded, very accessible. You’re going to want the meatballs and the bucatini and the burrata-covered LA Woman pizza, but you should also know that breakfast here is excellent. Bottom line - when you want to show an out-of-town friend the coolest restaurant in the city, you take them here.
Plain and simple, Sushi Park is life-changing. It’s not every day you’re going to want to spend $200 on omakase in a bare-bones sushi bar on the second floor of a random strip mall on Sunset, but when that day comes, your first choice should be Sushi Park. You will absolutely see a major celebrity by themselves in flip flops.
One thing that never fits into the common stereotype of LA is just how good our deli scene is. We have a handful of delicatessens we confidently know could go toe-to-toe with the best in America, and Langer’s is one of them. Their #19 pastrami sandwich is the stuff of legend. The best part of Langer’s, though? Their Westlake location leaves them utterly devoid of the brochure-clutching tourists and Instagram influencers that ruin other places like this. Go enjoy an unadulterated classic.
If you ever need a reminder of why you put up with terrible traffic, more pollution than is good for you, and way too many people who think they can heal you with their hands, Malibu Seafood is it. All you need to do is jump in your car, cruise along PCH with all your windows down, and end up at this eternally busy seafood shack. Get the squid and fries or the peel-your-own shrimp, sit at a table overlooking the ocean, and wonder why you’d live anywhere else.
Howlin’ Ray’s is one of those places you plan your weekend around. From a tiny storefront in Chinatown, this place serves the best Nashville hot chicken in Los Angeles - and has the lines to prove it. We’re talking hour-to-two-hour waits, where you’ll inevitably make friends with the people around you who were smart enough to bring snacks. But once you end up with a spread of chicken, sandwiches, and secret menu items on one of the picnic tables outside, you’ll forget about the long lines as you take on the probably-too-ambitious spice level you opted for. Keep an eye on their Twitter feed for an idea of wait times.
Taking up more than three square miles, Koreatown is an integral part of LA’s food (and karaoke) culture. And while you could go to a different Korean BBQ spot once a day for three months and not hit them all, our go-to is Parks. Plain and simple, this is the highest-quality meat in Koreatown, and though that means higher prices, you get what you pay for. It’s also surprisingly easy to get a table, and you won’t have to deal with drunk teenagers bonging sake while you eat, either.
Great. Another overpriced, health-oriented sidewalk cafe full of bland grain bowls that only make us hungrier. Think again. Sqirl opened a few years back on a forgotten section of Virgil and actually changed how people thought about consuming healthy food. No, we’re not running any calorie counts on that brioche toast anytime soon, but for the most part Sqirl serves locally sourced, sustainable, and whatever-other-buzzword-you-choose healthy food. And it’s great. Eating at Sqirl is like eating from the arms of Mother Nature herself (who, btw, really knows her sh*t). It’s worth the unavoidable line.
Porto’s is one of those LA institutions that only people in LA seem know about. And that makes it even more special. This classic Cuban bakery and cafe first opened in Echo Park in the 1970s, and now operates out of three massive and always-crowded locations in Glendale, Burbank, and Downey. If there’s a better way to start your day than with their guava pastry and a Cubano, we don’t know it.
Jones Hollywood is what we call an ace restaurant. Pull this casual Italian Weho spot out for any occasion or group, and Jones will get the job done - and then some. The menu is full of Italian staples, so expect your margherita pizzas and spaghetti and meatballs. And expect them to be excellent. The atmosphere inside is sexy and cool, but not in the way that makes your bones hurt - in the way that makes you glad you’re at this retro spot and nowhere else. Choose to skip that apple pie at the end and we no longer can be friends.
Guelaguetza is a Ktown institution and the place largely credited for bringing Oaxacan food into the American mainstream. A meal here involves multiple types of mole and big plates of meat perfect for sharing, and all of it is phenomenal. With a massive space, live mariachi music, and a never-ending mezcal menu, you won’t find many better big-group dinner spots than Guelaguetza.
Located on a side street off the 405 in Lawndale, Al-Noor is the best Indian food in LA by a mile, and the only proof you need that LA’s best food is always in strip malls. But let’s rewind for a second. What did we just say to you? Lawndale? Did we lose a bet? No, we didn’t. In fact, we feel like we won the lottery. Because six minutes from LAX is this no-frills restaurant that’s worth the drive whether you’re catching a flight or not. All other garlic naan from here on out is ruined.
Fishing With Dynamite is basically a neighborhood oyster shack, but is worth braving all of that hellacious 405 traffic to get to. The place is miniature, with maybe 12 tables to go around, so come during peak dinner hours and you’re definitely looking at a hefty wait. But sneak in early or swing by for lunch or just bite the bullet and wait it out like an adult, and you’re in for one of the greatest seafood meals in LA. After dinner, feel free to walk the two blocks down to the water and thank the ocean for what you just experienced.
Bay Cities is a 95-year-old Italian grocery. And inside said grocery is a deli with one of the greatest sandwiches in existence - The Godmother. Prosciutto, mortadella, Genoa salami, and provolone cheese all on the freshest Italian bread this side of the Jersey turnpike. The lines at this Santa Monica staple are extreme, so call your order in ahead of time and bypass the plebeians. Also, if you don’t get “the works” put on top, you can’t actually say you’ve eaten it. Rules are rules.