Los Angeles County is one of the world’s most diverse places, and nowhere is that more evident than in its dining scene.
Across Los Angeles, alongside multi-course, multi-hour, and multi-cultural feasts by chefs from Michelin-starred establishments, you can find food-truck trailblazers, street food artisans, and unexpected gourmet spots in strip malls. Whether your taste runs to authentic regional cuisine, comfort food, or mind-bending fusion fare that the rest of the world will be eating five years from now, the hardest part of LA dining is narrowing down your choices.
A taste of many cultures
For centuries, Los Angeles has been a magnet for immigrants, and its cuisine continues to reflect the myriad cultures that have made it their home.
And more than embracing that diversity, Angelenos have internalized it. It’s not uncommon to find locals starting the day with a breakfast burrito, ordering sushi for lunch, sipping boba tea in the afternoon, and ending the day with an Armenian roast chicken for dinner.
That should come as no surprise when you consider the hundreds of restaurants in Koreatown, the Mexican specialties of Boyle Heights in East LA, the heady aromas of Thai Town, adventures in Chinese cooking in the San Gabriel Valley, the historically Jewish Fairfax district, the 140-year-old Little Tokyo area, and Little Saigon in neighboring Orange County. And no sporting event or street fair is complete without trucks and carts selling everything from Korean tacos to Mexican-style bacon-wrapped hot dogs and elote (street corn).
With all of these culinary traditions finding a home in one city, it’s no wonder chefs have been able to turn LA into one of the world capitals of fusion cooking.
Tip: At LA’s farmers’ markets, chefs of every caliber shop for the best of California’s agricultural bounty. The biggest are in Hollywood and Santa Monica, but on any given day there’s probably one near you.
Five must-try dishes
In a city as diverse as LA, it’s hard to choose just five, but these creations, by some of the city’s signature chefs, have withstood the test of time.
Smoked salmon pizza, Spago Beverly Hills
Arguably, no chef has done more to popularize LA cuisine than Wolfgang Puck. His crust topped with crème fraîche, lox, and caviar is nothing short of Italian-Scandinavian-Jewish alchemy that defines decadence even 40 years after its invention. (wolfgangpuck.com/dining/spago; 176 North Canon Drive, Beverly Hills)
Kouign Amann, Republique
It’s hard to summarize everything that’s good in Walter and Margarita Manzke’s culinary showplace, but these seasonal pastries are emblematic of the wide-ranging, artful, all-day menu of modern takes on the classics. (republiquela.com; 624 South La Brea Avenue, LA)
Big Mec, Petit Trois
A French twist on an all-American standard. Chef Ludo Lefebvre’s San Fernando Valley bistro enhances its double cheeseburger with bordelaise and its own special sauce, alongside garlic and parsley frites. (valley.petittrois.com; 13705 Ventura Boulevard, Sherman Oaks)
Marinara-braised meatballs, Jon & Vinny’s Italian
James Beard Foundation award winners Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo have built a small empire around 21st century Italian-American comfort food. Come for pizzas and salads but order their delectable meatballs with garlic bread and ricotta. (jonandvinnys.com; 412 North Fairfax Avenue, LA)
Cavatelli alla Norcina with ricotta dumplings, black truffle, pork sausage, and grana Padano, Bestia
Choosing the most tempting dish from the menu of this LA institution is a near-impossible task, but the silky, truffle-flecked sauce that wraps around the chewy homemade cavatelli pasta and chunks of deeply seasoned sausage (also made in-house) will be remembered well after you’ve finished your plate. There’s a reason it’s been on the menu since the restaurant opened. (bestiala.com; 2121 Seventh Place, LA)
Where LA restaurants are going next
The stars aren’t just relegated to the silver screen in this town. Some 27 restaurants have received them, courtesy of the good folks at Michelin. Among them: chef Josiah Citrin’s refined tasting menus at 14-seat Mélisse (melisse.com; 1104 Wilshire Boulevard, Santa Monica); chef Josef Centeno’s omakase experience of Orsa & Winston (orsaandwinston.com; 122 West Fourth Street, LA ); and chef Michael Cimarusti’s standard-setting seafood at Providence (providencela.com; 5955 Melrose Avenue, LA).
Modern Italian restaurant Bestia (bestiala.com; 2121 Seventh Place, LA) was a trendsetter when it opened in the downtown Arts District a decade ago, and it continues to embody the spirit of LA’s restaurant future. Husband-and-wife (and chef-and-pastry-chef) team Ori Menashe and Genevieve Gergis’s open, post-industrial space is the backdrop for dishes such as roasted marrow bone, saffron gnocchi, and cavatelli with black truffles and sausage. It’s been joined by high-profile neighbors, including the Mexican fusion cuisine of Damian (damiandtla.com; 2132 East Seventh Place, LA) and the contemporary Middle Eastern fare of Menashe and Gergis’s sister restaurant, Bavel (baveldtla.com; 500 Mateo Street, LA).
As LA’s food scene diversifies, neighborhoods that might have been a culinary blip a decade ago have taken center stage. Take Highland Park, where Hippo (hipporestaurant.com; 5916 1/2 North Figueroa Street, LA) has made a splash with its California-Mediterranean menu (crudos, farmers’ market produce, and hat-shaped cappellacci pasta in seasonal presentations), and Otoño (otonorestaurant.com; 5715 North Figueroa Street, LA) serves creative tapas and Catalan specialties with 21st century flair and Californian ingredients (such as Santa Barbara uni in paella, if you choose). Or hit Venice Beach for award-winning pastas made before your eyes at Felix (felixla.com; 1023 Abbot Kinney Boulevard, Venice).
Tip: If you’re expecting European or New York dining hours, California may come as a bit of a shock. Most LA restaurant kitchens close by 10:00 p.m. For tough-to-get reservations, try to stop in during lunchtime or early/late in the evening.