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Feb 25, 2007 09:47 PM

What makes LA a foodie city? Tell Me

A friend and I are traveling to Los Angeles for a week, it's a working vacation of sorts. We would love to know about the best foodie type places in Los Angeles. What makes Los Angeles unique, we've heard of the current gelato / frozen yogurt craze! Underground restaurants, are they still going in Los Angeles? Farmers Markets? Artisan food Markets that are locally owned? What can you find only in Los Angeles? I.E. San Francisco is know for fresh foods from Napa Valley farms (produce, meats, cheeses, wine) from farm to table in hours not days. What makes Los Angeles a foodie city? What do you love, why do you LIVE TO EAT in Los Angeles?

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  1. So many things make LA a foodie city. Farmers Markets and our excellent Southern California produce are a huge part of that. But I'll kick off the commentary with this: Los Angeles is a remarkably diverse city and, accordingly, the local ethnic food is terrific. Japanese, Mexican, Thai, Korean, Chinese, Indian, Peruvian -- I am barely scratching the surface....

    1. The San Gabriel Valley is what makes LA a foodie town.

      The rest of the city could be bombed back to the stone age and the SGV would still be a mecca for foodies. There are plenty of other options and an embarrassment of riches to be had, but if you need to ask this question, San Gabriel is the quickest argument-ending answer that I have ever heard. Go to Phong Dinh or Macau Street or China Islamic or Vietnam House (for Bo Bay Mon) and tell me where you're going to find this in SF (I hesitate to challenge NYC to a duel). The simple answer is that, when I lived in San Francisco, you couldn't find certain cuisines.

      Go on, try a few of the standouts in the SGV. If you get bored there are world-class Armenian places in Hollywood and Glendale, excellent inexpensive Indian joints in Artesia, the profusion of excellent and diverse Korean food in K-town, and so on and so forth; but the money shot has always been (and probably will always be) the San Gabriel Valley and its ethnic restaurants. My wife and I routinely take the easy way out when showing people around town and just head to one of the places I mentioned previously. There's no reason you shouldn't do the same.

      At Phong Dinh, you want the whole fish, and maybe the ong choy, snake salad, and something else that strikes your fancy (depends on how many people are dining).

      At Macau Street, the house special crab, leeks with clams and black beans, and ong choy or baby bok choy are good, but save room for the little custards if the restaurant is busy. If the place is slow then don't bother -- you only want the custards when they are hot as lava and light as air, otherwise they're only as good as the best desserts anywhere else.

      At China Islamic the sesame bread, hot pots, cucumber-chicken salad, and lamb are good.

      At Vietnam House you get the bo bay mon and then if you're still not full, you get other stuff.

      There are many, many other places but these are at least a little unique to Los Angeles. On your way back to whatever business is distracting you from eating, stop by one of the huge Taiwanese supermarkets and raid their produce section. For 99 cents a pound you can load up on esoterica that would break the bank in Napa, and that's no joke.

      18 Replies
      1. re: ttriche

        Ok, I agree that there's a lot of great food in the SGV, but if you're pulling out the SGV card, couldn't travelfoodie also point to San Jose/the South Bay in general for great Asian food? I can also think of some wonderful places in SF (Richmond area, to be specific) and Oakland Chinatown.

        Not to digress too much, but I think my point is that just as most SF residents would hesitate at driving all the way to the South Bay for great Asian food, residents of the city of LA (like me) may balk at regularly driving all the way to the SGV for great Asian food. So unfortunately, the reality is that most nights I'm stuck eating mediocre Westside food.

        1. re: Chestnut

          I've lived in the South Bay, and I've worked in the SGV... and honestly, there's just no comparison. The SGV is a firehose; the South Bay is a garden hose. It's not that there's not excellent Asian food in both places, and there's certainly plenty of good food in Richmond and right off 880/980 in Oakland, but it's not miles and miles and miles of truly excellent Asian food the way the SGV is.

          The Westside, while fashionable and having some of the best weather, is a desert of good ethnic food. There are oases (Sawtelle for Japanese and Westwood Blvd for Persian and Lebanese) springs to mind), but it's still a desert.

          1. re: Das Ubergeek

            agreed. while there are a couple of points of brightness in the south bay area of northern ca, it can't touch sgv. i wish it could because i'm more often in that general area than i am in l.a. these days.

            1. re: Das Ubergeek

              Re: the Westside: Venice blvd, moving eastward from Sepulveda, has some decent ethnic options too, though some may consider locales east of Sepulveda to not technically be westside enough...

              1. re: silence9

                When you get to the point when you don't give the Westside credit for a restaurant vaguely based on its location, you begin to prove my point by splitting hairs. LA is meant to be ingested as a whole, if only because so many Angelenos don't work/live/play all in one area code.

                But to play along, I'd give Venice Blvd credit for being on the westside until it hits La Cienega.

                1. re: SauceSupreme

                  It's not that there aren't good places to eat on the Westside, the problem I have is that the rent is too high and the value proposition deteriorates. The westside suffers from the same problems as Pasadena, but without the convenient relief valve of the nearby SGV, Glendale, Highland Park, and (gasp!) La Crescenta.

                  Not much in the way of good surf on this side of town, though, to be fair :-)

                  1. re: ttriche

                    And, frankly, the Valley and Glendale and La Crescenta simply don't have the upscale options that Hollywood and the Westside enjoy. It's a tradeoff.

                    1. re: Das Ubergeek

                      It takes me about 20-30 minutes to get to Hollywood from Pasadena (Altadena, actually -- it's faster from Pasadena proper). How fast can you get from Santa Monica to Hollywood?

                      No argument regarding upscale options, as that's not my cup of tea.

                      1. re: ttriche

                        We find ourselves coming from the Santa Monica area to K-town frequently, (and K-town is a treasure trove of great ethnic food - Korean and other types) and it is normally an easy drive east on the 10 and off at Crenshaw Blvd. to Olympic or 8th depending on where we are headed to eat.

                        1. re: ttriche

                          For sure -- it is a similarly quick drive on the 110 for us and we do it often -- whenever I have business to attend to at USC downtown, we either get Korean or Creole. If you're in that neck of the woods be sure and check out Leimert Park every now and then -- a much under-appreciated trove of of its own. Go south on Crenshaw instead of north and be sure to ''appreciate'' Dr. Grillz, the dentist specializing in installing gold teeth, as you head for Phillips or the Creole Chef (or any number of other places)

                          1. re: ttriche

                            Do grillz add to the foodie experience?

              2. re: Chestnut

                I, too, was going to point out the South Bay and San Jose, but the Geek's fire hose metaphor is well taken. Still, Chestnut makes a good point about proximity. I can think of some truly awesome Chinese places in SF proper that are much better than what I've found on the West Side thus far.

                1. re: a_and_w

                  Yes, the Westside and Hollywood are really just deserts of decent Chinese food. When you find yourself thinking, "Gee, Lotus couldn't be THAT bad...again..." you need to hie yourself to the SGV for some re-education.

                  1. re: a_and_w

                    i had an argument with someone about this a few months ago (specifically about chinese food, since it's well established that korean and japanese is better in LA). i ultimately came to the same conclusion.

                    you don't have to go that far to find good Chinese food anywhere in the bay area. sf, peninsula, east bay, south bay, all have great stuff.

                    but the concentration of Chinese food in the sgv, and the pursuant fierce competition between restos, produces quality leaps and bounds better than anything the bay area has to offer.

                2. re: ttriche

                  Yeah I'd definitely agree as far as Asian food. But there's no comparison in the non-Asian front.

                  If we're talking Italian for example, 1 square mile section of Russian Hill has 3 Italian restaurants better and cheaper than almost every Italian restaurant in Southern California. I grew up in LA for 20 years, and in three days I found 3 restaurants that each were better and cheaper than comparable Italian here. $10-$20 entrees that would blow away far more expensive Italian restaurants in LA.

                  I just used Italian as an example, but Russian Hill is also right next to Gary Danko, which despite being one of SFs more expensive restaurants is a bargain by LA standards.

                  That said, if you're looking for awsome cheap Asian food, SGV is probably unbeatable. Probably in the whole of the US. Having grown up in the center there, all I'm saying is for a special occasion I'd choose SF any day over SGV. I love the seafood in SGV and some other dishes.

                  But outside of Asian it's either non-existant or overpriced. Yes, SGV is overpriced for non-Asian food. If you want something nice, prepare to overpay. I say this because I lived in it for 20 years. =)

                  1. re: royaljester

                    You need to grit your teeth and go to the San Fernando Valley. LA really excels in holes-in-the-wall of random ethnic cuisines, and nowhere is this better demonstrated than the SFV.

                    I was horrified by the prices I was expected to pay for food in the Bay Area, because I'm accustomed to just driving to where that kind of food is cheap (since one really has to drive anyway).

                    I would say that the Mexican scene in LA is much, much better than in SF. The California cuisine scene is way, way, WAY better in SF than in LA. Peruvian? LA. African? SF.

                    Both cities have their strengths but (here comes another generalisation) it seems to me that when SFans post on this board they're always looking for what they have at home. (This happens with travelling Angelenos too, but less often with the casual travellers. What happens is Angelenos move away, thrive on their new adopted cuisine for six months, and then bitch about Mexican food in general and fish tacos in particular.) But I just feel like every other week I'm writing some post about "embrace cheap ethnic food and save the farm-to-market Cal places for when you get home".

                    1. re: Das Ubergeek

                      Having lived all my life in the SGV, having eaten in SFV and in San Francisco many times, I have to say that I agree with both Das and royaljester. I am thankful for the asian eateries in the SGV and really good mexican can be found anywhere in LA, what I agree with royaljester is the fact that yeah Italian and French, you get generally more authentic(ie. no salads sometimes, gasp), and even at higher prices, less attitude than you do here in LA. I like that laid back vibe at higher end places that know what they are doing but are not snot nosed, instead of like you sometimes find yourself Das, as said of the Beverly Hills Cheese Store, and you are more apt to find a good bread store in SF with little pretension than you are here in LA, and as it so happens most of these are on the Westside(and sometimes blind arrogance rather than intelligence or vast quality experience). In that aspect if there were more good cheese and bread stores like say in Pasadena (where yes I've found in general less snot nosed service) or Silverlake, or an urban locale not immediately associated with ostentatious perhaps Hollywood wealth like Beverly Hills, Santa Monica, or Brentwood, I think we could match SF point for point and outdo them. We need a middle attitude about food sometimes. As for restaurants I still think we can get more creative about the fine dinign concept and not be snot nosed. Chef's need to leave the confort zone of the westside, there is plenty of money elsewhere in LA County as well not just in a few locations, and might I even add, to head to a other locales that have a healthy mix of college, middle age, and elderly patrons nearby (hint: not just club goers, and touristy spots, but quality locales with a sense of community and curiosity, and some semblence academic and hollistic thought)--there is an abundance of those you just have to look--then will you overtake SF and NY.

                      1. re: Das Ubergeek

                        I completely agree. Longterm, living in LA is better for your wallet and has a wide variety of satisfaction. San Francisco makes a great trip and is refreshing when it comes to what's lacking in LA.

                        In SF it really depends on locations, especially if you're around where the locals eat. We had a recommendation for one place in Russian Hill called Pesce. It had $12 entrees and was good enough to eat again on our trip. I made a list of other restaurants in the area and on our own we found some other great places - Frascatti comes to mind (which I also went to twice). I consider them both a bargain for the level of food they serve. They wouldn't compare to my favorites in Italy, but they'd actually compete on price and food with some of the better places there and that's saying a lot.

                        My comment was coming after reading threads about wonderful $200-$300 meals in LA. I've eaten at some of these places and while I loved the food, I went in knowing I was paying a significant markup for being near Hollywood. These places do fill a niche and are operating on a monopoly on certain good cuisines in SoCal, so I can't blame them. I'm just hopeful that they motivate more competition.

                  2. Speaking specifically of the Westside, which is generally a culinary wasteland - Sawtelle Blvd. (the area roughly between, say, Olympic and Santa Monica Blvd.) is the reason why L.A. is a foodie city. Without Sawtelle, most of the Westside's culinary bounty would be gone.


                    I'm partial to Kiriko (great lunch specials for sushi, and there's wonderful homemade ice cream for dessert - in great combinations like ginger+brown sugar). Cap off a belly-busting trip to Kirko with a visit to the infamous Pinkberry (tart yogurt; makes Korean and Chinese expats nostalgic because it tastes eerily similar to the pink yogurt drink from childhood), in the same shopping complex.


                    The Westside also has a huge number of really great breakfast/brunch places (for all those hungover celebs, I wonder?). John O'Groats near/in Century City is excellent, as is Hugo's Restaurant in West Hollywood (try the Pasta Mama at Hugos - with a pitcher of mimosas and a few friends to share, I can't think of a better way to spend a lazy weekday or weekend).

                    John O' Groats
                    10516 W Pico Blvd (Cross Street: Patricia Avenue
                    )Los Angeles, CA 90064-2320
                    (310) 204-0692

                    8401 Santa Monica Blvd (Cross Street: Orlando Avenue)
                    West Hollywood, CA 90069-4209
                    (323) 654-3993

                    Oh - I just thought of something else that LA has - world-class pastrami (not to be found in SF or its environs) - at Langer's, near MacArthur Park in Downtown L.A. It's a scary area - I'm not gonna lie. But Langer's pastrami is regularly compared to the pastrami at Katz's Deli in NYC - for me, both are gold standards, albeit quite different (as I remember, Katz's pastrami was more buttery-soft; Langer's is chewier).


                    4 Replies
                    1. re: Chestnut

                      Pastrami.... that's a topic know!

                      I've always been partial to Johnny's (-ie's?) in Culver City.

                      The Hat in San Gabriel is a close 2nd.

                      1. re: bigmidget

                        And, of course, the 800-pound gorilla of great pastrami in LA, Langer's -- where they close at 4 to avoid having anyone be there after dark.

                        1. re: bigmidget

                          I don't believe The Hat can be found in San Gabriel. Perhaps you are referring to the one in Temple City or Alhambra?

                          1. re: raytamsgv

                            There's a branch of The Hat on North Lake in Pasadena.

                      2. Up for something sweet?
                        Diddy Riese Cookies
                        (310) 208-0448
                        926 Broxton Ave
                        Los Angeles, CA 90024

                        Pick 2 large homemade cookies and your choice of yummy ice cream...for $1.00!! Don't worry, the long lines late at night move fast. Near UCLA.

                        6 Replies
                        1. re: srchgoodfd

                          They changed it to 1.25 last summer.

                          1. re: srchgoodfd

                            Diddy Riese is fun, but I wouldn't say it's a must-eat foodie destination. The ice cream is Dreyer's and the cookies are tooth-numbingly sweet.

                            1. re: Chestnut

                              Agree, it's a good spot if your in the area...speaking of, if you want to die for cheesecake try Harriets cheescake in West LA (310) 419-2259 (closed Sundays and Mondays).

                              1. re: Chestnut

                                diddy riese is best if you developed your taste for the confections before you were 18 yr. old.

                                1. re: westsidegal

                                  GREAT local ice cream, which also happens to be in the SGV...

                                  1824 W. Main St.
                                  Alhambra, CA 91801

                                  Great old fashioned ice cream, shebets, sorbets and frozen yogurts. They also have great seasonal and unique flavors too. I LIVE for their pumpkin pie and cinnamon flavors in the Fall. They also have some great Asian-inspired flavors like Lychee, Green Tea and Macapuno.

                                  Don't go there expecting to use your credit card though, I think they only take cash.

                                  I think they also serve Fosselman's ice cream at the Fair Oaks Pharmacy in South Pasadena too.

                              2. re: srchgoodfd

                                Apparently you're not aware that San Francisco has its own version, i.e., It's It. Not a reason to brave Westwood traffic.

                              3. LA is a foodie town because no matter what kind of food you like, no matter how much you're willing to pay, we've got it, and chances are, the restaurant is still open.

                                I'm not going to get into the whole San Gabriel Valley horn tooting because doing so downplays the rest of the region, which taken as a remarkably diverse whole, trumps anything that other cities can muster.

                                (But in full disclose, if you told me the only restaurants I could ever eat at could only be on Valley Blvd, Brookhurst Ave, 3rd St or Beverly, I'd really be okay with that.)

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: SauceSupreme

                                  You know, I spent the whole weekend exploring Brookhurst, and it was revelatory.