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Help for 5 days in LA

Coming from Boston for my first trip to LA in 10 years (and after 5 days in SF), when I didn't think about food as much as I do now. We did have a nice experience at Spago that time, can't remember much else besides Formosa, Pink's and Randy's Donuts. Looking for a few different recs:

1) A place downtown that's got good new American/northern Italian/mediterranean/Calif. cuisine. The review of Blue Velvet sounds good. Looking for entrees <$30 for most of my meals.

2) A fun "happening" restaurant with the chance of a celebrity sighting maybe (we have so little of that in Boston). Lemmy from Motorhead was the last person I saw. This might also be the place to take out my friend to thank him for letting me crash at his place.

3) A non-divey but good priced Asian or Latin/Mexican place to eat at with a vegetarian friend.

4) Random little joints for burgers, donuts, dogs, teriyaki and tacos. Maybe that have a unique look like Pink's. I'll probably try Phillippe's this time. Also need a great breakfast, either greasy spoon or nicer/healthy. And a casual pub with decent food where the music types hang out.

5) Is there still a pie place on Santa Monica? Any nice place with a view for lunch or dinner down that way?

6) Do you guys have happy hours? They're not allowed in stuffy old Massachusetts so nice to take advantage when they're around.

I like to combine a drink at one place with dinner at another if it's easy (much easier in tiny Boston than LA). I think I read that the Wilshire Hotel is a cool place to check out, is there a nice bar there? If there are cool bars next to your recommended restaurants, that'd be great.

Lots of questions I know, thanks in advance.


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  1. Hi Joanie,

    1. Of course I'd recommend Blue Velvet for your first choice, as I am the one who wrote the review :). Other downtown recs include the Royale and Edison. Opus is wonderful as well but that's in mid-Wilshire area.

    2. Koi is a great place to see celebrities. Make recommendations well in advance if you want a table; if you are okay with the sushi bar, go before 7:30 p.m. because they allow walk-ins for sushi bar only. It's a pretty hip & happenin' place.

    3. I'm sure there are a wealth of these all over LA. Hard to narrow it down...

    4. Go to Langer's in downtown for the best pastrami sandwich ever. Definitely check out Phillippe's as well. Yuca's taco stand in Los Feliz is good, and for breakfast, try BLD (nice), Toast (nice) or Millie's in Silverlake (divey). Hit Little Tokyo in downtown for teriyaki and other Japanese comfy food, and head over to Grand Central Market for tacos/Mexican bread/etc. Not sure about the casual pub place..

    5. Not familiar enough with Santa Monica to say...

    6. There are good happy hours around, but I am only familiar with a few: Weiland's Brewery in downtown, Malo in Silverlake, Edison in downtown.

    7. Not sure about the Wilshire Hotel. But if you are in downtown, check out the rooftop bar at the Standard hotel. In Silverlake, if you go to Malo for Mexi food, try the 4100 bar.

    Clare K.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Clare K

      Hi Clare, I don't see any cocktails listed on the Blue Velvet menu and I think you only mentioned wine in your review. Do they not have a full liquor license? That bar cries out for a big ole martini.

    2. If you want to get a good "taste" of what makes dining in LA interesting from the standpoint of ambiance and weather then go over to Cliff's Edge in Silverlake, (not far from down town). You can see in the attached photo the patio - where you will sit - and enjoy the good (not great) food and soak in the surroundings.

      3626 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles

      1. 6) There are many many happy hour deals in LA. It looks like you're going to be downtown, so you may want to check out the aforementioned Weiland's for microbrews, Bonaventure Brewing Company in the Westin Bonaventure Hotel, McCormick & Schmick's for cheap decent food, Casey's Irish Pub for a Guinness fix, Oiwake in Little Tokyo if you're a karaoke type (or just want to watch, listen and laugh with $6 pitchers) or Ciudad for mojitos. I'm betting Ciudad is probably the most Chowhoundish on that list.

        I have to repeat Clare's recommendations for Langer's and Grand Central, simply because they're so dear to my heart...and stomach. Have fun in LA!

        1. three things to note:
          1) i believe langers closes early, so check the hours if you plan to go there.

          2) it is difficult to find truly vegetarian latin/mexican restaurants because they often use lard when cooking their beans, rice, fried food, etc.
          there are lots of vegetarian choices at a great little lunch/breakfast place north of downtown in boyle heights that is inspired by mexican cuisine: Homegirl Cafe. Their food is fresh, delicious, and inventive--but not authentic. they are only open for breakfast and lunch.

          3) many asian restaurants only offer one vegetarian dish: tofu appetizer (and often even that is often sprinkled with shaved dried bonito). so, for your vegetarian meal, you might want to check the menu before you go.

          1. 1. Zucca.

            2. Social in Hollywood.

            3. For Asian, try Usui in Little Tokyo, 343 East 1st St. Los Angeles. Good Japanese food and bento boxes.

            4. Donut Man in Glendora (915 E. Alosta Avenue Glendora, (626) 963-7412). The Pantry Cafe is a good greasy spoon in downtown for breakfast. http://pantrycafe.com/

            5. A place with a view in Santa Monica would be The Lobster. Food is sub-par to average, but the atmosphere is fun and the view of the ocean is unbeatable.

            6. This is a good link for the bars in downtown LA and good happy hour spots.

            And if you want a combo food + bar that are adjacent to one another, maybe Cut and Sidebar?

            Enjoy your stay.

            4 Replies
            1. re: ipsedixit

              Thanks for all the answers and links above.

              Zucca looks nice but there's not a good picture on the web site. Does it have a bar area? I see they have a happy hour so I assume yes. I'm not limited to downtown by any means, in fact I'd like to go to many different parts of town. Just thought I'd like to hit that area for one nite at least.

              Has anyone gone to Swinger's?

              I've been to Pantry Cafe before. Is Donut Man worth the drive? Has anyone been to Schwartz's in Montreal? Is Langer's as good?

              Does no pie shop exist anymore? It was on Santa Monica Blvd. but google hasn't turned up anything either. It had a zillion choices of pie which is always a good thing.

              Thanks again.

              1. re: Joanie

                Yes, there's a bar at Zucca ... although it's not the liveliest of places for happy hour.

                I think if you like donuts, Donut Man might be worth the excursion, but then again, it's only donuts, right ... esp. with gas prices the way they are.

                I'm not a pastrami fan, so I can't speak to Langer's (or Schwartz's).

                The only pie shop that I know of and can recommend would be in Pasadena: Pie N Burger. www.pienburger.com

                Again, enjoy your stay.

                1. re: Joanie

                  A fan of Swingers. Nice place to go for more low-key lunch or breakfast after a hard night.

                  Babbaloo's on Montana in Santa Monica is AMAZING for pies. They were closed for a while but believe they reopened. Also have great soul food -- the shrimp and grits I ate there was truly one of my most favorite meals ever.

                  Adding to recommendation above, Social has a very spectacular, uber-designed front bar. Don't be put off by the fact that upstairs is members-only -- the most interesting space design-wise the front bar which is open to everyone. Food at the restaurant decent, Ambiance nice and v. attentive service. V. close to the ArcLight cinemas if you wanted to catch a movie afterwards.

                  For bar then dinner -- El Carmen on 3rd a fun scene for drinks and tacos. A couple steps from Little Door restaurant which has a gorgeous Euro-Morrocan patio ambiance and solid, fresh well-cooked food (but not super foody).

                  For celebs -- The Standard in West Hollywood (not so much the Downtown location -- although Downtown design-wise has more bang for the buck) gives a decent chance for a celeb spotting -- there's a diner here -- but the night-time bar scene is more celeby. Another celeby possbility is lunch at the cafe at Fred Seigal's -- obnoxious trendy clothes/accessory store on Melrose and Crescent Heights.

                  For Santa Monica/Venice Beach -- Axe (pronounced A-shay) is a trendy fusiony spot where the food is quite yum.

                  Re. John O'Groats rec below -- not a lot going on in immediate vicinity of the restaurant but the biscuits are delish -- and they make some mean fresh fruit drinks too. Good stop on way out to Santa Monica perhaps.

                  1. re: Joanie

                    Hi... I think you are recalling Polly's (for pie) in Santa Monica, but it was located on Wilshire blvd., and has since closed...

                2. There are good pies at the Apple Pan in WLA. Cupcakes are the deal now, not pie, lots of cupcake shops. There used to be a chain called House of Pies but it has shrunk. Dupar's was another pie chain/resto which is now down to 2-3 outlets. Probably the biggest (not best) pie chain/resto is Marie Calendars. You'll never get us to concede that someplace else has better Hand Cut pastrami than Langer's. The Pantry never closes. The adjacent Pantry Cafe is closed and being converted to a high end steak house. You might consider Rose Cafe in Venice for a time warp breakfast, or John O'Groats in WLA. Good luck feeding your piehole.

                  1. for the best sushi and for a great price... must go to sushi mori in westwood area.
                    make reservations and sit at the sushi bar.. it's out of this world!!!!!!

                    edison-great place for a drink or if the weather is warm the standard in hollywood.

                    the little door/ or inn of the 7th ray- romantic eateries

                    for a sports drink- busby's if you like young crowds

                    for a cool place to hike: runyon canyon in hollywood hills, you can see straight to the ocean from up there and not to mention the whole city.

                    for industry ppl sightseeing- brunch at toast

                    1. "for the best sushi and for a great price... must go to sushi mori in westwood area.
                      make reservations and sit at the sushi bar.. it's out of this world!!!!!!"

                      When you say for a great price, (at Sushi Mori) I take it you don't mean for an affordable / budget minded use of the word great, but rather in the context of vast, large, huge or BIG!!!!!!! price $$$$.

                      1. 4. Random hamburger joints. I always take out-of-town guests to the Original Tommy's Hamburger and to In'N'Out (all over So Cal). Tommys is a landmark chiliburger joint on the corner of Beverly and Rampart just west of downtown LA and open 24 hours.

                        5. The Polly's Pies is gone in Santa Monica but still alive in Long Beach and No. Orange County. What has been a craze in the sweets dept here are Beard Papa Creme Puffs and Pinkberry tart frozen yogurt. You can do searches here to see all the discussions on those topics, and they are probably on the chain boards.

                        The restaurants with a view are mediocre in food. The Lobster might indeed be your best bet.

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: Ogawak

                          We have Beard Papa in Boston. I'll search out that Babbaloo's for pies if I have to, thanks to Bite Bite for that and the other comments.

                          Seeing the comments in other threads, is Hatfield's just a nice dinner out without lots of external frills (scene, celebs, etc.)? It also looks like they only have wine, true?

                          As far as The Lobster goes, it's got one of those annoying menus with no prices. What's the range for entrees? is there a better way to make the most of what sounds like not the best food? Appetizers only maybe?

                          1. re: Joanie

                            Stick with apps at The Lobster.

                            I think mains run anywhere between 20 and 50. Lobster, if I recall correctly, was something like 30/pound, with a 2 (or maybe 3?) pound minimum.

                            1. re: Joanie

                              I enjoy Hatfields for the exceptional food and wine but i atmosphere it is a very minimalist which you could see as modernist/zen or cold/severe depending on your mood. No kind of a scene -- unless you count serious foodies as a catagory of scene. If memory serves, Hatfields does serve mixed drinks as well as wine -- but couldn't swear to it. BLD just down the street has a much more energized environment -- but haven't eaten there.

                          2. For celebs - I second the above Toast for brunch rec. Also try The Ivy on Robertson for lunch on a weekday. Mr. Chow in BH still gets a lot of celebs for both lunch and dinner. Generally, I find celebrities mostly out and about on weekdays for lunch than at any other time. I guess they try to avoid when most of us civilians are normally out (dinner and weekends).

                            Happy hour - check out the Hermosa Beach Pier if the weather's nice. Kind of a dumb frat boy beach crowd, but great for people-watching. There is a whole strip of bars there. Patrick Molloy's in particular has good deals 3-7pm and $1 beers.

                            1. Blue Velvet serves cocktails (and wine). Good food and fantastic ambiance, too. Entrees are <$30. Neighborhood's a little sketchy (more like near downtown rather than in downtown, y'know), but the view from the pool (which is just outside the restaurant) looks over the city and the Staples Center.