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Help Me Leave LA With No Regrets!

Dearest Hounds,

It is with equal amounts of sadness and excitement that I must announce that I will be leaving this chowhounder's paradise of a city sometime in late Summer / early Autumn, as my girlfriend and I depart for the equally hound friendly city of New Yawk! Yes, it's almost time for graduate studies in the Big Apple, and so we've made a list of things we must do/see/experience in LA before we leave, and eating our way through the city's essential restaurants is high upon that list.

Here's where you come in. We're hoping you can help us refine our list of "musts" -- perhaps some of the restaurants you'll see below aren't worth the time or money (let us know!), or perhaps you'll think of a "must" that we've not named. In many ways this may turn out to be a list of Southland "ABSOLUTE MUSTS" - as much for inimitable L.A. ambience and style as for the food.

Since we're all given to our own interpretations of what constitute's a "must" restaurant, and because their are so many, many restaurants to try here in L.A., you may want to limit your recommendations to a small handful that you love and find absolutely essential - the 2 or 3 places you'd hit up one last time if you were leaving L.A. Say, maybe 1 high-end, 1 hole-in-the-wall, 1 off-the-beaten-path, 1 classic. Something like that.

In an effort to narrow the field, below you'll find both restaurants I've tried (on multiple occasions for most), and restaurants I'm hell-bent on trying before I leave. I'm primarily interested in restaurant recommendations that don't appear on either list - but you can of course give a hearty thumbs up (or thumbs down, for that matter) to anything on the lists.

So here goes.

For local "treasures" (I know some will quibble with a few of the restaurants listed here), I've done the following:

Krua Thai, Zankou, El Taco Nazo, Pie-N-Burger, John O'Groats, Tonny's, Polka, Marston's, In-N-Out (meh), the Polish place in Santa Monica (the name escapes me.. Warsaw?), Burger Continental (..kidding..), Sapp Coffee House, Mission 261, Ocean Star, Pho So 1, Rosalind's, Merkato, Bombay Cafe, Versailles, Phillipe the Original, the Pantry, Dots Cupcakes, Sweetlady Jane, Violet's Cupcakes, Porto's, Valentino, Mi Piace, Pinks, Diddy Reese, Asahi & Ramenya, Yujean Kang's, Crustacean (I know.. I know.. but still, it was at one time a destination restaurant, for the hype, if nothing else), Sam Woo BBQ, Canter's (bleh), C&O's, Fosselmans, Dr. Bob's, Aux Delices, Euro Pane, Angelique Cafe, Roscoe's Chicken & Waffles, Knoll's Black Forest Inn (R.I.P.), Apple Pan, Mama Voula's, Lawry's Prime Rib, La Paella, Chan Dara, Palms Thai (Vivaaa Thai Elvis!), Wat Thai, Red Corner Asia, Ruen Par, All India Cafe, Tanino, Soleil Westwood, Akbar, Azeen's, Nepal Tibet House, and Mozza (I'm sure I'm forgetting quite a few).

I've also worked my way through many of the local ethnic enclaves: I've had great haleem and frankies in Artesia, fantastic dim sum in SGV, great Oaxacan in West LA, solid Armenian fare in Glendale, wonderful doro wat and tibs on Fairfax, soulful soul food in Altadena, and a slew of memorable Mexican meals all over L.A.

For full-on ambiance spots, I've done Inn of the 7th Ray, Ritz-Carlton Huntington, and La Boheme. That's about it, really. Of those, The Inn of the 7th Ray was especially lovely.

That said, here's what I've not had:

In the high-end dept, I have resolved to save up for meals at Spago, Urasawa, Providence, Melisse, Patina, Cut, Morton's, Hotel Bel Air, and Mastro's.

Also..

A meal in K-Town. I'm embarrassed to say that I've never experienced real Korean BBQ.
A meal in Little Tokyo. I'm not even sure it's the best destination for great Japanese.. but maybe there's something worthwhile there?
A (truly good) meal in Chinatown. I've had substandard Chinese there, but nothing to rival what's available in San Gabriel, Monterey Park, Rosemead, and Alhambra.
Further South, I've yet to make a trip to Little Saigon. Any consensus on which restaurant might be the surest bet if making a trip down there?

I've also not done (but have been meaning to try - and will before I leave): Tacos Baja Ensenada, Clementine, Parkway Grill, Arroyo Chophouse, Raymond Restaurant, Shamshiri, Babita, Lares, Meals By Genet, Langers (though I did buy a loaf of rye bread there), Saddle Peak Lodge, Bay Cities Italian Deli & Bakery, Brit's (Pasadena), Casa Bianca, Brent's, Nate & Al's, Matsuhisa, Nobu, Cafe Bizou, A.O.C., Water Grill, Susina, Rosebud Cakes, Campanile, Angelini Osteria, Patina, Angeli Cafe, Scoops, Bulgarini Gelato, Papa Cristo's, The Ivy, Shahrzad, Asia De Cuba, El Pollo Inka, Tam O'Shanter, Gyu-Kaku, Trader Vics, and Ortolan.

Whew!

Now then... what remains? I'm sure there's more than just a few hot little spots that you think are missing here.. Let me know!

As always, thanks so very much in advance - your help is always greatly appreciated!

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  1. Fill up on Hamburgers and Mexican food and Thai food (there is approximately 1 decent Thai place in NYC) and eat outside a lot. Skip mediocre delis, places they have in both cities (i.e., Asia de Cuba - I've been to the one in NY and LA and the food is identical), cupcakes (it started in New York), and if you're trimming, steakhouses (the ones in LA are perfectly good, but in the end a steakhouse is a steakhouse, and NYC has perfectly good ones too). NY also has a wider variety of Indian food than L.A. and generally better quality.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Amuse Bouches

      I second this. Especially the Mexican and Thai food.

      There MUST be a decent burger in NYC, but I never go there looking for one. I go to NYC to eat Italian, Greek and pizza.

      If you are tight for money, I'd skip all our high-end restaruants in L.A. NYC has dozens of high-end restaurants with similar food. Spago, Providence, etc. all have lovely food and nice decor for special occasions, but nothing better than NY has.

      Concentrate on the food you won't be able to get: Chinese (all regions), Mexican and Thai. I'm not even going to recommend my faves here. Everybody else will have the same restaurants listed. But just know this: When my brother and I went back East for college many years ago, the FIRST thing we both did upon returning to L.A. was hit a taco truck! What does that tell ya?

    2. Cut
      Langer's (pastrami sandwich)
      Beard Papa's
      Sushi Gen (go have the sashimi lunch special if you don't want to break the bank)
      Din Tai Fung for soup dumplings/xiao long bao
      BCD or Young Dong for Korean soon tofu

      8 Replies
      1. re: WHills

        they have beard papa in NYC, I believe in upper west

        1. re: radgirl

          Then go to Chantilly in Lomita... I don't think they have one there, or a choux filled with sesame mousse (but then again, NY seems to have everything LA has, only purportedly better)... and their cream puffs are head and shoulders above BP. Or spend 7 bucks and get a 16-box of mini puffs at Angel Maid in Mar Vista... Put them in a cool spot away out of reach, or you will have finished the whole box by the time you get home...

          1. re: radgirl

            the first one in nyc opend b'way and 8th street in gvilliage, but now there are a number all over the city

            1. re: NYCnowLA

              What do you think of BP's cream puffs? Some here on the LA blog have a strong opinion about them, both good and ehh...

                1. re: NYCnowLA

                  Was great in the sense of a novelty on the first try... After that - not my type either - had to go our seperate ways after the first date...

                2. re: bulavinaka

                  I think BP's cream puffs, particularly the cream, is meh.

                  1. re: OCAnn

                    Meh, ehh, I hear you... didn't get or like the frantic squirt & toss technique employed during the cream injection process - reminded me of I Love Lucy...

          2. I'd swing a vote for Susina. Pei who has discerning eye and palette for anything that is enfused with the four major food groups (sugar, cream, butter and flour) just went there and based on her ecstatic posting, I'd say she was reaching for a cigarette afterwards... ;)

            1. ooy. you really need to hit the south bay for proper japanese food, especially non-sushi. we're talking izakaya, ramen shops, and other noodle houses. this is a must before you leave; though NYC has great japanese fare, LA is really the epicenter of the stuff, being right on the pacific ocean and having a large (though still relatively small) population of japanese ex-pats. that said, here goes:

              (all restaurants in the south bay unless otherwise noted)

              yakitori: shin sen gumi, torimatsu
              yakiniku: tama-en, manpuku (sawtelle) or (if you can get an in) "teriyaki house on pico" (west LA)
              udon: sanuki no sato, kotohira
              soba: ichimi an honten (downtown torrance location), otafuku
              izakaya: musha, kan yuzen, izayoi (little tokyo), haru ulala (little tokyo)
              ramen: santouka, hakata shin sen gumi, gardena ramen (there is a santouka in new jersey, i believe, so you you're not entirely out of luck there...)

              a tour through koreatown is really, also an imperative. LA has the single largest korean population outside of Seoul. and the korea "town" in NYC pales in comparison to what we have here. think about that for a minute! there are more koreans in LA than in any other city IN KOREA. i pretty much consider k-food second only to mexican food in terms of being definitive "LA cuisine" these days. that said:

              (all in koreatown unless otherwise noted))

              cold noodles: u-chun
              bbq: chosun galbi, soot bull jeep
              soon tofu: beverly soon tofu, bcd, so kong dong
              porridge: san, bonjuk
              korean soup noodles: olympic noodle house

              i'm sure there's a lot i'm missing, but try to hit some of these for sure!

              6 Replies
              1. re: rameniac

                You don't like Ma Dong Gooksoo?

                My wife loves it and I think it's a great value, especially if you've never been before.

                Yongsusan is also unique (IMHO) in its cuisine and ambiance. Not to be missed.

                1. re: rameniac

                  Wow - very helpful -- thanks! I love how you broke it down by specialty. Many thanks. I'll give 'em a try before I leave and write up a few reports while I'm at it!

                  1. re: rameniac

                    I second Chosun Galbee for Korean bbq! Their short ribs are particularly amazing.
                    You seem to like bakeries/cupcakes so I would recommend Yummy Cupcakes in Burbank. Their breakfast-esque cupcake with a streusel top and a little vanilla buttercream is especially good.
                    I would go to my favorite sushi spot, Sushi Katsu-ya in Studio City and have crispy rice with spicy tuna one last time.
                    Hmmm...you've already hit most of my other favorites, at least the ones I'm able to think of right now.
                    You HAVE to try Clementine--the chicken salad, chocolate chip cookies and Moravian sugar bread are especially good.
                    And yes, try The Ivy once. It's fun, the food we had was pretty good and our server was surprisingly nice.
                    If you take a romantic weekend trip to Santa Barbara (and why not?) go to La Super Rica!!

                    1. re: rameniac

                      more koreans in LA than in any other city IN KOREA. huh. 10 milions koreans in seoul. i dont think la has anything over that.

                      i ditto rameniacs recommendations tho.

                      1. re: doughnut

                        doughnut...it appears that he said 'largest pop. OUTSIDE of korea'
                        that's similar to what i say about long beach, largest pop. of cambodians, outside of cambodia

                        1. re: doughnut

                          heh from what i've heard, it's outside of seoul. (and maybe pusan, i dunno). but don't quote me on that... just one of those unofficial bits of pop knowledge you get whilst tooling around one night with some k-friends.

                      2. Oh yes - I see you have Sweet Lady Jane listed under, "local treasures." Based on the recent thread running with 49 responses - almost all very critical, I think you might not want to reco to NY friends coming out here. Otherwise they will start a new cateogory - maybe "Curse of the Black Pearl," would be the new heading... Those 49 responses were after editing out the ones that were really tough to read...

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: bulavinaka

                          Really? I've had nothing but good experiences at Sweet Lady Jane. Maybe I've been lucky? I know some people say their creations are on the sweeter side, but I've had no complaints. That's too bad that it's got such a poor reputation.. Seems a nice enough place for me!

                          1. re: sanangel

                            I am sorry to say that the current thread is extremely negative with no staunch defenders... this level of vociferousness is rare in my short experience on this site. I too love their products from every angle. However, there seems to be a consistantly growing resonance about the quality of certain cakes there, particularly their signature Triple Berry Cake. It sounds like it may not be the quality, but the "age" and/or the handling/storage of the cakes. While I have yet to have a bad dessert item there (service issue is another matter), many have said that the cakes have been dry and the frosting has been hard, smelly, and tasteless. This sounds like old cake that's been sitting in an open refrigerated environment for too long. I would think that they would have no turnover issues at their retail counter which always has been busy on my visits. Might they be rotating in their refrigerated cakes from Gelson's that are near expiration? Should they be covering their cakes with a glass or plastic dome to protect the cakes? I don't know, but I have a hard time seeing how SLJ would have such night&day differences in the quality of their cakes. As bad as the postings have been about service, I just couldn't imagine SLJ allowing their quality slip with baked items leaving the bakery - shelf life and handling are different issues but just as important.

                            I don't want you to leave LA with bad feelings about SLJ, but I would wonder how future recs for SLJ to friends visiting here might reflect upon you... there are so many great choices in this general area of LA that fall into the same category...