LA Newbie - What/where is a MUST eat?
I'm a Brooklyn boy who will be in LA for thursday-sun. I've never been to LA before, and I'm having trouble finding recommendations for those foodie "must-try" spots. Sure, a guidebook can send me to the fanciest and most well-established places, but in my experiences those places are usually not worth the money, or have declined since they were picked up by the guidebooks, and are now packed with tourists.
I'm interested in a few meals - breakfast, lunch, dinner, maybe just a stop on the road - but I want to know what's out there. I've heard so much about the variety of food available in LA, but I don't know where to begin. I've got a car and a small budget, so short trips are possible, and five star restaurants are possible. I'm always interested in a burger, mexican, or japanese food, but really anything you think is worth trying, I'm ready to give it a shot.
So, if you had a friend coming to LA for a weekend, and they had never been there before - where would you take them?
Jitlada for Thai - possibly the best That you will ever eat outside of Thailand (and it would be good in Thailand, too.) Order off the Southern Thai menu. It's in Hollywood at Sunset and Harvard, a few blocks east of Western.
A good taqueria or taco truck or cart. My favorite taqueria is either La Taquiza at Figureroa and 33rd, near USC; or the North Broadway branch of Carnitas Michoacan. (North of Chinatown.) My favorite cart is out at night on Cesar Chavez Blvd. the south side of the street, just a few blocks west of Gage - southwest corner of Hicks and Cesar Chavez. It is the finest al pastor I've had outside of Mexico.
For what you New Yorkers call soup dumplings and we refer to as Xiao Long Bao Or XLB for short, my favorites are at J&J Shanghai, 301 W. Valley Blvd. in San Gabriel. Totally kick the butt of the places I've been taken to in NY. I like the rest of the food there as well.
If you're going to be out in the San Gabriel Valley, Babita, on San Gabriel Blvd. just a bit north of the 10 fwy, is a truly superb gourmet Mexican restaurant.
Also in the San Gabriel Valley are a number of choices for dim sum. My favorite for cart service is 888 Seafood on Valley Blvd. in Rosemead. For ordering off the menu I'm partial to Elite on South Atlantic Blvd. in Monterey Park.
I'm also very fond of Chichen Itza - a Yucatecan restaurant - on 6th near Macarthur Park.
My own favorite five star meal in L.A. is at Providence, on Melrose east of Highland - fantastic, creative, seafood-oriented cooking. I wouldn't bother with the Mozzas - Pizzeria or Osteria - or any other Italian for that matter, you can do better in the NY area. I'm also very fond of the Saddle Peak Lodge, up off of Malibu Canyon or some such. Great food and an excellent atmosphere. If you want a fancy, expensive, hotel brunch - the Bel Air Hotel is awfully nice.
There is fantastic sushi to be had in any number of places. Someone will probably mention Urusawa, but I think it's overpriced - and is not demonstrably any better than Masa in New York. Do a search on this board for sushi and you'll come up with a lot of places.
Likewise there are a lot of fantastic Japanese noodle places, most of them in Gardena and thereabouts - do a search on here for ramen or some such and you'll have plenty of choices.
There's good burgers all over town. A lot of people swear by the ones at Father's Office - in Santa Monica or the new branch in Culver City. I like the ones at Gary Bric's Ramp on Hollywood Way at the 5 freeway overpass in Burbank. A lot of people swear by In 'n Out Burgers - which is a mostly local chain - but I think it is only good in the context of a fast food chain, it is not a great burger, not all that better than you can get at, say, Carl's Jr. or somewhere like that. (Although far superior to McDonald's, Burger King, Jack in the Box and chains of that ilk.) And the fries there are terrible.
That's my two-and-a-half-cents. Happy hunting.
I second Jitlada. It's not for everybody--the Southern Thai menu is super-adventurous and probably unsuitable for newbies to SE Asian food. But it's consistently the most exciting food I eat around here (so long as you order off the Southern Thai menu--other stuff is good if not ordinary). I second the general recommendation of Chinese in the SGV. I would also add Indian in Artesai (try, e.g., Udupi Palace and Tirupathi Bhimas).
So I'm not saying Asian food is superior to Western food by any means (I probably prefer Western dining overall), but the fact is you can get good or better Western food throughout the United States. I have yet to find a Western place in LA that I would consider remarkable by national standards. And LA, a little more than most locales, is about "the scene."
In general, it's a safe bet to go through Jonathan Gold's recs.
B/C you have never been to LA before, I recommend The Rainbow Bar and Grill on Sunset right by the Keyclub & the Roxy, a stone's throw from the Whiskey A Go-Go for dinner and the entertainment factor (check out their website). The Rainbow is "world-famous" and many Rockers have frequented the Bow and still do. The food is actually good and the people watching is spectacular. The bartenders do not know what a count is, so be weary - the drinks are strong! Prepare yourself for a late night when you find yourself in the upstairs bar area! Now, my fellow Chowhounders are probably screaming NO NO NO or laughing their Arses off, but that's my two cents. New York has GREAT foodie spots, but they don't have the Rainbow with our sparkle sidewalk (can anyone say flashbacks after a few long islands?).
Izayoi for Izakaya (2nd and Central)
Sushi Gen for Sushi (2nd and Alameda)
Water Grill sit at the bar and enjoy the raw bar, ask for Steve (Grand and 4th.)
Edison on Thursday for 35 cent martinis. (could tell you where but have to...)
The Standard rooftop.
There's a little diner (Pete's I think) up main past Chinatown across from the new park.
Philippe's French Dip
Hop Louie in Chinatown for drinks.
Mike's Hockeyburger on Soto and Washington
Dirty dogs at the little stand at 2nd and Beaudry late night on weekends
Shibucho on Beverly before Virgil for great omakase sushi and very expensive red wine.
Daikokuya on 1st and San Pedro for ramen.
Let me know if you want more...
I would start by perusing this list from Jonathan Gold -- LA's own Pulitzer Prize winning food critic. It's not necessary the "best" 99 restaurants, but only the "essential" ones ... whatever that may mean.
Once you've looked over the list, come back and feel free to ask more follow up questions. It's easier to ask when there is some point of reference in mind, and it's definitely easier to answer when the questions are more specific, and not so open-ended.
Hope you enjoy your stay.