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Four days in LA--your top picks?

I'm going to be visiting LA over Memorial Day weekend with two friends (we're all in our 30s) and we're staying at the SLS. While our diggs are swanky, our dining picks don't need to be. We'd like to try a mix of glam LA (think The Ivy, Chateau Marmont) as well as hidden gems (something by the beach where they serve killer fish tacos). Recommendations for restaurants and bars (cozy, great atmosphere, the occasional star-spotting but not too too trendy) are greatly appreciated!

Btw--we're coming from DC, so if you ever need suggestions for a trip here, let me know!

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  1. My parents just were out here for about 4 days, and though none are high class, we ate at the following and all are very good:

    BigMista BBQ (great ribs & brisket)
    Father's Office (burger & sweet potato fries)
    El Chato Taco Truck (al pastor, carne asada and chorizo tacos, and also an amazing quesadilla)
    Square One (very good breakfast, though a little pricey for bfast. French toast and pancakes were delicious)
    SM Farmer's Market
    The India Restaurant (delicious North Indian food, with a great lunch buffet)

    I would also recommend Langer's pastrami.

    2 Replies
    1. re: mdpilam

      I would second a couple of these, Father's Office (not just the burger and sweet potato fries but great beers) for sure and The India Restaurant (a bit of a haul down to Artesia but worth it, best Chicken Tikka Masala I've ever had) is excellent.

      Also might add Oinkster, which is over in Eagle Rock, for burgers or pastrami, and great belgian-style fries. Also in Eagle Rock, is a great Polish place, called Polka; it is cozy and small and has great hearty Polish food and big ice cold Polish beers. Not too far from good bars in Silver Lake and Los Feliz (Los Feliz has a great area for bar crawls, including Tiki Ti, a great tiki bar but with odd hours, so check first; Good Luck Bar, a little Hollywood hipster-esque but fun and good cocktails, and the Drawing Room nearby for a classic hipster dive).

      Another fun hangout is the Cat and Fiddle on Sunset Blvd in Hollywood - English pub with great outdoor patio, decent pub food, good beers, fun rocker/casual crowd (have seen Johnny Rotten, Morrissey, and Sandra Oh there, although not on the same night, ha ha). Drinks on the Rooftop of the Standard Hotel Downtown, or at the Standard on the Sunset Strip, are gauche but you get a sense of the completely trashy Hollywood industry side. And the Standard downtown has a great view. Also near downtown, in Chinatown, the Mountain Bar is a funky artist hangout, although weekend nights the entertainment is kind of annoying. Spaceland, a music club in Silverlake, often has great bands and is a nice hangout, usually reasonably priced tickets.

      On the fancier side, Campanile and A.O.C. are excellent. In general have not found much amazing high-end dining in LA, but these two are great.

      If you want to spend some time checking out other options, particularly for different ethnic foods, I highly recommend looking at the LA Weekly website, and Jonathan Gold's food column on there (http://www.laweekly.com/restaurants/), his "Where to Eat Now" section is particularly helpful. He is the first food critic to ever win a Pulitzer, and ranges from the top of the line to the taco truck. Will give you a good overview of options, and there are so many hole in the wall kind of places in strip malls that it is difficult to come across otherwise...

      Enjoy!

      1. re: yellojello

        wow--fantastic suggestions! Thanks so much.

    2. If you want star gazing, Matsuhisa on a Fri/Sat is a winner.

      Also, you must go to the Original Tommy's and get some chili burgers and fries.

      2 Replies
      1. re: A5 KOBE

        If stargazing is your reason for going, then Tuesdays through Thursdays are better. Many celebs & stars stay home on weekends, as the city is besieged by gaga amateur paparazzo and like-minded tourists.

        They do venture out on a tad more on weeknights for a bite.

        1. re: A5 KOBE

          Haven't been to Los Angeles in a long time (since 2000) - but last trip we stayed at the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills - and there were a fair number of famous people having drinks/snacks on the patio dining area at "cocktail time". It's a pretty sedate scene - your drinks and nibbles will cost a bunch - and there are no guarantees you'll see anyone (at least anyone you recognize - when we were there I recognized some of the people - like the whole CNN staff in town for the DNC - but not the movie stars :)). YMMV. Robyn

        2. If you want great fish tacos then head AWAY from the beach and make your way to Baja Ensenada or Taco's Nazo or perhaps Senor Fish in Eagle Rock for a third place choice.

          -----
          Tacos Baja Ensenada
          5385 Whittier Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90022

          Senor Fish
          4803 Eagle Rock Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90041

          El Taco Nazo
          9516 Garvey Ave, South El Monte, CA 91733

          1 Reply
          1. re: Servorg

            I second the above. There are no good fish tacos near the beach! Tacos Baja Ensenada make the best fish tacos around, but Senor Fish (there is an outpost in downtown LA across the street from the Japanese American Museum) is more accessible.

          2. My #1 pick for an out-of-towner is right in your hotel: the Bazaar. Do a search on this board and you'll find lots of reviews. This would be for one of your more glam nights, but it isn't overly trendy.

            4 Replies
            1. re: Nicole

              Bazaar is owned by Jose Andres, who has many restaurants in DC. Might it be redundant for the OP? Conversely, maybe Bazaar is more of a conglomeration of his talents? Just a thought...

              1. re: bulavinaka

                That's a good point. It's such an original place in L.A., but it may not stand out in the DC dining scene, I have no idea.

                1. re: bulavinaka

                  Yes, that's a good point. However, I've read such great reviews about Bazaar and it's in our hotel, so we will definitely check it out.

                  1. re: foodiejourno

                    Great - I'm always figuring you folks in DC have all the Andres cuisine that you can handle in one town. But good food is good food. Definitely don't let me stop you - just do us all the favor of reporting back.

              2. Saveur Magazine just ranked Muss and Franks and one of the 12 restaurants that matter in America. Being a huge fan, I loved the attention and think as an LA icon, it is a great place to go. If you are here on a Thursday, go at lunch. You can still have one of their martinis, best in the nation; their amazing caesar salad; any grilled meats and Thursdays they have their chicken pot pie, also terrific.

                I'd also give Lucques a try. Consistently one of the best restaurants in LA.

                10 Replies
                1. re: Tom P

                  I'm guilty of not having been to Musso & Franks in ages. The last time I was there, I had a nice bouillabaisse. Do you know if they still serve that? And yes, I enjoyed their caesar salad as well.

                  1. re: bulavinaka

                    Yes indeedy, a very nice bouillabaise, still served as it was in 1944 *- only as Friday's dinner special.
                    Lotta wisdom in Tom P's post. Obviously, only the OP and traveling friends can decide if it makes their final cut, but M&F's is a must to make the "For Consideration" list of every Chowhound traveling to LA. Why ? Here's why: http://www.mussoandfrankgrill.com/ *Check out 1944 menu on website.

                    It should go with out saying, so I'll write it down: If you live in the area, go at least once.

                    1. re: ilikefood

                      Wow - they sure do, don't they? And I remembered ordering it for the first time just because the name sounded French... Thanks!

                  2. re: Tom P

                    Thanks for making me remember that I haven't been to Musso and Frank for quite a while. I'll have to correct that oversight sometime soon -- wait a minute, I see that they're open until 11:00 p.m. tonight!

                    Incidentally, that's an unusual collection in the Saveur article you reference. Joël Robuchon as well as Musso and Frank?

                    1. re: Tom P

                      As much as I like Saveur, their LA picks have always been off. They once called BH Cheese Store one of the best places "to by American Cheese" in America. What a sham.

                      I am fond of Mussos but it does not belong on that list.

                      1. re: JudiAU

                        Mussos is for history and a martini. It's not for food. Chateau is for people watching and a glass of something sparkly in the garden. Again, not for food. There are places you go in LA because they are part of the character of the city (the coffee shop in the Beverly Hills Hotel for example) and there are places you go for the food -- Mozza, Father's Office, Hungry Cat, A.O.C, Comme Ca, Langers etc. . For a great, fun weekend in LA, I'd do a bit of both.

                        1. re: JudiAU

                          But Joël Robuchon is not for food, either, JudiAU, despite what the Michelin tire man says. It's for pretending you're rich and foodwise while chowing down on undelicious foams, fantasies, and other theoretical dishes. I'd much rather go to M&F for a martini and a shrimp cocktail.

                          Now, L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon is another matter -- really excellent tasting menu paired with uncomfortable counter seating.

                          1. re: JudiAU

                            i completely concur with JudiAu and toothsome: Mussos is NOT for food

                            1. re: westsidegal

                              It just depends on the food. No one does a better Caesar in town. Same for the pork chops... thick, juicy, perfect. And I love their Filet. And their french fries. And the flannel cakes, and breakfast in general... lots of good food to be had amidst a few land mines on the menu.

                              1. re: westsidegal

                                If you go back and look at the April issue of Saveur you will see that the reason Frank and Musso was chosen was because of it's iconic place in the LA Market...not because it was the most incredible restaurant in LA, or because it even had amazing food. Every restaurant in that issue is in there because it is unique...Robuchon at $500 a plate and Marlow & Sons in Brooklyn at the other end. Every single food magazine did hot chefs and hot restaurants and in this economy they abandon that mission to stick to 3 easy chicken recipes, 4 ways to make mac and cheese and how to whip up in expensive bugers...boring. Saveur remains about the experience of authenticity, heritage and tradition and all the recipes to create them in home. Considering all that, the restaurants they chose, although probably had some subjectivity to them were chosen for a purpose. I have been a reader for years and it was just the only food magazine to win and editorial award for their Breakfast around the world issue. I hope they continue to dare to be different.

                          2. Fish taco Friday's are celebrated each week at Lares, on Pico in Santa Monica. It is my favorite fish taco anywhere and nice, family run place. Wonderful Savanitas too.

                            Spago Bev Hills is still wonderful. Cozy, friendly and delivers every time.

                            I also love the beautiful, small dining room at Capo, Bruce Marder's place on the beach in Santa Monica. Nice seasonal menu, expensive, star-sightings.

                            1. I would skip The Ivy & Chateau Marmont. For four days this would be my list.

                              Nights:
                              The Bazaar
                              Tommy Burger (chili cheese everything, and L.A. institution)
                              Mastro's for steak (yes, Musso & Franks is a landmark, but I like the food better at Mastro's)
                              Kogi Korean Tacos (right now, a huge trend in LA dining getting national press, amazing food, even Koreans approve of their flavors.)

                              I am not so good for lunch in that area as I have lived east side for too long. However, I have been dying to try Umami Burger.

                              5 Replies
                              1. re: lotta_cox

                                Palate-wise, those are good recs, lottacox.

                                BUT original poster is looking for a bit of glam as well, so I think Ivy & Chateau Marmont should be included, as long as OP is aware that food is not the main focus of those places.

                                LA's sushi scene is quite strong. I'd add Zo, Mori or The Hump (for a fun sushi-by-the-runway & celeb-sighting vibe) to the list.

                                1. re: J.L.

                                  I find The Bazaar and Mastro's to be very glam. Celebs are spotted in both places on a regular basis, the atmosphere in both restaurants is elegant and lively. And, IMO, those two places with some Tommy's and Kogi thrown in is the perfect mix of glam and something uniquely LA. I am assuming via their posting here that they actually care about the food. Hence the suggestion to skip The Ivy and Chateau Marmont. Although, if you truly feel strongly about them, they could stop into Marmont for a drink after better food elsewhere.

                                  I don't see your suggestion for their entire four days? What would YOUR trajectory be?

                                  1. re: lotta_cox

                                    Whist at the Viceroy (drinks)
                                    Gordon Ramsey at The London
                                    Ortolan
                                    Matsuhisa (on Mark Wahlberg Thursdays)
                                    The Penthouse at The Huntley (drinks)
                                    Chateau Marmont (drinks)
                                    The Ivy (at lunch)
                                    Bazaar (cuz they're staying at the SLS anyways)
                                    Bar Hayama (chill Sawtelle vibe)
                                    Father's Office (late afternoon burger & beer)
                                    Giorgio Baldi or Capo ("Mr. Spielberg, will you be joining Mr. Hanks today?")
                                    The Hump (Tsukiji goodies landing on the runway, then going directly to their sushi bar)
                                    SM Farmer's Market (just plain fun)

                                    1. re: J.L.

                                      Here's where we differ. I would not send diners to a pricey brand name chef titled restaurant when the chef has left the building. (Ramsay). After drinks at Whist, hit The Hump for sushi.

                                      Since they are already hitting one reknowned sushi spot, why not skip spendy Matsuhisa and instead spend money for supper at The Bazaar & hit Bar Marmont for drinks afterward right up the street when it's nice and lively.

                                      1. re: lotta_cox

                                        Hey I'm simply naming candidates... they don't have to hit everything on my list, yeeesh. 2 sushi recs are better than one. They're here for 4 days, not 2.

                                        Ramsay sold out & left? Then I retract my rec. for The London. Brand name or no brand name, my food experience there was good, hence the initial rec.

                                        Oh yeah, adding one more rec: Monte Alban for Oaxacan... Houndish enough for you, lottacox?

                              2. Wow, we have different taste...Crustacean and Dolce are among the very worst restaurants I've been to in L.A.! Nice places with terrible food.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: Nicole

                                  I actually like the food at Crustacean, but the crowd weirds me out a little. I have only been to Dolce once and the service was so douchey I barely paid attention to my food and haven't been back since.

                                2. I'd not miss Providence or Spago for fine dining, Sweet Lady Jane's, Paulette's Macarons, or Vanilla Bakeshop for sweets, Griddle Cafe or CiCi's for breakfast.

                                  Clearly for "LA trends" I'd check out Pink's, the Ivy, and Sprinkles as well.

                                  5 Replies
                                  1. re: uhockey

                                    You can safely skip Sweet Lady Jane. There's precious little there that can't be got elsewhere at the same or better quality...

                                    1. re: Das Ubergeek

                                      I found the bread pudding incredible, personally.

                                      1. re: uhockey

                                        Their bread pudding is great - they do desserts touched by the brits relatively well. Their lemon meringue is the best. But as DU and a213b point out, their other issues probably rate a pass. But Susina isn't far away and IMHO, just better in general.

                                    2. re: uhockey

                                      Agree ... I'd actually recommend against SLJ for the reasons DU points out, Paulette's is nothing compared to the Macarons one gets in Paris, and Vanilla's products, though they may look good, are often dry and lacking in flavor.

                                      1. re: a213b

                                        King Taco, El Pollo Loco, In n Out, round table

                                    3. If you want to treat them to stuff LA does better than anywhere else in the country, be sure to have dim sum, sushi, Mexican, and maybe a straight up Mandarin, Cantonese, or Shanghainese Chinese meal.

                                      For your fanciest meal, the board is right to keep suggesting Bazaar--it's fabulous food and a fun time (there's multiple dining and drinking areas and on the weekends there's a free caricature artist). Be sure to get some foie gras-cotton candy lollipops.

                                      For the ethnic foods you can search this board or check out Gold's essentials list: http://tinyurl.com/6dy29k. My personal preferences as follows:

                                      For Dim Sum: Elite, Mission 261 (the nicest ambiance), or Sea Harbor (the smallest and hardest to get seated unless you get there early, but the most interesting dim sum). All are in Monterey Park or San Gabriel, off the 10.

                                      For Tacos: Baja Ensenada for fish ones, El Parian for the rest, though there's dozens of great choices--check out http://tacohunt.blogspot.com/ and explore. Also, Loteria at the historic Farmer's Market on Fairfax is fantastic, fresh and innovative, plus you get to explore one of our best landmarks (don't miss the english toffee if you go).

                                      For Burritos: The Machaca at historic El Tepeyac in east LA (just a few min. from downtown) is heart-stopping goodness. Serves at least two (don't be a hero). Also the guac and the taquitos etc. are great.

                                      For Oaxacan food: the biggest and best has to be Guelaguetza. The original location is in Korea Town, though there are a couple others in the city now. You guys can try grasshoppers there if you like.

                                      For Sushi: Katsu-Ya in Studio City has incredible cooked dishes and gorgeous pieces of fish, at a much lower price and with none of the stuffiness of the the other great spots in town like Zo, Asanebo, Nozawa or Sasabune. All those places are fantastic though.

                                      For a Chinese dinner: you can spend a couple hours at San Gabriel Square, and try types of Chinese food from 10 different provinces. My favorite there is the Shanghianese Green Village. Or you can do Luscious Dumplings or Mandarin Deli for great dumplings (though Luscious has soup dumplings too while Mandarin deli just pan-fries). Or you can do Elite or Mission 261, which for dinner do incredible things with duck, crab, and roast pork, though they'll be significantly pricier than the other places. Another solid option is the mainstay, Yang Chow downtown (of the legendary slippery shrimp), always trusted by the pre-event crowd and the Lakers.

                                      For Thai: Jitlada is everyone's new favorite, though I still like Sanam Luang on Hollywood best. The crispy pork with Chinese broccoli has no equal, and their duck soup is killer. Lot's of great noodle options, and open til 4am every night.

                                      For Pastrami: Langer's near Macaurthur park has, and I couldn't be more serious here, the best pastrami in the world. It closes early so plan accordingly. For the best overall deli food in the world, go to Brent's in Northridge, though that's a drive.

                                      Last thoughts:

                                      For your burger please consider the double king (or fat) with bacon, egg, and cheese at Fatburger (our answer to Five Guys, but with better fries [when covered in chili and cheese]), though Father's Office and Pie 'n Burger are indisputable classics. Also, Bar Marmont is a great bar scene AND has one of the better burgers in town, so I think you're on to something there.

                                      Be sure to check out the new downtown bar scene (particularly on a weekday, where the thinner crowd let's you really enjoy the old-LA atmosphere): The Edison on 2nd is a lot of fun, and The Varnish in the backroom of Cole's French Dip on 6th is dark, cozy, and lush.

                                      For your late night, post-drinking breakfast go to the Pacific Dining Car. It may be the oldest restaurant in LA, is open 24 hours, and serves perfect though expensive food. You can always get a serious steak, but the swiss eggs are too die for.

                                      Phillipe's Original is another landmark, and is cheap, beautiful (in it's own way), and awesome. Their trade is the french dip, which they and nearby Cole's each claim to have invented. My favorite is the lamb and blue (the tender, flavor lamb and au jus stand's up to the blue really well), topped with some of their coleslaw and a healthy dose of their famous, incredibly hot, incredibly good mustard. And the coffee is 10 cents.

                                      Hope some of this is useful. Have fun out here.

                                      4 Replies
                                      1. re: Jewnese

                                        Your list is good, but unfortunately one piece of information is sadly out of date -- Green Village moved across from Mei Long Village a few years ago and then closed down completely. I would skip Yang Chow unless you absolutely could not leave downtown.

                                        1. re: Das Ubergeek

                                          No! That's terrible news. I've been living across the country for the past two years and those Shanghainese meatballs were all that kept me going.

                                          1. re: Jewnese

                                            There are certainly plenty of places to get lion's head meatballs, never fear. When you get back, ask, and we'll give you the then-current list. :)

                                            1. re: Das Ubergeek

                                              There are much better Lion's Heads than Green Village's currently offered in town...

                                      2. Well, it is easier to find good food in LA than movie stars, so I say movie stars should be your top priority, and then food. Definitely the Ivy, either on Robertson or at the Shore -- and the food is excellent. If $$$ is not that much of an issue do Spago Beverly Hills or better yet, Cut.

                                        For more spontenaity, just spend time in Brentwood. Seems to be the hotspot of paparzzi recently.

                                        1. I am also from DC (well actually MD) and winter in CA.

                                          If you are going into the valley at anytime during your 4 days I would recommend you try City Wok for lunch. Their chinese chicken salad is my favorite. I also like their City Wok beef. Miley Cyrus shows up there and I have seen other celebs there as well. It is not at all expensive.
                                          I would also recommend Mr Chows in Beverly Hills. It is expensive but it is fun. You're likely to see a celeb and you can have the waiter "suprise" you by bringing you out different dishes based on your preferences.
                                          Griddle Cafe on Sunset. DO NOT ORDER A SALAD. yuck! Their pancakes, BACON and sandwiches are delicious though.
                                          Try In & Out just because it's In & Out. Though Five Guys (you have it) is much better. Get your hambuger "animal style".
                                          Farmers Market at The Grove is a must too. SO MANY celebs go there! I saw Rhianna (to name just one) in front of the movie theater. Try the princess cake in the back by the cajun stand. The fried clams in the front is good. Bob Donuts, also in the front, are amazing. Brazilian BBQ place is also great in there. Just browse. It's fun.
                                          Lawrys Prime Rib. It's better than The Prime Rib that we have back east. Their spinning salad is memorable and the free meatballs while you wait are yummy. The CC Browns (LA classic) sundae is a must-have dessert there.
                                          Geisha House on Hollywood Blvd was good and fun. I liked their food. Also when you're doing the whole "Hollywood Blvd tourist thing", you may want to pop into the Mickey Mouse ice cream shop beside the El Capitan. You can get like a 12 scoop sundae in a huge Anastasia hat! It is really fun and not something you will ever find around DC. My friends and I shared one before.
                                          I'f definatly get mexican food and sushi while your here too. Other members would steer you better than I for those.

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: jerseygirldawn

                                            Wow, I'm overwhelmed by all the great suggestions! Thanks so very much. And again, if I can ever return the favor for DC, ping me.