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Jul 18, 2009 03:38 PM

3 days in LA - can anyone suggest a Chowhound Tour?

I always hear such great things about the food in Los Angeles. I will be in town for 3 days in October. Can anyone suggest some can't miss local fare? I'm from New York City, so I know it's easy to eat at the wrong places in big cities. I like everything, from $3 bowls of ramen to $100 steaks, it just has to be good. Any suggestions? Thanks in advance!

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  1. in what part of town will you be staying?
    will you have a car at your disposal?

    1. Day one: cover these -

      After you're finished check back and someone will have day two suggestions ready to go.

      Seriously. Will you have a car? Do you want one (or more) high end meal or only realtively inexpensive places? Where are you going to be staying? LA is a biiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiig place.

      Another post which gives you some idea of what an open ended and impossible question this is without further specifics from you which narrows your highest priorities:

      1. You might want to check out Grand Central Market in Downtown Los Angeles and stop at Ana Maria's stand for some great carnitas. Lot's of other neat stuff to sample and look at.

        No $3 ramen around that I can think of, but Little Tokyo is a few blocks from Grand Central Central Market and maybe the best Tonkatsu ramen is probably at Daikokuya. Order it "kotteri style" with the extra rich broth. Don't forget a side order of gyoza.

        15 minute drive east to the San Gabriel Valley and Valley Boulevard to the Asia of the West for a huge variety of Asian food.

        21 Replies
        1. re: monku

          Original Poster here - We will be staying in Santa Monica or Malibu, and we plan on renting a car. I assume we can park it almost anywhere in LA, right? Thanks for the quick replies! All suggests are greatly appreciated! We're probably looking for one or two high end dinners, but for the rest we're looking for divey to casual fare.

          1. re: hungrymanUWS

            You can park anywhere, but you may end up with a parking ticket if you aren't good at breaking complex cyphers (i.e., parking signs with apparent contradictory, overlapping and enigmatic "guidance" about what constitutes legal parking at that spot at that time of the day - and be especially vigilant of the major streets like Wilshire Blvd. where they will ticket and then tow your car if you are parked before 9 AM or after 4 PM on a weekday as that's when they open up the curb lane for rush hour traffic).

            All that said you will need to get to Mariscos Chente (about 15 minutes SE of Santa Monica) in a little suburb of Los Angeles called Mar Vista. This is authentic, delicious and addictive Sinaolan and Nayarit (two States in Mexico along the Sea of Cortez and/or the Pacific Ocean on the mainland side) seafood. See the place link below. Click on it and then scroll down to read some of the reviews about what they offer and what to get. Lunch or Dinner.

            Mariscos Chente
            4532 S Centinela Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90066

            1. re: Servorg

              In the heart of Santa Monica is a rather well regarded Jamaican food restaurant called Port Royal Cafe. You can look at their menu here: and it certainly is on the less expensive/dive end of the spectrum.

              Port Royal Cafe
              1412 Broadway, Santa Monica, CA 90404

              1. re: Servorg

                I'm still curious to try Port Royal, but generally speaking, there's better Jamaican/Caribbean food in NYC.

                1. re: a_and_w

                  I wasn't thinking about the NY vs LA aspect when making my recommendations. I was simply taking Hungryman at his word when he wrote "I like everything, from $3 bowls of ramen to $100 steaks, it just has to be good."

                  That said a few "high end" recommendations are still owed Hungryman. I still love the tasting menu at Spago in Beverly Hiills. I would also say that my meals at Animal have been such top notch hits that it would also be high on my list.

                  1. re: Servorg


                    176 North Canon Drive, Beverly Hills, CA 90210

                    435 N Fairfax Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90036

                    1. re: Servorg

                      Spago and Animal are great choices. I still haven't been to the latter, but my friends from NYC love it.

                2. re: Servorg

                  I finally tried Port Royal a couple of months ago after wondering about it for years. The service was incredibly sweet, right down to the servers enjoying a joint right out front of the restaurant while we were eating on the patio. The goat was one of the better versions I've had around town, although there was a good amount of gristle. While it's not exactly cheap (I think it was about $20pp for lunch), I'm happy to have finally checked it out.

                  Another great place to check out in Santa Monica is Chez Jay. I went a couple of weeks ago and they're in the midst of celebrating their 50th anniversary. The food is a total throwback and while not exactly amazing, I would happily eat another dish of shrimp scampi and a house salad with their green goddess dressing. Even better, though, is that the drinks are cheap for that area of town, it's super lowkey and they still have one of the few old school jukeboxes that hasn't been replaced with one of the characterless computerized ones.

                  1. re: mollyomormon

                    Thanks for the update molly'o. Sharing a spliff on break. Now that's true "Jamaican" style ambiance. ;-D>

                    Chez Jay's food is solid. Just got jolted by a few too many bananas in the Potatoes Au Gratin dish once. Great place to drink though (for the more "serious" social drinkers).

                    1. re: Servorg

                      The bananas in the potatoes are such a bizarre addition, although I think probably widely unpredictable in how perceptible the flavor of banana is depending on the batch. It's just such a great slice of old Santa Monica. Because RAND is the landlord of the building, people who work there have been coming there for years, including Alan Shepard who, as the story goes agreed to take one of the Chez Jay peanuts to the moon:

                      hahaha! "'serious" social drinkers!" That's definitely a diplomatic way of describing the clientele at Chez Jay!

                    2. re: mollyomormon

                      Port Royal sounds like my kind of place LOL! I like the vibe at Chez Jay, but had an odd experience with the service there last visit, though the specifics currently escape me.

                  2. re: Servorg

                    And if the OP continues down 14th street to Olympic, Tacos Por Favor is a must-stop for their chorizo and cheese tacos - BYO defibrillator. :)

                    1. re: bulavinaka

                      Sorry - forgot the link:

                      Tacos Por Favor
                      1406 Olympic Blvd, Santa Monica, CA 90404

                      1. re: bulavinaka

                        My new favorite thing at TPF is the chile relleno burrito. I like it even more than the chorizo.

                        1. re: a_and_w

                          Just tried chile relleno burrito at Tacos Por Favor, but was, unfortunately, disappointed. They used an odd flavored salsa in it that overwhelmed the other tastes and the tortilla was dry and somewhat charred from grilling.

                          1. re: renata47

                            Bummer! I'm addicted to them and haven't noticed the problems you describe. Was the salsa different from what usually comes on their burritos?

                    2. re: Servorg

                      Our confusing parking signs are nothing compared to the hieroglyphics in New York. It's not too bad, just make sure you pay where you have to pay and don't go overtime because they mark the tires.

                      Concur on Mariscos Chente. Also in Santa Monica don't miss Musha, which is a cute (but small and stuffy) izakaya on Wilshire near 5th St. Father's Office on Montana and 10th (great burgers, great beer list, not customisable). Nearby in West LA is Monte Alban for very good Oaxacan (southern Mexican) food, and perhaps you'd like Javan for Persian food. M Cafe de Chaya in Culver City for your obligatory LA-weird-diet food (macrobiotic, but damn tasty macrobiotic).

                      Save one day for the San Gabriel Valley. Lather up the sunscreen and stock up the bottled water for your trip to the hot, dry interior, along the 10 freeway. Get dim sum at Elite -- dim sum in LA is, honestly, better than dim sum in New York, even 7 train dim sum -- wander the area, have a foot reflexology session (an hour for $20), sample teas, look at knickknacks, and have a Chinese dinner at Giang Nan (Jiangsu -- eastern -- cuisine), or maybe China Islamic (get sesame bread, get lamb anything). Skip any Sichuan food, because you do it better than we do. Or change continents completely and have fish and shrimp tacos at El Taco Nazo, or Tacos Baja Ensenada.

                      If you like Korean food, LA has an absolutely enormous Koreatown. Barbecue at Park's BBQ (get the special kalbi which comes in huge rolls, and if it's hot out get a bowl -- a huge bowl -- of naengmyon so cold there's ice floating in it), or maybe you'd like soon tofu at Sokongdong or Beverly Tofu House. Or pork neck soup at Ham Ji Park, or delicious noodles at Corner Place (but you can't remove the noodles from the premises). I mean, the list truly goes on and on and on and on.

                        1. re: Das Ubergeek

                          Strong second for Elite, better than 20 Mott (RIP), Golden Unicorn, 888 Palace (RIP), and Jade. I've only been to one place in the US I liked better -- Crystal Garden in Flushing -- but they closed nearly 20 years ago now.

                          Also, it's been a while since I lived in NYC, but I don't remember anywhere like Luscious Dumplings there: a minimal place with a short, focused menu (dumplings, noodles) that they execute really well. The only caveats are that their hours are short (Tue-Sat 11am-2pm, 5pm-8pm; Sun 11am-2pm), and they are often out of many of the choices well before closing. But, to me, they are one of the quintessential SGV (San Gabriel Valley) culinary experiences.

                          1. re: Das Ubergeek


                            Elite Restaurant
                            700 S Atlantic Blvd, Monterey Park, CA 91754

                            Luscious Dumplings
                            704 W Las Tunas Dr, San Gabriel, CA 91776

                      1. re: monku

                        Can't go wrong with Daikokuya~~~except

                        Kotteri broth w/ extra chashu for me.

                        Then after get a donut an-pan at Japanese Village. haha

                      2. Here's a similar thread (NYers visiting LA, low-end recommendations sought) from a few months ago that may help:

                        15 Replies
                        1. re: Peripatetic

                          Thanks for all the suggestions. I think one afternoon will be ear-marked for San Gabriel Valley. As someone of Chinese descent, I have to see what this area offers. I also plan on trying the Mexican fare while in LA, since there is very little authentic Mexican in NYC. Any other high end recs? What about sushi/Japanese?

                          1. re: hungrymanUWS

                            I'm not sure whether you'll find sushi better here. It's certainly wider-spread. If you REALLY want the high-end, of course, go to Urasawa and prepare to drop $500 a head after you drink. Otherwise, Zo is the usual high-end sushi rec.

                            As for Mexican, one of the best Mexican places in LA is in the San Gabriel Valley -- Babita Mexicuisine. Like eating in Grandma's living room, if Grandma could serve you veal cheek with consome, or a chile en nogada (not always available, depends when you're coming -- requires pomegranates), or just their plain chile relleno (stuffed with a crab stew).

                            Further south, near-ish LAX, is La Huasteca (near where the 105 and 710 freeways intersect in Lynwood), where you can feast on meats with pipian (pre-Columbian pumpkinseed sauce), many kinds of mole, including white almond mole and occasionally manchamanteles (made with fruit), and a massive collection of tequilas. After you're done, wander around the plaza and forget you're not in Mexico.

                            As for the SGV, we are talking about an area that is physically the size of New York City, so it tends to be quite spread out. The two real loci are the Alhambra-Monterey Park-Rosemead-San Gabriel area (from Atlantic to Rosemead on the 10) and the Hacienda Heights-Walnut-Rowland Heights area (from Hacienda to Brea Canyon on the 60). Of the two I'd pick Alhambra et al., because it's much closer to LA and is bigger. Look for recommendations like Seafood Village, Elite, Sea Harbour, Luscious Dumplings, Dumpling 10053, Phoenix Food Boutique, Kang Kang Food Court, China Islamic, Giang Nan, NBC, Yun Gui Garden, Hong Yei, Kingburg Kitchen, Dan Dan Guilin Rice Noodle, Mei Long Village, Pa Pa Walk, Yunnan Garden, Newport Seafood, Lu Din Gee.

                            1. re: Das Ubergeek

                              As usual I agree with Das Ubergeek. One thing, though: I think Dumpling 10053 may warrant a downhill alert. When we visited in April they seemed to be on autopilot, and I think I subsequently read that there had been a relatively recent change of ownership or management.

                              Also, Babita's food is spectacular, and I love the unexpected crack-house chic (exterior, at least) of the location, but when we visited we were put off by the ersatz Michelin-one-star experience of the place: the very attentive staff and chef were a little condescending, repeatedly "reminding" us what a wonderful meal we were having (which, foodwise, it was!) and how lucky we were to be there. It became a little grating. We were one of only two tables at that time that evening, so maybe that was a factor, and I think they were also a little disappointed we didn't order more than we did (we still managed $30 pp). Overall I prefer Moles La Tia and Casita Mexicana. That said, you would be hard-pressed to be disappointed by Babita.

                              However, I totally endorse Elite, Sea Harbour, and Luscious Dumplings. The other places UG mentions are on my to-try list, but I'd be surprised if they weren't stellar -- UG is one of the LA board's star contributors.

                              1823 S San Gabriel Blvd, San Gabriel, CA 91776

                              Elite Restaurant
                              700 S Atlantic Blvd, Monterey Park, CA 91754

                              La Casita Mexicana
                              4030 Gage Ave, Bell, CA 90201

                              Moles La Tia
                              4619 E Cesar E Chavez Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90022

                              Sea Harbour Seafood Restaurant
                              3939 Rosemead Blvd, Rosemead, CA 91770

                            2. re: hungrymanUWS

                              For Mexican -- specifically Oaxacan, which may not be readily available in NYC -- try Monte Alban, on Santa Monica Blvd. between Barrington and Bundy (not quite in Santa Monica, but almost -- just a little bit east of the SM - West LA border). The moles are terrific, and I always recommend the barbacoa de chiva, a chuck of tender, delicious braised kid served in a dense, red, spicy but not hot broth with a plate of stuff (herbs, onions) to mix in and flour tortillas. Not a fancy restaurant, but very pleasant and quite inexpensive. The food is great, and parking (either in their lot -- it's in a small strip mall) or on the side street nearby is relatively easy.

                              1. re: ozhead

                                Unfortunately (VERY unfortunately), Monte Alban is closed because of a recent fire. Nobody seems to know when, if at all, it will re-open.

                                1. re: ozhead

                                  Just FYI, when I drove by today on my way to work they had a huge banner up that said they would be re-opening soon. No specific date was given (unless on a flyer on the door, which I obviously couldn't see while driving).

                                  1. re: a213b

                                    Good news! Thanks for passing it along.

                              2. re: hungrymanUWS

                                Many strong suggestions already on this chat. I would just like to stress that if you are looking for Mexican and plan to spend an afternoon in the SGV, Babita is a must.

                                1. re: hungrymanUWS

                                  in santa monica, very reasonably priced AND they take reservations, open for dinner only, japanese izakaya (small plates),
                                  424 Wilshire Blvd
                                  Santa Monica, CA 90401-1410
                                  (310) 576-6330

                                  1. re: hungrymanUWS

                                    Hungryman, I think LA really does offer the most diverse Mexican, Korean and Asian/Chinese food anywhere. And If you are of Chinese descent, you will find alot of exciting eats in SGV. Having lived in NYC for a number of years (and also being Asian), I think SGV comes closest in representing the multi-culinary disciplines. I came from SF originally, and its mostly cantonese cooking there. But in SGV, there's a lot more nuance.....from classic "xiao tsi" or midnight eats of porridge and tiny tapas stayle dishes to all kinds of dumplings and XLB (xiao long bao) to very northern style chinese to Islamic Chinese - alot to digest! You're getting some great recommends here, so I won't be redundant, but I always heard that NYC has such great dim sum, but in the 3 years I lived there, I tried every place and was never impressed nor did I find Chinese food eats to be that interesting. I'm quite excited to hear your review about where you ate while here....let us know! Look forward to your future post - happy eating in LA!

                                    1. re: hungrymanUWS

                                      We are from back East and have yet to find a really good Chinese place that can compete, it's just NOT the same taste. Personally, I would try Sushi for sure!!! LA beats NY hands down for Sushi!! Also do try Thai, again it is an experience here. Malibu has a great little Thai place with a nice outdoor patio. It's on PCH right next door to Johnnie's Pizza. There is also a Chinese restaurant a few doors down that has the nicest family that owns it. Nobu in the Country Mart. In Santa Monica there is a great Cuban place called Cha Cha Chicken. It is nothing like we have home. And you must try In & Out Burger!!! It's just an LA classic fast food burger, but must be tried. Whenever we were back East we craved it, and the minute we arrived in LA we would head straight to In & Out from the Airport. You can order with or w/out bun, and Animal Fries served with chili and cheese. I just go basic, but it is my favorite fast food burger. Abbott Kinney in Venice has many good place's too, we enjoy Hal's and becoming a fast favorite is Wabi-Sabi Sushi. We order a lot of different dishes and share. A few favs... yellowtail, miso soup, tempura anything, Ahi Tuna Tartare is outstanding, and the crunchy shrimp roll.

                                      Checkout Gladstones which is very casual on the beach or for more of a dining experience Geoffrey's in Malibu (both have gorgeous sunsets).

                                      Taverna Tony's in Malibu is a fun Greek restaurant that has belly dancers and live music. Food is wonderful and the octopus is to die! The roasted Red Pepper Hummus is so good I can jump in the bowl.

                                      Animal is also a great spot.

                                      Have fun!

                                      1. re: Penne4YourThoughts

                                        I agree that it would be strange to send the OP for NY-style Chinese food (which seems to be what you're talking about) while in LA because, while I'm no expert, that seems to be something we're missing in LA. If OP wants to experience authentic Chinese food, then LA is excellent for that.

                                        1. re: Penne4YourThoughts

                                          Gladstones has a beautiful view and terrible food.

                                          1. re: wienermobile

                                            true! but it is a fun spot for out of towners.

                                            1. re: Penne4YourThoughts

                                              So have a drink there and gaze out at the limpid surface of the mighty Pacific, etc. Don't eat there. It's revolting.

                                    2. the spago tasting menu! it's really outstanding. i was recently at bazaar at the SLS. this restaurant has been getting a lot of press and it was a gorgeous space. . . but for the money, it has nothing on spago taste/quality wise. good meal, but for $150/pp -- i'm looking for more than good.

                                      animal or jar are mid priced places that are very good and in nice areas of town where you can walk around. the food at both places is excellent.

                                      i would say pizzeria mozza is an absolute can't miss. it's so great. i know there's a lot of good pizza in ny - but this place is not ny, and yummy!

                                      for sushi - i would suggest going to little tokyo east or little tokyo west (just b/c it's fun to walk around both of these neighborhoods in addition to eating). little tokyo east is around 2nd/los angeles in downtown los angeles. there is a great sushi bar called hama sushi on 2nd b/w los angeles and central. little tokyo west is in west los angeles about 5 miles from santa monica and runs from olympic/sawtelle to santa monica blvd./sawtelle. it is a great stroll. i really like every place on this street. my new favorite is bar hayama b/c i like the atmosphere. there is better sushi -- but it's a nice space.

                                      for mexican, moles la tia and chichen itza get a lot of raves on the board. chichen itza could be fun b/c it's near macarthur park which is an experience. i really love king taco which is a fast food chain local to la. it is really really good. their salsas - red (scorching) and green (sweet/savory) are really to die for.

                                      oh - and in & out. yum.

                                      fyi - malibu is a foodie wasteland. seriously. santa monica has been making strides recently. riva is pretty good. musha is japanese and quite good. both are on wilshire. a fun bar with decent bar food is king's head on santa monica/second.

                                      have fun.

                                      2 Replies
                                      1. re: bu dat

                                        Agree with bu dat about Mozza. Californian-style pizza is as different from NY-style pizza as Neapolitan pizza is, and Mozza is perhaps now the definitive interpretation. For more about Californian-style pizza, I suggest reading and

                                        1. re: bu dat

                                          bu Riva still there? I thought they went out of business? It was pretty good.