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What is the definitive Socal food experience?

Hi, this is my first post here. I thought this would be a very common question so I used the Search function first to no avail. Let me explain my situation.

I have a friend from Australian visiting Socal for the very first time. She's been to NY and other big cities in the states, but I want her to try stuff here that she won't find anywhere else. We're staying in the San Gabriel Valley area, but we will be visiting all the touristy stuff in LA like Santa Monica, the Grove, Hollywood, etc.

Here's some things I came up with so far:

Local chain places ex. In N Out, Wahoo's, Rubios

Ghetto mexican food aka Albertos, Alertos, ___tos, i.e. California Burrito

Portos Cuban sandwiches

Zankou's Chicken

Chinese food in Alhambra, San Gabriel area

Boba from Tapioca, Lollicup

Yogurt from Pinkberries or Yogurtland

Pinks Hotdogs

Vietnamese food in Westminster

Sprinkles Cupcakes

Where else can we go? I left off any fine dining places, but recommend me a place or two that is iconic in Socal. Oh and we're going to Las Vegas too.


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  1. i would skip places like albertos and rubio's, but that's just me. Porto's is a nice choice.

    also some must go to places:


    The Original Tommy's

    Kogi Korean BBQ

    Taco Zone in echo park

    1. Langer's

      Father's Office

      Korean BBQ - a bunch of places in KTown (Soot Bul Gui Rim II and Park's)

      El Chato taco truck (or Chema's if you find yourself in Whittier)

      1 Reply
      1. re: mdpilam

        Yes Langer's. The best sandwich in Los Angeles.

      2. "Ghetto Mexican" is a dime a dozen. Alerto's is completely meh. Why not take her someplace that even Angelenos consider unique and delicious? Try La Casita Mexicana in Bell. Babita in San Gabriel. Monte Alban or Guelaguetza for Oaxacan?

        Porto's Cubanos and media noche sandwiches are ok for L.A. but not by Florida standards. It is worth going for the guava and cheese pastries, among other treats, but the sandwich isn't earth shattering.

        Zankou isn't all that either, despite being an L.A. institution. For rotisserie chicken, try the Peruvian version at Pollo a la Brasa (Gardena or Koreatown locations). Smoky, and a delicous aji.

        Koreatown - the biggest Korean population outside of Korea. Consider that along with your wisely chosen SGV and Little Saigon neighborhoods. Thai food in Thai Town (Hollywood) would be good too, but i suspect she can get Thai food in Oz, no?

        Pink's - total waste of time.
        Sprinkles - don't they make cupcakes in Australia? It's just cupcakes.

        3 Replies
        1. re: Professor Salt

          i concur withy professor salt to skip pink's entirely.

          the depth of mexican food available in LA goes way beyond tacos and oaxacan food.
          how about seafood done in the style of nayarit / sinaloa?

          Mariscos Chente in mar vista is beyond terrific. (there are numerous threads on this site and streetgourmetla has a blog that describes the food with pics)
          sadly, it is not located near any touristy attractions.

          1. re: westsidegal

            whoa, did I not say Chente? musta brain farted, because i was thinking of it.

            1. re: Professor Salt

              Given the subject matter I would say you had a "Señor moment"... ;-D>

        2. What a great friend you are! I love the Mexican food idea...Australians have no idea what Mexican food is being that they have no Mexicans in their country. My cousins visit from Australia every few years, and I've had to do what you're doing now. The recs so far are great, however, as a warning, Australia has a large Vietnamese and Chinese population with plenty of Chinatowns and Little Saigons of their own. Might I suggest a Brazilian BBQ experience? And if she's in southern California, a trip to the Ivy or Spago for some celebrity sightings would be totally appropriate. For fine dining, perhaps the Bazaar by Jose Andres...they've nothing like that in Australia.

          1 Reply
          1. re: attran99

            >>as a warning, Australia has a large Vietnamese and Chinese population with plenty of Chinatowns and Little Saigons of their own.<<

            No kidding - my wife is from Malaysia - her friends that have moved to Australia - mainly Melbourne - don't miss home at all when it comes to food - that's saying a lot if you know anyone from Malaysia or Singapore.

          2. L.A. is about tacos, donuts and assorted chili dogs, burgers etc. .If you visit LA without having tacos, donuts or chili then you really never visited LA.

            Tacos, Tacos, Tacos
            Best all round Taco stand with a large selection of tacos is Taqueria LA Cabana. Very low priced Tacos so maybe try several kinds for $1 to $1.50 each including lengua, chicken, al pastor, chorizo, deep fried shrimp and much more -true down-home Mexican food -- I like to call it a low priced "Tasting menu" for tacos. Do the tacos and not the burritos because one b urrito leaves no room to sample the other items on the menu. Outdoor tables only.
            My post on Taqueria LA Cabana, note: a reply in this thread has clear directions to this otherwise hard to find hidden dream of a taco stand.

            Taqueria LA Cabana
            3402 Cogswell Rd
            El Monte, CA 91732
            (626) 448-9310

            Donuts, Donuts, Donuts
            The best donut shop in LA is Peacock Donuts. Best selection of Crullers in L.A., Best plain cake and iced cake -- especially the chocolate iced white cake (just the right amount of crust ourtside yet still moist inside), Best for all things cinnamon and the Apple Fritter is also perfect – large, thin, crispy outside and moist inside. This little shop is donut heaven.
            34 E. Durate Rd. (1 block East of Santa Anita Ave. & plenty of parking in the rear, nice inside or outside tables)
            Arcadia, CA 91006
            (626) 445-6564

            Chili is also a serious LA food but you need to know which place to go to for the best chili item.
            Heres the scoop on Pink’s, Tommy’s and Carney’s. Each has something special that the others do not offer.

            Chili Burrito Dogs
            Pink’s is ok but only for a burrito dog made with two dogs or “the Three dog night” (a phrase which originated in the “Outback” and refers to a night that is so cold you must crawl into a hole in the ground with three dogs in order to keep warm. A three man rock group adopted the name and this very good burrito with three dogs is named after them). Pink’s Three Dog Night has 3 dogs, 3 cheese, 3 slices of bacon, chili and onions.

            Chili Breakfast Sandwich
            The Original Tommy’s does not have a good dog or burger but they do offer the “definitive Socal food experience with their unique, never to be found anyplace else on earth, Tommy’s Breakfast Sandwich. Ask forn it to be on a English Muffin with everything on it –sausage patty, egg, chili, cheese, tomato, onion, pickle and mayo -- yes, I said pickle and mayo and it is a must have!. Get lots of napkins and wash your face and hands before you leave.

            Chili Dog
            For a straight chili dog do not go to Pinks or Original Tommy’s. The best chili (lots of meat and chili flavor) dog (flavor and snap) and chili /cheese fries in L.A. is at Carney’s. Also, a fun ambiance inside the old train car on Sunset Blvd.

            Chili Burger
            Clearman’s Galley, “The Boat,” This place is about the chili cheese burger, the green salad with blue cheese dressing and toasted cheese bread. These flavors (beef, chili, blue cheese and cheese toast) all combine so well it is difficult to put into words. Add a large beer or two and you will have a “Teachable Moment” LA style. Recently rebuilt as a modern Sports Bar.
            7215 N. Rosemead Blvd.
            San Gabriel, CA
            (626) 286-1484

            Chicken & Waffles
            One more idea. Your friend has been to NY but maybe did not try Chicken and waffles on the same plate. In Pasadena you can go to Roscoe's House of Chicken and Waffles.. This is maybe the best version because the waffles are so good. However, the chicken at Pann's is, IMO, a little better. Panns has really good plate of fried chicken wings and waffles. Als, Pann's has a really cool Googie ambiance that os classic LA.


            3 Replies
            1. re: JeetJet


              Great recs, especially The Boat - still love it even though a lot of people are in mourning for the old location. For tacos, I'd add Guacamole's, just off the corner of Peck and Garvey in El Monte, and El Picoso in Azusa, across the street from In 'n Out on Azusa Ave. just south of the 210 freeway.

              I'd also like to add The Hat for delicious, fast food pastrami and the most generous servings of fries you're likely to see. In the SGV, the original location at Valley Bl. and Garfield is OK for history, but you'd have a more comfortable experience at the Temple City location at Broadway and Rosemead or the Pasadena location.

              Since the OP is hitting all the tourist spots, why not Skooby's instead of Pinks? It's right in the heart of all the Hollywood tourist spots. Also, at the Farmer's Market, Charlie's Coffee Corner for french toast, Bob's donuts, and my son and I love the deli in the heart of the market. Don't really get the Gumbo Pot love some people seem to have, though.

              These are the kinds of places that I miss when I'm away and have to hit up as soon as I get home.

              1. re: heckonwheels

                Heckonwheels, you got my attention with Guacamole's. You mention it is just off the corner of Peck and Garvey in El Monte. Do you recall what street it is on? What do they do really good? I have stopped eating meat but I get-together with my sons and they really like meat tacos. Also, does Guacamole's, have shrimp or fish tacos?

                I left out pastrami because I did not see it as definitive LA thing but maybe your right in that French dip started here in LA and so French dip style pastrami is LA. But IMO Tops is way better than The Hat and Tops also does so many other things right – Kobe Bistro Burger, the Asada tostada, deep fried zucchini, onion rings … Also, Jolly Jug in El Monte has, IMO, a better beef dip. What makes it so good is the flavor, quality and the way they slice the beef so thin. But Jolly Jug is not a popula LA spot for eating with the stars. In fact, sometimes the place is empty.Still, the sandwich is great.

                3838 E Colorado Blvd. (Between Rosemead Blvd. and Michillinda)
                Pasadena, CA 91107-3940
                (626) 449-4412

                Original Tops

                My post on Tops

                Jolly Jug (French Beef Dip and pastrami dip
                )4264 Peck Rd
                El Monte, CA 91732-2114
                (626) 444-8425

                1. re: JeetJet

                  It's on Garvey, just west of Peck on the south side of the street. they do your basic carne asada tacos, al pastor etc. but they specialize in mariscos, so you can get all the shrimp and fish you want.

                  Agree about the Kobe burger at Top's, it's very good and inexpensive too. Still think the Hat is better for pastrami. I've got to get to Jolly Jug. When I was a kid, I'd go there quite a bit when they had another branch located where Cielito Lindo is now in South El Monte.

            2. a dig all the taco suggestions. But i dont think I am going to SGV for a taco from South Bay.
              What you got in WIlmas or San Pedro or Harbor City?

              1. Mexican food is THE original cuisine in SoCal and there is one place that leaps immediately to mind which represents Mex-Am food in our fair city:

                El Tepeyac Cafe in East LA.


                El Tepeyac Cafe
                812 N Evergreen Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90033

                1 Reply
                1. re: Servorg

                  Great rec and nice web page. There is something about Manuel’s crazy big burritos that make people crave having them every once-in-a-while. I think it is the flavor of a sauce plus everything else that goes into them which makes for a totality of the flavors experience.. Everyone talks so much about the Hollenbeck burrito and it has been on so many travel and food TV shows that it has become a legend. Actually the bigger and better one is “Manuel’s Special.” It has everything the giant Hollenbeck burrito has X 2 = Hollenbeck’s Big Brother. Two people can begin eating there and then finish eatin it cold later. The taquitos w/ lots of fresh made guacamole, and the huevos rancheros are great also.

                2. If you do Tommy's, you must go to the original at Beverly and Rampart. The atmosphere is vastly superior to the branches which are pretty sterile. Avoid Pink's, although a drive-by could be entertaining because of the crowds and to say you've seen it. Although they're springing up like mushrooms it seems, Spago in Beverly Hills would be good for celeb sightings (not to mention dynamite food); you could also go to the one in Las Vegas but I prefer the patio seating in BH. Langer's is a good choice, but stick to the pastrami on rye (hand cut) and IMO the much touted #19 is to be avoided because the dressing and cheese interfears with the pure joy of the meat.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: TomSwift

                    I'll back up the Langer's choice of just a plain pastrami on rye. Have your friend compare it to NY if she got pastrami there.

                    For Mexican, I'd skip the "ghetto" places and go for a taco truck/stand and a regional Mexican restaurant. I'm not expert on taco trucks/stands but for great regional Mexican, Monte Alban for Oaxacan or since you're in the SGV, Babita.

                    Skip Zankou and go for the LA experience of Dino's Burgers. It's named for their burgers, but the famous order that literally everyone gets is the half chicken plate with a bed of fries, served with a side of coleslaw and tortillas. Revel in the flavorful chicken and french fries soaked through and through with its juices...

                    For boba, skip Tapioca Express and Lollicup. My favorite place currently is Half and Half Teahouse at the NE corner of San Gabriel Blvd and Las Tunas. I like the peach black tea or taro milk tea. It's a little pricier than other places, but worth it IMHO.

                    A new Yogurtland actually just opened on Valley and Del Mar just FYI. Give Scoops a shot if you want something original.

                    Skip Pink's and replace it with the Original Tommy's or Phillipe's, or both!

                    I'd also recommend Roscoe's as well.

                    Skip Sprinkles. Who wants to pay overinflated prices for so-so cupcakes? If you want a bakery, give Milk a try or buy some baked goods at Porto's. Cheese rolls, guava pastries, and the fruit tart.

                    Do you like Korean food? Try Road to Seoul in Ktown for all-you-can-eat Korean BBQ or Park's if you want just a few plates of higher quality meat.

                    Do you have specific places in mind for Viet food in Westminster? Honestly, you can probably get most of what you get there in the San Gabriel area.

                    1. re: TomSwift

                      Drive-by at Pinks? Not likely, although someone in line could roll their eyes a few thousand times. The 'Shaq' dog is the 3 Dog Night but with more bacon. Memories (of when I had a teenage stomach)...
                      Dim-sum is great and I don't recall seeing any in Oz.
                      I always take visitors to the following, swapping in and out due to tastes:
                      -Scoops ice cream or Bulgarini if it's later.
                      -Ocean Star dim-sum
                      -Cafe Sanamluang on Hollywood. (yes, I know: there's better Thai food. To my taste buds, they do more menu items better...for less money...until 4 A.M...where you can have a cigar after dinner...that's near Jumbo's Clown Room for added tourist thrills.)
                      -King Taco, from the truck, eating in the parking lot.
                      -real fish and shrimp tacos from the nearest taco truck ('nearest' means East L.A.)
                      -Farmers Market: either the one at 3rd and Fairfax or the one on Sunday mornings- although why not do both? at the former, Banana Leaf has some of the best Malay/Indo food I've had locally and La Loteria has the best salsa in L.A.
                      -Langers! Palate! Mozza! Oinkster! Phillippe's! show your guest why this is the city with the best food in the country.

                      I'm definitely going to add Korean BBQ to the list of possibles.

                    2. Baja Tacos Ensenada in East L.A. We took a friend from Sydney there and she's now hooked on them like crack.

                      1. don't listen to the naysayers! Treat your friend to a Pink's Chili cheese dog...just get there before the crowds or after to avoid the lines. I find 11:30 AM is usually a good time to show up for an early lunch. Also, agree with Tommy's (the original on Beverly).
                        Also Phillipe's for a French Dip.
                        Langers for sure
                        How about going out to Santa Monica for a Hot Dog on a stick and a lemonade?

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: JPomer

                          Honestly, there's more to LA than Pink's. I'm not saying it isn't tasty. But the time waiting in line can be better spent elsewhere.

                          1. re: taiwanesesmalleats

                            Avoid Pink's. I'm sure they have mediocrity in Australia.

                        2. If you are going to the Grove, certainly hit Farmers Market for a meal--and there are lots of posts, including recent posts about what to eat there--one piece of advice is that Bob's Doughnuts opens really early, so you could get a doughnut and a cup of coffee before you check out the Grove--and that is probably the most "authentic" time at Farmers Market, when the regulars (including some film industry types) congregate at Bob's for coffee.

                          On your trip to SM, if you time it to coincide with one of the farmers' markets you can get some fresh produce, a meal and, again, a sense of real LA. You can hit the trifecta on a Sunday--the farmers market, a stroll down Venice Beach (just because) and a dip in the ocean.

                          If your pal is interested in experiencing old LA, you can hit Musso and Franks for a drink (not a culinary highlight, but...)

                          And certainly our Thai food is wonderful--lots of posts about what is best (there is always the Thai Elvis for wackiest.)

                          And, for us one of the quintessential stops on our visitors' tour (in the summer) is always a picnic and concert at the Hollywood Bowl.

                          1. Thank you for all your suggestions. Keep them coming!

                            Roscoes, how could I forget about that place?

                            I think a visit to the Ivy is a possibility. I've never been, so what is the menu like there? Prices? How difficult is it to get a table?

                            Someone asked where we go for Vietnamese food in Westminster. I'm thinking Brodard's for their BBQ pork spring rolls. Boiling crab for their Whole Shabang sauce. (Show her Di Vang 3 too while we are there ;P). Maybe Lee's Sandwiches? I think all three places are pretty unique for Vietnamese food.

                            5 Replies
                            1. re: No Seafood

                              There's a Boiling Crab in Alhambra. If you want a banh mi place (Vietnamese sandwich), skip Lee's and hit up Banh Mi My Tho or Banh Mi Che Cali.

                              1. re: taiwanesesmalleats

                                Never been to the Alhambra one but I hear from friends that it is inferior to the Garden Grove one.

                                And I hear you on Lee's. I know it's not the best Vietnamese sandwich, but the interor and service there is light years ahead of all other banh mi places. I think that is what makes it unique.

                                1. re: No Seafood

                                  Boiling Crab is a good choice. Even if you removed the Asian element from it, a good old fashioned crawfish boil is very Americana.

                              2. re: No Seafood

                                Ugh, skip Brodard. The nem nuong cuon are good but everything else is so... blah.

                                I'd go to Vien Dong, or to Pagolac, or to Bun Bo Hue So 1, or Quan Hy, or Quan Minh Ky, or Quan Hop, or Banh Cuon Tay Ho, or Com Tam Tran Quy Cap, or Xanh.

                                Skip Lee's. If you absolutely can't hack the gritty places like Cho Cu or Cali, then go to Nhu Lan on Harbor and Garden Grove Blvds. Just as clean, bright and airy, and the sandwiches are so, SO much better than Lee's.

                                Boiling Crab is good but go to the one on Brookhurst so you can stop a few doors down at Banh Mi Che Cali to buy a baguette to cut the salt. (They don't care if you bring in bread at Boiling Crab.)

                                1. re: Das Ubergeek

                                  The one in Alhambra has a Banh Mi Che Cali place across the street.

                              3. Langer's pastrami
                                Porto's pastries
                                Dino's Chicken Maniaco
                                Taco trucks

                                For Mexican, how about the weekly East L.A. food fair? Best churros ever.

                                1. well what about in n out burger the quintessential favorite spot for generations...located all over so. cal...even vegas....must check it outorder one animal style- extra pickles .relish dressing... do it...if you ask they will give you a workers hat for a memento...enjoy and relay your experience...good luck

                                  1. And if we're talking donuts, we're talking Donut Man in Glendora! Best darn fruit donuts in the entire universe.

                                    1. Don't how many Peruvians have emigrated to Australia, but you might want to give this fast-rising cuisine a go as well. Here's Thi N.'s article that was recently in the LA Times that Servorg so thoughtfully posted about and linked:


                                      1. I think the definitive So Cal food experience is being able to eat outside.... and preferably near the beach. It doesn't matter what you're eating. Grab some food and head over to Venice Beach and people watch.

                                        Foodwise... while these may not be the tastiest food this CHer has eaten... you should consider taking your guest to places... that when they return to Australia they'll have a lot to talk about...or, so they can say "I've been there" when they see a story about California on TV.

                                        - Spago (Mr. Puck's classic)
                                        - Pinks (just for the crowd and because it's worldwide media)
                                        - The Bagel Factory for a tasty bagel with a smear
                                        - Hit up the Farmer's Market at the grove or the Santa Monica's Farmer's Market
                                        - Ivy (to spot celebs)
                                        - Randy's Donuts (just because it's in so many movies, not because it's best LA donut experience)
                                        - In and Out Hamburger (because it's In-and-Out)
                                        - Fogo de chao - delciious brazillian churrasceria
                                        - Rubio's - delish fish tacos
                                        - Philippes (historical LA restaurant) for french dip
                                        - Father's Office (they probably have gastropubs downunda.. but the hamburger they serve there is (becoming) famous),
                                        - Langers (best pastrami outside of Manhattan)
                                        - Kogi Taco Truck (just because it's a new LA novelty)
                                        - Roscoe's (because chicken and waffles baffle most everyone)
                                        - Costco (you can't beat a dog and a soda for a couple of bucks)
                                        - and pick your favorite place for guacamole (california hass avocados can't be beat IMHO).

                                        1. Yes, ignore most of your research and follow the advice of most of those on the Board. Absolutely don't go to Costco, unless you need paper towels.

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: epop

                                            i concur with epop.
                                            i would not waste a visitor's time, calories, nor money eating at costco.

                                          2. Another vote for the Kogi truck. Not that I think it's particularly mind-blowing, but it's a cool thing to show a tourist. One day she might catch a story on the local station back home about this "crazy new trend" in LA and she'll be able to say she tried it on her visit!

                                            I was at the Kogi truck in Torrance a few weeks back and in front of me in line were two people, one from SF and one from OC. The woman from SF was visiting her friend in OC and she made him drive around with her to hunt down the Kogi truck because she had read about it somewhere. I thought that was pretty cool and I know when I'm in a foreign country, I would love to try out some hip popular local fad.