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Aug 6, 2009 11:11 PM

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.