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Nov 15, 2009 12:35 PM

Visiting SFer asks: What LA institutions are worth visiting?

Hi LA Chowhounds,

I'm from San Francisco and visiting a friend who lives in Downtown LA (forgot the neighborhood, but somewhere near The Gorbals and The Varnish), and I can't wait to visit some of LA's food institutions. I'll eat just about anything. What's worth visiting? A specific Roscoe's Chicken location? The Original Pantry Café? Langer's for Pastrami? A certain dog at Pink's? I'd love to hear any of your thoughts. I'm headed to downtown LA this Friday.

Also, does anybody know if it's doable to try to get into the The Varnish on a Friday night? We'll be celebrating a friend's passing of the bar.

Thanks everyone in advance!

Original Pantry Cafe
877 S Figueroa St, Los Angeles, CA 90017

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  1. Skip Original Pantry. Skip Pink's (unless you like people watching).

    If you get into town by afternoon on Friday, go to Philippe's the Original (near Chinatown, by Union Station) for a beef or lamb French dip sandwich, try their sinus-es-on-fire horseradish, and a bowl of their superb New England clam chowdah (Fridays only).

    Do have the heavenly pastrami at Langer's (I'm partial to #19) - I just got back from NYC (Katz Deli's pastrami just isn't as good as Langer's, IMHO)

    If you have the $$$$$, get thee a reservation at Urasawa in Beverly Hills for Hiro-san's ethereal sushi kaiseki ($350+ per person).

    Do try the Kogi BBQ truck (go to to see if a truck will be near you) - Saturday nights there is usually one in Koreatown (not far from downtown).

    Do try the Father's Office Burger and sweet potato fries (Culver City location is better -


    San Gabriel Valley for good non-Cantonese Chinese food (Giang Nan or Mei Long Village for Shanghai, and China Islamic for northern/western fare).

    Enjoy L.A.!

    Urasawa Restaurant
    218 N Rodeo Dr, Beverly Hills, CA 90210

    Original Pantry Cafe
    877 S Figueroa St, Los Angeles, CA 90017

    Mei Long Village
    112 W Valley Blvd, San Gabriel, CA 91776

    China Islamic Restaurant
    7727 Garvey Ave, Rosemead, CA 91770

    Los Angeles, CA, Los Angeles, CA

    Father's Office Bar
    1618 Montana Ave, Santa Monica, CA

    11 Replies
    1. re: J.L.

      Oh I forgot to mention Persian food in "Tehrangeles", on the westside. For Persian, I like Javan, currently. Raffi's, if I'm in the Glendale area.

      Also, Zankou Chicken, with its garlic sauce, is not to be missed.

      Good sushi can be found throughout the city, not just in Little Tokyo (examples include: Shibucho in mid-city, Kiriko, Mori Sushi and Sushi Zo in West LA, The Hump in Santa Monica, and Urasawa in Beverly Hills)

      Afterclub - 2AM - Skip the Pantry - head to Pacific Dining Car on 6th St. - also open 24/7, with better food and people watching. Excellent Eggs Benedict.

      Urasawa Restaurant
      218 N Rodeo Dr, Beverly Hills, CA 90210

      11301 W Olympic Blvd Ste 102, Los Angeles, CA 90064

      3114 Beverly Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90057

      Pacific Dining Car
      2700 Wilshire Blvd, Santa Monica, CA 90403

      1. re: J.L.

        Great recs with a few modifications

        - Go to Pinks. Just don't go when people typically want to eat hot dogs (typical mealtimes and late nights on weekends) unless you don't mind waiting an hour for a hot dog. Go at 2pm on a Tuesday, and also order the curly fries which are really, really good.

        - The pastrami indeed is heavenly at Langer's, which is precisely why you shouldn't cover up the flavor and tender texture of it with the gloppy Russian dressing, Swiss cheese and coleslaw (which is what the #19 sandwich is... a quasi-reuben, not a proper pastrami sandwich). Especially since this is your first time, just get the ordinary pastrami sandwich with a dab of Gulden's deli mustard, and let the pastrami speak for itself. That's all you need.

        - The cream pies at Philippe are fantastic, and the lemon meringue is one of my favorites. Also, the lamb is really the way to do. I've tried the other meats and they tend to be too dry. Also, a lot of people like to tell you to to "double dip" the bread, but in my experience it makes the bread too soggy.

        - Don't forget Cole's, which is older than Philippe's and also supposedly invented the French dip sandwich. They've just done a revamp, and quality of their food tends is higher than Philippes, and so are the prices. (The bacon potato salad is terrific). Do the trivia game on their website and you might win a free sandwich (both my wife and I did)

        Mr Taster


        1. re: Mr Taster

          I am not humble. In my opinion...go to Philippe's for the history and the pie. Go to Cole's for the lamb.

          And for the love of all that is NOT wait in line at Pink's. Those are hours you can never get back. Drive by, take a picture, and keep driving. I live around the corner and I can assure you, 2 PM on a Tuesday is not an off hour. 9 AM is. But even if there is no one in line, personally, I'd keep driving. The last time I made the mistake of giving it another shot, I could not get through one dog. Literally. It was like wrestling with a chew toy. Grrrr.

          1. re: wutzizname

            N.B. Do go check out the Original Farmers Market on 3rd & Fairfax. And maybe the Dresden Room or a drink.

            Dresden Room Restaurant
            1760 N Vermont Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90027

            1. re: wutzizname

              Now now, let's curb the hyperbole. There certainly will not be a line at 9am because they don't open until 10 or 10:30.

              I live in the neighborhood and can assure you that at weekday off hours, the likelihood is good that you will not have to wait very long at all.

              Mr Taster

              1. re: Mr Taster

                I believe they open at 9:30 everyday. And I wasn't suggesting there'd be a line then. But today at 2...

              2. re: wutzizname

                The lamb at Coles is RIDIC. I get mine with goat cheese and, always, double the meat.

                1. re: blackbookali

                  Ditto the goat cheese. I tried that on the waitress' rec and it is shockingly good.

                2. re: wutzizname

                  The couple of times I've gone to Pink's, I have deeply regretted the time I have wasted standing in line for food that is so ordinary and forgettable.

              3. re: J.L.

                Hi J.L. What are the must tries at China Islamic?

                1. re: jpie

                  Sesame bread with scallions, hand cut noodles (some like lamb, I like the beef), 3-flavor won ton soup. Hearty stuff...

              4. If you want a real LA institution, go to some restaurant that has just opened to great clamor and will be forgotten in 15 minutes.

                Seriously, if you find yourselves looking for an excellent breakfast in the wee, wee hours near downtown, try the 24/7 Pacific Dining Car ( ) for steak and eggs. Warren G. Harding was president when this well-known steakhouse opened in 1921, and the only thing they've changed is the prices. Dinnertime is hit (order simple) and miss (anything that requires a cookbook), but you can't go wrong at breakfast with the fillet and eggs, fried potatoes, and toast with good jams.

                Pacific Dining Car
                1310 W 6th St, Los Angeles, CA 90017

                1. Griddle cafe


                  Both are "don't miss" destinations in LA.

                  1 Reply
                  1. Langer's pastrami is one of the best sandwiches you'll ever eat. It won't disappoint.

                    1. It's not yet an institution, but a great celebratory restaurant downtown would be Church and State.

                      Agree with Providence and Griddle Cafe as recs.

                      Skip Pink's... go to Oki-Dog on Fairfax instead.

                      Are you interested in Mexican (what's your driving radius)? Mexican Seafood (Mariscos Chente)? Oaxacan (Monte Alban)?

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: Emme

                        I might have a driving radius (I will be visiting a friend, so I won't be the one driving) but if you have some great ideas, please do share! I don't know where we're going yet, so it's totally possible that we could find ourselves in other fun parts of the area. Thanks!