Recommendations for some friends visiting LA foodwise for the first time? (Starting out in Arcadia)
My friends are coming to LA from Vienna for 4 days for a wedding. They're staying in Arcadia, but they'll have a car, so if a place is far, it should really be worth the drive. Where do they need to go? (Planned trips involve picking up a friend in Burbank on a Sunday morning, and I think the rehearsal dinner is Korean (not sure if Korean BBQ or not)) A mix of affordable and expensiveish would be great.
I'm already planning on sending them over to Sea Harbour since they're so close to it and have never had Dim Sum. I'd love to convince them that they in fact *do* like Mexican food (Mexican food is terrible in Vienna!), but I need a place that's pretty guaranteed to be excellent. We were thinking of sending them over to Street or AOC for a more expensive dinner, though I imagine that's controversial. :) I'm at a loss for Thai that would be worth the drive. I've never been to Pho 79 but I know they're right next to it. They probably should have In-N-Out, and for my wife, Philippe's is a pretty essential LA experience. Help! There's just too much for 4 days!
8022 W 3rd St, Los Angeles, CA 90048
Philippe the Original
1001 N Alameda St, Los Angeles, CA 90012
29 S Garfield Ave, Alhambra, CA 91801
2114 E Foothill Blvd, Pasadena, CA 91107
742 N Highland Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90038
3939 Rosemead Blvd, Rosemead, CA 91770
If your friends are staying anywhere near Baldwin & Duarte in Arcadia, they can, in the space of about 150 meters (for our European friends) have a "roving lunch" of Taiwanese tapas at Liang's Kitchen, the beef roll & hand-torn noodles at 101 Noodle Express, xiao long bao at Din Tai Fung, and a red bean pastry at J&J Bakery. YMMV, but this strikes me as more of an authentic SoCal dining experience than Sea Harbour (which gets mixed reports here)
For guaranteed-to-be-excellent Mexican, there's Rivera, which is quite pricey, and La Huasteca, which might be a bit too far out of the way for first-timers. Reasonably good compromises closer to Arcadia (assuming they want a nice "sit down" experience) might be Babita in San Gabriel, Cacao in Eagle Rock, or El Portal in Pasadena.
As for Arcadia-convenient Thai, I'd suggest Saladang Song in Pasadena. Not quite as mind-blowingly good as Jitlada and various other Thai Town faves, but better ambience and parking.
Din Tai Fung Restaurant
1108 S Baldwin Ave, Arcadia, CA 91007
3150 E Imperial Hwy, Lynwood, CA 90262
695 E Green St, Pasadena, CA 91101
363 S Fair Oaks Ave, Pasadena, CA 91105
For Mexican, go to Babita, which is in San Gabriel, just south of Arcadia, and a stone's throw away from Sea Harbour.
I think for a more expensive and adventurous meal, try either Animal or Saam.
For Thai, go to Jitlada. I would avoid Saladang Song or any other Thai in the SGV (incl. Daisy Mint). If you are going to one Thai place in LA, then Jitlada should be it. Worth the drive.
As to other quintessential LA experiences -- in addition to In N Out and Philippes -- make sure to goto Pink's for some hot dogs.
5233 1/2 W Sunset Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90027
I like the pizza at Zelo in Arcadia better than any other pizza in LA, including Mozza.
I agree with ipsedixit re Jitlada being the #1 Thai option, with three caveats. First, Asian food in Europe tends to be less authentic and spicy than what we have here. Second, the service at Jitlada is usually horrible. Third, if they're the kind of people who are going to order standard dishes like pad thai and satay chicken, there is no reason, in my opinion, to drive all the way out to Jitlada; nearby options may be as good or better.
5233 1/2 W Sunset Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90027
Agree with you w/r/t Zelo, but as pizza (and Italian in general) in Vienna is pretty good, I'm not sure I'd take someone there if they only had 4 days in town.
As for Jitlada, it comes down to whether or not they have a local available to drive them there. I agree with Ipsedixit that it's the best Thai in LA, but sometimes you have to make compromises if logistical hurdles arise. And a for a first-timer in LA, staying in Arcadia, getting to Jitlada without a direct freeway route, parking, and figuring out the menu in your second (or third) language can be a bit of a hurdle without either a guide, or a rich sense of adventure...
If one evening they don't feel like driving far or having Chinese, then I'd definitely suggest Zelo. Bradbury's point about good pizza in Vienna is true, but Zelo has a style of pizza that's very different than anything you'll find in most of Europe, and the skateboards on the wall add another level of novelty.
I'd also consider taking European visitors to Le Roy's The Original in Monrovia for French dip and tater tots -- dishes (and ambiance) you won't find in the Old Country. But don't let them drink the coffee, or they'll be horrified. Better off going to Intelligentsia in Pasadena for that.
Vienna is quite the perfect city from what my wife has told me. Very formal, clean and representing the archetype Western Europe, both new and old. My usual wardrobe of casual clothes (clean short pants, some sort of t-shirt or casual button-up) would result in my being ushered out of the city according to her. Are your friends willing to lay back to LA mode and take in the local culture, or do you think they'd still prefer pristine settings in a more "cultured" environment? I say this because there are at least a few good choices that I'd prefer, but also have alternatives that would be diametrically opposed in their feel.
Sea Harbour would be my personal choice - they'll find it to be very orderly, pristine and incredibly entertaining to the taste buds. If only for the more classic frenetic dim sum experience by cart, I'd try 888. For many, the visual and olfactory experience that carts bring is something not to be missed. Either way, I think if you accompany them, show them the ropes, and govern the number of choices, pacing and the amount of food, they'd appreciate the experience multifold.
Skip Philippe's and head over to Langer's for a far superior sandwich experience. IMHO, Philippe is about sawdust and cheap coffee. As for their sandwiches, they're just ok for the price, but if I had limited time in this town and loved good food as opposed to dropping back into the past for just a moment, I'd take the good food. Philippe is old and in a better part of downtown-adjacent, but Langer's is old as well. The only catch is it's downtown-adjacent area is more ethnic, and is peppered with some severely homeless folks who are in survival mode in and around MacArthur Park. IMHO, this is a facet of the real LA - no lipstick on a pig so to say. If a Langer's experience might be a little tough on your friends, I'd default to Cole's for a similar feel of nostalgia but with more of a speakeasy feel and better food than Philippe.
Mexican cuisine is a wide open area. Would El Torito be a huge improvement over their current status on Mexican cuisine? I only ask that to attain some sort of baseline, because one can obviously do much better. Babita in San Gabriel or La Casita in Bell would be a vast elevation in their experience (if the cuisine is approachable to them) or Carnitas Michoacan in Lincoln Heights for a far more informal but great food experience. If they want something with a stronger contemporary feel and avant garde cuisine, I'd pick Rivera in DTLA. It will only resemble Mexican cuisine in some ways but definitely Pan-Latin with great attention to detail from beginning to end. And no matter where one goes, Rivera is a very rare gem whose similarities would be hard to find elsewhere.
The burger rec is perfectly fine, but please explain that In-N-Out's fries are of a particular type that most will either like or dislike. The marketing of "fresh-cut potatoes" is just that IMHO. Fresh cut potatoes do not necessarily make a great fry - it is only one of many steps involved in achieving ultimate success, which In-N-Out does not perform. They may also find the "secret menu" items to be interesting. However, if other choices were to be thrown into the ring, it's almost as broad as choosing one Mexican cuisine experience. Combining the burger with a great beer would be ideal for me. Father's Office? Umami Burger? The Golden State? 25 Degrees? 38 Degrees? Blue Palms Brewhouse? Stout? Rustic Canyon? Morton's? All have burgers that would rival or exceed In-N-Out's, do better on fries, and most that I've listed have very good to great tapped beer selections where they could taste something familiar or try some great craft brews that are only now becoming somewhat available in parts of Europe.
25 Degrees Restaurant
7000 Hollywood Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90028
3229 Helms Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90034
850 S La Brea Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90036
The Golden State
426 N. Fairfax Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90036
6124 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90028
I agree w bula re: the burger experience. In the last 20 years since I arrived, LA has had a phenomenal explosion in the burger wars. Once a vast fast food mecca, now gastropubs, chains, diners & hi end places have hitched their wagons onto the mega burger trend.
If you want In N Out flavor but better fries, try Five Guys, but not sure which location would work for you.
If you want better than that, any of the above suggestions, and more if you want to weed through a thread by searching for best burgers in LA, you will get a lot of ideas. My personal fave for a chain is Umami's Hatch burger, properly seasoned meat cooked to perfection, oozing cheese, and spicy hot hatch chilies, soft brioche bun. I like the store in Santa Monica on 5th street for service sans attitude and parking. My personal fave for a beer pub with great burgers and a large & interesting variety of beers from around the world, Blue Dog Beer Tavern in Sherman Oaks, makes delicious burgers. Right where the 405 and 101 freeways converge, just south of Ventura Blvd.
Blue Dog Beer Tavern
4524 Saugus Ave, Sherman Oaks, CA 91403
What are your friends' ages?
If they make it to Pasadena, they might enjoy coffee and pastry or a sandwich (the egg salad!) at one of the Europanes.
If they head downtown, they might like walking around the Disney Hall. It's been a while since I've been to Vienna, but if there's any restaurant in LA that feels like upscale Vienna to me, it's Patina. Just a thought.
I think they'd enjoy a good steak and I'm sure you can think of any of a number of choices for that, or maybe you're gonna grill for them?
Babita is a good pick foodwise, but they might enjoy a place with music like La Fonda or El Portal.