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NYer coming to LA for birthday: top picks? buffet brunch? upscale Chinese w/ Dongpo pork + Peking duck?

Hi. We're coming to LA for the week of Labor Day. I've been a couple times in the past but really don't know LA. I'd love a couple recommendations. Whenever I travel, I try to sample the best of local cuisine.

My favorite restaurants in NYC are Eleven Madison Park, Aquavit, and Dovetail--these are fairly innovative and yummy places with great service in my book.

In the Bay Area, my favorites include Fifth Floor, Firefly, Cafe Kati, Stacks pancake house, Baker+Banker, Park Tavern (wider range here--formal to casual, innovative to comfort food to Asian fusion to pancakes).

What should my L.A. favorites list include???

In addition, NYC doesn't really have a great Sunday brunch buffet, but I love them so I always look for a great one when I travel. Most recently had a great one at the Four Seasons in Georgetown and over the years have had others at the Park Hyatt Bellevue in Philly, the Ritz Carlton Grande Lakes and Hyatt Grand Cypress in Orlando, Ritz Carlton Half Moon Bay, and the Four Seasons in Las Vegas.

Top pick for a gourmet Sunday brunch? A little over the top is just fine!

Finally, I was hoping for an upscale Chinese place for my birthday. I love Peking Duck and Dongpo Pork. But if that isn't what L.A. does best, I'm open to other cuisines/ideas.

Lastly, my stomach is sensitive to hot peppers and garlic so those places that use them in every dish are not for me.

Thanks very much!


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  1. Try the 'Polo Lounge' for Sunday brunch (not a buffet), nice quintessential LA scene. You'll probably see some celebs there.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Sgee

      Thanks. My girlfriend found that the Four Seasons has a buffet brunch so we're probably going to do that.

    2. Brunch: Saddle Peak Lodge

      Chinese: Sea Harbour (skip the Peking duck and Dongpo pork, go seafood)

      Places to try: Providence, n/naka, Urasawa, chiSPACCA, Father's Office, Bizarra Capital, Alma.

      6 Replies
        1. re: ipsedixit

          IIRC ipsedixit does have a favorite place for dongpo, but it's a hole in the wall type place, and that kinda sums it up for the vast bulk of what makes LA a great place to enjoy a diverse, authentic yet very affordable sampling of most regional chinese cuisines and dishes. a lot of these mom & pop places do one thing really well. a place that does a decent dongpo pork is likely to do a very indifferent duck (if they make it at all). as a matter of fact the only place i can think of that might do both would be shanghai no 1 - and the duck won't be peking duck. but it would be upscale in terms of decor and their braised pork belly is very good.

          however, dim sum is a different matter. what you would spend on brunch for 2 at the four seasons will get you a pretty exquisite meal at a place like sea harbor or elite. (yeah, this is the same sea harbor recommended by ipsedixit.)

          1. re: barryc

            Thanks, Yes, I saw those prior posts. Not looking for for holes in walls for Chinese food. I'll check out Shanghai No. 1.

            1. re: barryc

              I think if you do confine yourself to upscale hotel spots, you'll go back to NYC thinking there's nothing LA has that you can't get in New York. Have you ever been to New Orleans and noticed how you can get some great meals in some rather crusty places? To some extent that's true here as well. Maybe take a day or two and flip your concept from upscale to downmarket and see what you can find and enjoy.

              1. re: mc michael

                I've modified my request (above) because this seems to have been confusing.

                I was looking for one upscale Chinese place (given up on that) and one buffet brunch place (Yes, it's mostly hotels that do upscale buffet brunches in my experience--found that).

                Aside from that, I'm just looking for people's favorite restaurants that have menus that are not based on garlic and hot peppers.

            2. re: ipsedixit

              I'll check out those places to try. Thanks.

            3. Four Seasons Beverly Hills for Brunch But you might think about dim sum for brunch.

              1. I'm not familiar w/ the eateries you've listed, but I'm gonna go out on a limb and say that, if you're looking for food in LA that's going to meet the adjectives you've listed, you're going to be disappointed.

                IMO, our main advantage over NYC (from the little I know of NYC) is cheap and ethnic.

                You may also wish to let us know in what area you'll be staying and how much traffic you're willing to tolerate (although you might not actually encounter much after Friday evening).

                3 Replies
                1. re: paranoidgarliclover

                  Sorry if I made it complicated. I'd like to experience whatever L.A. does best in general, but not hole-in-the-wall Chinese. In terms of adjectives, I like NYC and SF each for its own strengths and hope to appreciate L.A. that way, too, but no garlic and hot peppers.

                  We're staying in Santa Monica, but we're touring around so we'll be in different places on different days (not sure of the specifics yet, but we're going to Hollywood, Griffith Park, Pasadena, Anaheim, Downtown, Pacific Palisades etc.). Not sure on driving limits; probably don't want to drive more than an hour or so unless it's one of our destinations???


                  1. re: StevenCinNYC

                    No, I think I understood what you're asking for, and that's why I think mc michael's post above is right on. From the numerous times people from NYC have posted (or, more accurately stated, from people who are looking for similar-to-this-in-NYC), my impression is that NYC does "middle-end" and "high-end" well (not technically terms, of course).

                    While LA has those kinds of places, the responses historically have been that NYC does that type of ambiance/cuisine/whatever much better and that looking for an LA-equivalent of middle- to high-end (when compared to NYC) usually ends up in disappointment.

                    LA does hole-in-the-wall Chinese really, REALLY well. I suppose the HK seafood places might have a more upscale ambiance, but I honestly don't know if they'd be upscale enough for you.

                    I sort of consider "Asian fusion" a dirty word unless you're talking about Lukshon. The prob is that some of the dishes are quite spicy.

                    Are the places you've listed in SF farm-to-table type places? We have those, too, in LA, but I don't imagine they're going to be better than they are in SF. But Gjelina (which is awfully close to your location) is probably worth a try.

                    We do Mexican really well. We do Thai pretty well. We don't do New American particularly well (at least, compared to NYC). We don't do Italian well (compared to NYC).

                    Regarding Pacific Palisades, don't really know if it's much of a destination unless you're planning to hike there or to go the Farmer's Market (which is quite nice, BTW). Otherwise, IMHO, it's a bit of an ultra-upscale suburb.... Great place to live, but....

                    1. re: paranoidgarliclover


                      To be clear, I'm not looking for NYC food or SF food or Seattle food (another place I love to eat). I thought for people who knew those restaurants, it would clarify the sorts of places I like in those locations and it might be helpful for identifying places in L.A., but based on what you and others have said, it's probably not a good approach.

                      I'm sure you're right about the differences between NYC and L.A., and understanding those differences is helping me adjust my expectations. I do really like New American so I'm glad you let me know not to look for it in L.A. SF does that well and a couple places in Seattle, too (Crush, for one, that is really good). Cafe Kati in SF does great Asian fusion, but it's the only place I know for it (and it's not spicy which is great for me).

                      I enjoy all kinds of restaurants as long as they garlic/hot peppers are not an issue. I've been fortunate to travel a great deal for work in the past, getting to sample foods from around the US, EU, Scandinavia, and one trip each to Asia (Taipei, Siem Reap, Bangkok) and S. Africa. I'm not looking to eat chocolate covered bugs or drink snake blood squeezed from a dying animal, but I do enjoy a range of local cuisine.

                2. It sounds like you favor upscale places attached to hotels. In that vein, you might enjoy WP24 and Cut for Chinese and steak respectively.
                  But if you can get away from hotels, the picks ipse presented have very good food.
                  Additionally, you might like Chosun Galbi for Korean BBQ.
                  You might also check out Night + Market for Thai innovations.
                  Red Medicine might also be worth a try.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: mc michael

                    WP24 is a very good suggestion.
                    As to brunch, maybe Michael's in Santa Monica, or on the patio at the Hotel Bel-Air.
                    Rivera DTLA for an innovative take on Mexican/Southwest flavors. Not everything has hot peppers, but no garlic? Better check!
                    Crossroads on Melrose if vegetarian cuisine might be of interest.

                  2. "High End Chinese"
                    We have no Shun Lee Palaces

                    We do have Meizho Dongpo in Century City, which does very good classic Chinese dishes in a modestly upscale environment.

                    If you want fancier surroundings but hit-or-miss (and more of the latter than the former) Chinese food there are a few choices:
                    Hakkasan, Mr. Chow's or Joss Cuisine (all in Beverly Hills



                    5 Replies
                    1. re: Ciao Bob

                      Thanks, Yes, Shun Lee is the kind of place I was wanting to find, but I understand now that it's not the kind of place LA really does. I don't need it so desperately that I'll bother with the mostly-miss places. Thanks for making that so clear.

                      The best Chinese food I've had was in Taipei (I've never been to China). I went to some really great restaurants; I'm not a night market kind of guy though, especially with my dietary restrictions.

                      I love those steamed juicy buns, Peking Duck, dongpo pork, and those black sesame rice balls. I had some really good Hakka dishes, but I don't recall the specifics of them. I also had great dim sum on that trip, but it's trickier in NYC--people won't always tell you (for language or knowledge reasons) what's in each dish so I don't bother.

                      In the US, I like the upscale places or the moderately upscale ones where families go for special occasions.

                      So unless I'm with someone who knows the owner, I don't risk it with the more casual places. There was one called Golden Pond in Philly that was really good that handled special dietary requests very easily. I don't know if it's still there, but I don't expect to find too many casual places that cater to my needs. I respect that, and I don't push it.

                      1. re: StevenCinNYC

                        Sounds like you would like Din Tai Fung--either in Arcadia or Glendale.

                          1. re: StevenCinNYC

                            They may not be THE best dumplings in town, but they are a benchmark to gauge others. If someone has purportedly better ones than DTF, then I want to go there.

                      2. re: Ciao Bob

                        There are a few Chinese restaurants where you can spend an arm and a leg if you want: Sea Harbour, Elite, etc. It all depends on the dish you want and the amount of money you want to spend.

                      3. If you're coming as far as Pacific Palisades, you might as well continue north on PCH and go to Nobu Malibu, beautiful spot right on the beach, most beautiful place in all of LA. Best spot we have in the Palisades is Maison Giraud. Decent enough sushi at Pearl Dragon, which has the only liquor license, everything else is beer & wine.

                        Venice has a lot of hip and urban places to go on Abbott Kinney, like Gjelina, Tasting Kitchen, Salt Air, Willie Jane. These are all close to Santa Monica.

                        High end in Santa Monica is Melisse. Check out the Penthouse in the Huntley Hotel for drinks at sunset, best view.

                        Most of the hotels along Ocean Avenue in .santa Monica will offer brunch as well, not are if they are all buffets though. It is worth the hour and a half drive to Laguna Niguel to visit the Ritz Carlton or Studio Montage down there and have brunch or dinner overlooking Dana Point. That's in Orange County, though.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: Dirtywextraolives

                          Thanks, that's very helpful. Yes, I saw that the St. Regis in Laguna has a buffet brunch, but it seemed a long way to go. I've been to that area a couple times for work (stayed at the Ritz there for one assignment--beautiful!) and a couple times by the John Wayne airport.

                          I'll check out those places.

                          1. re: StevenCinNYC

                            Looking at menus, I really like Maison Giraud, Gjelina, and Willie Jane so far. They look great!

                        2. I'd like to modify my request to eliminate everything related to brunch, hotels, and Chinese food.

                          I've gotten plenty of material on all that. Thank you.

                          At this point, if you'd care to add anything, I'd welcome your favorite restaurants where it's really easy to avoid garlic and hot peppers.


                          20 Replies
                            1. re: StevenCinNYC

                              One poster already mentioned a plethora of places on Abbot Kinney in Venice. Having lived in LA for 25+ years (from PA, by way of SF and Deutschland), the transformation of Abbot Kinney from a funky, gang riddled and drug addled pothole, to an upscale, pricey, gloriously pleased with itself food and shopping mecca, is really something. Galleries and $5 doughnuts abound. However, in the middle of all that change, Joe's Restaurant still remains among the best LA has to offer. It came in, replacing the iconic Rockenwagner, and remains a top notch, quintessential southern California food destination. It's tiny, but has a great menu for brunch, lunch and dinner, and you can stroll up and down Abbot Kinney and ogle all the current trends like Gjelina and the Tasting Kitchen, knowing that you've eaten at the place that came before them, and will outlast them all.

                              1. re: NAspy

                                Thanks. The desserts look incredible!

                              2. re: StevenCinNYC

                                Not sure about the garlic part, but I like Huckleberry (desserts and sandwiches) and Milo and Olive (Californian take on pizza, pasta, and salads). Same owners, both in Santa Monica. Not cheap, but not horrifically expensive, either. Just be aware that the line for both can be very, VERY long....

                                  1. re: Dirtywextraolives

                                    This is true (of both places). However, I imagine the OP being from NYC is accustomed to cramped quarters. And the patrons there are very "LA," for better or worse. And while people disagree about the quality of the food, I've personally never had a bad meal at either place. They're also geographically convenient for the OP.

                                    As for XLB (not aimed at you, Dirty), doesn't NYC have at least a few good examples? I like J&J's XLB better.

                                    For that reason, I wouldn't recommend DTF or Langer's (since it seems that the quality is similar to Katz's, no?).

                                      1. re: Dirtywextraolives

                                        Bring a cushion (aside from being cramped, the seating surfaces can be SO hard).

                                        Another thought for the OP -- maybe try Mercado. Yes, it's Mexican, but it's nouveau Mexican and thus may *not* have the flavor profile you wish to avoid. We had brunch there (they serve dinner, too), and we thought it was excellent. You'll need some seat cushions here, too.

                                        I also like Santa Monica Seafood a lot (primarily for their tuna melt), although not everyone likes their version of this dish (and I think Dirty might be one of them, just based on the description). It has very, VERY mild bell peppers that are almost pureed. I think they still might have a soft-shell crab sandwich, but I didn't find it that enjoyable (the crab was great, but the huge amount of lettuce detracted from the texture).

                                        1. re: paranoidgarliclover

                                          Yes, good memory, I don't like peppers in my tuna....

                                          But another good rec for Mercado. And yes, the hard industrial surface is all the rage in restaurant design these days....

                                          1. re: paranoidgarliclover


                                            Mercado does look good, but the menu seems to have garlic and/or chili peppers in almost every dish so probably not for me. I really like Mexican food, but I only rarely find a place that doesn't approach the flavor palate without a base of garlic and chili peppers. They do exist, but they are few and far between.

                                        2. re: paranoidgarliclover

                                          langers has katz beat. the latter is an overrated tourist trap (that is still pretty f'ing good, but not the top shelf IMHO).

                                      2. re: paranoidgarliclover

                                        The pizzas at Milo and Olive look great, especially the BRAISED BACON & PEACH and the BIANCA. Nice looking sandwiches at Huckleberry, too.


                                      3. re: StevenCinNYC

                                        In honor of Dirtywithextraolives, might I suggest a trip to Langer's Deli to compare the pastrami with Katz', 2nd Avenue, etc.?


                                        1. re: moreplease

                                          Yea because the decor at Langers certainly trumps that of Nobu Malibu......

                                          1. re: Dirtywextraolives

                                            This is CHOWhound, not DECORhound. Nobu is everywhere, including NYC.

                                            Just having some fun.

                                            1. re: moreplease

                                              Yes, as usual, at my expense.

                                              The OP has made it clear the types of places he likes.

                                              Yes, Nobu is everywhere. But I dare say none of his places here in the US are as breathtaking as the one on the sands of the Pacific.

                                              1. re: Dirtywextraolives

                                                So why not just go to the beach instead of dropping insane amounts of cash for the same miso-glazed black cod?

                                                1. re: moreplease

                                                  Who says you have to get the same dish there? They have a decent sized menu, not to mention the omakase.....

                                            2. re: moreplease

                                              Now you're playing with fire! I generally avoid bagels, smoked sturgeon, or pastrami outside NYC. I'm not saying that other places might not have good versions, but when you live in NYC, why bother?

                                              That said, even NYC isn't what it was. Growing up, my favorite was Herald Square delicatessen, plus Wolf's on 57th. Then, the Carnegie (and Stage) in the theater district. Katz's is great, too. I only went to 2nd Ave a couple times, and it was up there, but never held the same place in my heart (though I think I liked the egg creams). Most of these places are closed now, but we still have a couple plus Russ & Daughters, Barney Greengrass, and Zabar's. Most of the good bagel places have closed, too, but a few remain. I feel compelled to mention Yonah Schimmel (knishes from 1910) which is still around.