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Where to "wow" a visitor with "do NOT miss this place" recommendations

Okay, so here's the situation. I visit L.A. roughly once every other year, and my next visit is this coming October. I'll probably be around SoCal for 5-7 days. I'll have a car, of course (there are some other cities where this is not a given). I'll be staying near downtown and spending time with friends who live and work in Beverlywood, weho, and Hollywood, so geographically those areas would be best, but other areas not terribly far would be okay too, areas like Westwood, Santa Monica, and even Pasadena.

What I'm looking for are recommendations for absolutely terrific food, with some variety. And when I say terrific food, I mean the places where dish after dish, you take one bite and think, "wow, this is amazingly good", places that you go to and the food was so delicious that you're still thinking about it a day or a week later, and eager to return. I'm hoping for recommendations for multiple types of food, at a wide range of price points. (I'm not trying to economize, but I'm not looking for fancy fine dining every day.)

I would love to hear anyone's list of their two, or five, or ten "do not miss" favorites, the places you take friends from out of town you want to impress with how great L.A. food is. To give you an idea of what I'm looking for, check out the first reply in this topic, which is my "do not miss" list for a first-time visit to Chicago:

1 night in Chicago - www.chow.com/topics/977381#8971167

As you can see, there are recommendations for categories including fine dining, casual dining, ethnic dining, breakfast/brunch, and snacking, at prices ranging from haute cuisine to cheap eats.

More details...

I'm open to most kinds of food, although I don't care for raw food (e.g. sushi) or Korean, and I don't eat pizza out of town because I love the deep-dish back home in Chicago. I'm not looking for anything that's necessarily different from what we have in Chicago; I'm just looking for places that are amazingly delicious, even if we have similar places in Chicago. (California Pizza Kitchen!!! Just kidding, of course.)

Along with any recommendations, I'd be interested in hearing tips for whether it might be difficult to get a reservation, or tips for places that don't accept reservations where waits to be seated are likely to be lengthy. Oh, and I hate places that only offer communal seating.

The last time I was in L.A. I ate at Animal and absolutely LOVED it, and I may go back there during this visit. I've also been to Moles La Tia in Boyle Heights, which I enjoyed, but not enough to return on this trip. Similarly, I've been to Griddle Café in weho, which I enjoyed, but I'd be interested in getting a couple more super-creative breakfast/brunch oriented recommendations.

I've looked over the recommendations in this other discussion, which sound like candidates, except that (as noted there) many of them are rather similar to each other in price, style, etc.:

Guidance needed for week-long LA visit - www.chow.com/topics/984817

I've also looked over Eater's 38 essential L.A. restaurants at
http://la.eater.com/archives/2014/07/...

With both of those other discussions/lists, the biggest problem I'm having is identifying the absolutely phenomenal "wow do NOT miss" places, as opposed to those that are "merely" very good and worthwhile. Hope that makes sense.

I thank all of you humbly in advance, and offer my help here on Chowhound for anyone traveling to Chicago.

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  1. fwiw, having lived mostly in NYC and LA

    in my experience, any restaurant that has more than a few dishes on their menu, even if the restaurant is a TERRIFIC restaurant, will have some dishes that are not stellar.

    "dish after dish" across the board excellence is nothing i've every witnessed.

    i HAVE seen places where whole categories of their offerings are stellar, and places that the majority of their offerings are phenomenal, but "dish after dish" 100% of the menu? not really unless the menu is VERY narrow.

    even my own darlings have SOME dishes with which i am not enamored.

    2 Replies
    1. re: westsidegal

      I have never had anything less than phenomenal at Chi Spacca when in LA. And I have only had a single lackluster dish at Night + Market. Although technically impossible to eat the entire menu (since it is eternally in flux), I also have never had anything besides great food at Guerrilla Tacos.

      It's true, most everywhere else usually cannot accomplish the marvelous feat of having a 100% "hit rate" though. In general, one must be informed not only about where to go, but what to order.

      1. Gjelina
        Nobu Malibu
        Tasting Kitchen
        Chi Spacca
        Maude
        Melisse
        Zengo - brunch
        Eveleigh - brunch
        Guisado's
        Badmaash
        Saddle Peak Ranch - brunch
        Son of a Gun

        47 Replies
        1. re: Dirtywextraolives

          What's Badass?

          Good picks. I might add chinois Spago or wp24 for apps (lobster egg rolls essentially all lobster) and dragons breath and other hi end cocktails and nice view and lounge area located at ritz.

          Langers.

          I think Jitlada is worth it or do sapps if feeling really casual.

          Bucato is my favorite Italian at the moment. Georgio baldi works.

          Ktown. Parks. Chosun galbi.

          Have fun.

          1. re: jessejames

            I like Soowon over Chosun. The former has real charcoal, the latter used gas only.

            1. re: TheOffalo

              Full bar.
              Nicest setting. Accessibility to variety of well prepared classics.

              1. re: jessejames

                JJ is Chosun more expensive than Parks? I'd like to try Chosun....

                1. re: Dirtywextraolives

                  Similar.
                  Nice other stuff on menu besides BBQ too.

                    1. re: kevin

                      chosun has a great menu apart from the bbq which is excellent. their short rib rolls out spiral cut like a neck tie...the grilled/sizzling sea bass thing they do there is a crowd pleaser for my family...moreover, it's nice, airy and accessible to friends that have never been to ktown. oh yeah, and I think I mentioned it, chilled vodka and midori shooters anyone?

                      1. re: jessejames

                        sea bass ????? can that be a stand alone dish ?????

                        i'm down.

                        i'll skip the midori shooters.

                        but some blue label sounds good. or mac.

                        1. re: kevin

                          Absolutely some of the best sea bass in LA…

                          It's one of the reasons my go-to Korean is Chosun.
                          Wonderful place.

                        2. re: jessejames

                          "their short rib rolls out spiral cut like a neck tie"

                          I've noticed that many, many places do this now.

                          1. re: ns1

                            It's a good trend. Theirs is awesome. I prefer whole spot to parks based on food quality variety atmosphere bar and service. I like parks too don't get me wrong.

                            1. re: jessejames

                              I think I've moved on from parks - solidly in the oo kook camp now.

                          2. re: jessejames

                            my korean next door neighbor took me to Chosun for dinner.
                            i LOVED all four of the seafood dishes we had.
                            (in particular there was a fish soup that had chunks of roe floating around. . . )

                            1. re: westsidegal

                              Iove it wsg. A place that we both like.

                          3. re: kevin

                            Can i just ask what is the point of rec'ing a members only joint to an out-of-towner?? Has J.L. taken you yet????

                            1. re: Dirtywextraolives

                              Some people try to get a free dinner out of it by offering to take a non member.

                              1. re: Porthos

                                Ok, but that doesn't answer my question as to why one would recommend the place to someone visiting.... Are they inviting him or her? Don't know, doesn't sound like it. Sounds more like blowing hot air....

                                1. re: Dirtywextraolives

                                  sorry Dirty. just a little in-joke.

                                  my rec for totoraku no longer stands.

                                  sorry about that.

                                  1. re: kevin

                                    Oh I didn't know! Haha you should've s something...!

                            2. re: kevin

                              ??????????????????????????????
                              ????????????????????????...????????? ?

                              1. re: jessejames

                                Indeed. Bad asses always want a full bar!

                                1. re: Thor123

                                  it never makes the food taste worse but thor and I know you love tanas and it's a feeling ... for me the same, it's not just the food, I wanna have some fun!

                            1. re: jessejames

                              soo won is pretty good after park's, of course.

                          4. re: jessejames

                            http://badmaashla.com/

                            Good call on WP24 for drink and apps

                            OP says he doesn't do Korean....

                            Ive gotta get over to Bucato...

                            1. re: Dirtywextraolives

                              Do it (Bucato). SOOOOOO good. Honestly, you could just get 3 loaves of the bread and then be done for the night! I'd skip the polenta, BTW....

                              1. re: paranoidgarliclover

                                Good to know re polenta. I'll get there sometime, but I hate that I can't reserve a table in advance....it's not very often at all as parents we have spontaneously been able to just go out at the last minute...

                                1. re: Dirtywextraolives

                                  Hear you. Make plans. Get a back-up res and call Bucato in the AM. If you call right at 9:30 you're nearly guaranteed a spot . . . if it's not raining.

                                  1. re: Dirtywextraolives

                                    Not as tough as you might think to get in.

                                    1. re: jessejames

                                      My partner and I called ahead on a weekday maybe 30 min or so b/f we arrived? And I think we ate at a relatively normal hr (7:30PM or so?). Maybe we just got lucky, but it wasn't too bad at all.

                                      1. re: paranoidgarliclover

                                        Great! I would put up with way more aggregation too cuz everything we have eaten there kicked ass. Really no big deal.

                                2. re: Dirtywextraolives

                                  Badmaash does sound badass never heard of it!

                                  1. re: jessejames

                                    It actually means 'badass' in Hindu, it says in the article I linked for you. Yea, I'm gonna try it in a couple weeks, I've been dying to go there, and for Indian in general lately....

                                    1. re: Dirtywextraolives

                                      I saw the badass chicken wings and some other fun menu items. This is a solo mish kind of place for me w my family. Nice find

                                      1. re: jessejames

                                        Right, my husband would love is place, kids too.... They are open for lunch too! I just don't find myself in that part of town too often now. Guess I need a reason to go.....

                                        1. re: Dirtywextraolives

                                          go and hit up GCM while you're at it.

                                            1. re: jessejames

                                              and morton's for the double cheddar cheeseburger.

                                            2. re: kevin

                                              Unlike you, I dont have a hollow leg..... my kids on the other hand.... maybe i should just do a food crawl with them.... but they are actually judicious about stopping when they are full, as opposed to me who would eat til I popped if I could. But then they are hungry again about a half hour later....

                                  2. re: jessejames

                                    How does a gun slinger like Jesse James not know what a Bad Ass is?

                                      1. re: Thor123

                                        im a mild mannered father and husband in my off hours from whippin ass at the o-k corral!

                                  3. Riveria - downtown
                                    Angelini Osteria or Mozza Italian - Mid-City
                                    AOC - Mid-city
                                    Rustic Cyn - SM

                                    1. Guerrilla Tacos (http://guerrillatacos.com/) truck that serves Wednesdays (in Culver City) and Thursdays through Sundays (in DTLA Arts District). Fresh, seasonal ingredients, in amazing combinations, cooked with skill. Just had some today. No reservations, but go early if a particular dish that he's serving that day strikes your fancy (they run out sometimes). See this for a my semi-recent write-up: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/980626

                                      [Ignore, missed the no-raw-food caveat.] Shunji Japanese Cuisine (http://shunji-ns.com/ or http://www.facebook.com/Shunji.Ns/). The best sushi in town, in my opinion (and shared on the board). Great lunch deal, $40 for 12 nigiri 1 temaki, at that level of quality. If you can, make a reservation to sit in front Shunji himself; he usually works the bar at lunch on Thursdays and Fridays and is there most evenings.

                                      Night+Market in WeHo or Night+Market Song in Silver Lake (http://nightmarketla.com/). Thai "street food" with Northern and Northeastern Thai dishes. Very spicy. I like the Nam Khao Tod (crispy rice salad), Kor Moo Yang (grilled pork neck/jowl), Moo Sadoong ("Startled Pig"), Tub Hwan (pig liver "ceviche" salad).

                                      Those fit the "What I'm looking for are recommendations for absolutely terrific food, with some variety. And when I say terrific food, I mean the places where dish after dish, you take one bite and think, 'wow, this is amazingly good', places that you go to and the food was so delicious that you're still thinking about it a day or a week later, and eager to return." criteria you laid out, at least for me...

                                      I can probably come up with more: Tar & Roses, Rustic Canyon, etc.

                                      1. From a 100% standpoint, I'm thinking your best chance is some chef's table experience. Not sure who might be having those in October. Providence? Spago? Urasawa?

                                        2 Replies
                                        1. re: mc michael

                                          Don't think urasawa will work for him, he doesn't eat/want sushi....

                                          1. re: Dirtywextraolives

                                            Agreed, but this could be a life changer. Or not. But potentially.