When I moved to Los Angeles in 2006 from New York City, almost all the chefs who have—in the last decade—helped to build the City of Angeles into a gastronomic destination had not yet come to open their respective establishments. Back then, the city celebrated the old guard—bold faced names like Wolfgang Puck, Suzanne Goin, and Nancy Silverton. Just a couple years into my SoCal residence, Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo experimented with a porcine concept known as Animal, Ludo Lefebvre launched something known as a “pop-up” he dubbed LudoBites, and Michael Voltaggio left Pasadena’s Langham hotel to serve as a contestant on a somewhat newish Bravo series called Top Chef.
Los Angeles is now a creative culinary incubator: a city where chefs not only have some of the country’s best seasonal ingredients at their disposal, but also a locale that’s more forgiving to those who can’t yet afford to launch a brick and mortar. Real estate in LA is cheaper, but the city, which arguably catapulted food trucks and the idea of the pop-up restaurant, offers more ways for a chef to flex his or her imagination beyond the form of a traditional restaurant.
From an outsider’s perspective, it’s easy to get caught up in the 90210 and strip mall life that does—in many ways—define the city. But what many don’t realize is that LA offers some of the best regional cuisine is the country: from edomae omakase sushi to homestyle Korean in Ktown to the best regional Chinese cuisine in the US for those willing to drive to San Gabriel Valley. That’s not to mention Persian in the Valley, Vietnamese in Orange County, and, of course, the new breed of young, forward-thinking chefs who have launched the city to top restaurant dining guides in big glossy print publications.
As someone who has fastidiously followed Los Angeles’ evolving dining scene, first as an assistant at Bon Appétit, then as the five year Editor of Eater LA, below are my top picks for Los Angeles restaurants that continue to drive traffic to the Sunshine State.
2121 E 7th Pl, Los Angeles, CA 90021
One of the perks of living in Los Angeles, as compared to New York, is that you don’t need to make dinner reservations far in advance. That idea holds true for almost all restaurants in LA, yet one of the few places that books up weeks ahead of time is chef Ori Menashe’s boisterous, seasonal Italian number, Bestia. Excellent house-made charcuterie tops Neapolitan-styled pies, but overall the kitchen leans a bit more creative than classic, via cacao-flavored pasta laced with oxtail, and a porterhouse with pineapple. I’m also a big fan of the somewhat esoteric beverage list here, which favors orange wines and inventive cocktails.
1429 Abbot Kinney Blvd, Venice, CA 90291
320 Sunset Ave, Venice, CA 90291
I still remember the very first night I dined at Travis Lett’s Gjelina. It was opening night, around 10pm, August 2008. I was sold on the place with my very first meal—the simple, vegetable-forward small plates were equally delicious yet uncomplicated, made from very high-quality local ingredients. The kind of food you can eat every day. And I did. Until Gjelina took off and others around the city discovered this Venice gem. Gjelina, like Bestia, is now one of those places you must reserve in advance. If you’re less keen on planning, there’s now GTA, basically a fast-casual way to eat Gjelina from a take-away window next door. And then there’s Gjusta, another perfectly seasonal number that’s sort of like a bakery and deli serving everything from baked foods to sandwiches to prepared salads. Pro tip: Make sure to try Gjusta’s hazelnut milk latte.
8539 Sunset Blvd #20, West Hollywood, CA 90069
Sushi Park is the restaurant that turned me into a omakase sushi lover about a decade ago. This place, located on the second floor of a Los Angeles strip mall, is often filled with random Hollywood names, and all pack into the small, unfussy Japanese haunt for expert sushi. Don’t come here looking for spicy tuna.
11676 W Olympic Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90064
If you’re looking for a four-hour Japanese tasting menu sushi experience, Yamakase is your spot. This invite-only restaurant (to get a resy, simply visit their website) offers an elaborate omakase meal that’s inspired by its Los Angeles locale. Beyond super high quality fish, expect a progression of creative small bites based on the time of year.
306 N Garfield Ave, Monterey Park, CA 91754
My favorite soup dumplings, or XLB, exist within this cramped, five table Chinese eatery in San Gabriel Valley. There’s a good chance you’ll be watching someone fold your dumplings just moments before they hit the steamer. I’d also recommend trying some of the crab pastry and beef roll.
2723 Wilshire Blvd, Santa Monica, CA 90403
When I lived in Santa Monica, Milo + Olive was on my regular rotation. Though it’s billed as an all-day pizzeria, the bright, cheerful eatery offers far more. I like to sit at the dining counter and order the kale with chili, the oversized chewy garlic knot, and whatever seasonal special is listed on the chalkboard. The Neapolitan pizzas are definitely great here (and reheat really well the next day!) too, I tend to be a classic margherita fan, but the bianca is also delicious.
1633 Abbot Kinney Blvd, Venice, CA 90291
The Tasting Kitchen has been another one of my neighborhood go-to eateries for many years, a reliable spot for great, simple seasonal cooking angled toward Italy. Sometimes, though, I come here just to drink: barman Justin Pike’s fresh ingredient cocktails match chef Casey Lane’s honest cuisine.
720 N Virgil Ave #4, Los Angeles, CA 90029
Everyone loves Sqirl, and for good reason. This quirky east side cafe has convinced Angelinos to eat bread, its calling card being a thick brick of brioche toast swiped with whipped ricotta cream and chef Jessica Koslow’s famous jam in the flavor you choose. The lines here are always long, but well worth the wait. Just plan accordingly.
3516 W 8th St, Los Angeles, CA 90005
There’s so much to eat in K-Town that’s not barbecue. As a dumpling and noodle enthusiast, this restaurant offers some of the city’s best. Naegohyang serves my favorite Korean steamed mandu (dumplings stuffed with pork and leek) in the city (and you’ll usually seeing them being folded in a back corner), in addition to hand torn noodle soup in a light seafood broth.
212 S Beverly Dr, Beverly Hills, CA 90212
Maude is TV chef Curtis Stone’s first restaurant, and one that celebrates a single seasonal ingredient through a multi-course tasting menu. Where you want to sit inside this sliver of a restaurant, which feels like you’re dining in Stone’s home, is the four seat chef’s counter. Expect beautiful, refined dishes at a pretty affordable (usually under $100) tasting menu price.
624 S La Brea Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90036
I hate to pick favorites, but chef Walter Manzke–a kitchen whiz who has been around the block — happens to be one of my favorite humans, both because of his culinary skill, and his disposition as a person. Manzke is one of LA’s most beloved chefs, and at Republique, a restaurant that’s open all day from breakfast to dinner, you can expect true California cuisine using the farmers market’s best.
For more from Kat Odell, check out her upcoming book!
About the Book:
When the occasion calls for a drink, but not for getting drunk, mix up a batch of day drinks—low-alcohol cocktails that are festive, mouthwateringly delicious, and light on the booze.
From brunch with friends to bridal showers and barbecues, from tailgates to snow days to afternoons hanging out on the beach, just about any daytime social occasion is greatly improved by a drink. And these 50 creative cocktails are just the thing.
Using beer, wine, sake, sherry, and vermouth, plus a variety of amari and other flavorful liqueurs like St-Germain, Campari, and Aperol, the cocktails (and mocktails!) of Day Drinking are easy to make and easy on the alcohol content. Here are light drinks for hot days, warm drinks for cool days, and an abundance of classic—and reimagined—low-proof spritzers, sangrias, micheladas, and so much more.