I enjoy eating out in L.A. more than any other city in the world. That’s a bold statement, especially coming from a New Yorker, but the combination of superior produce grown in a Mediterranean climate, fresh (and inexpensive) sushi, comfort food at Roscoe’s House of Chicken and Waffles, and authentic Mexican cuisine spilling over the border holds an undeniable allure.
You can travel the world through food in L.A., just as you can in New York City, but you can’t take the subway to do it here; a car is required.
“One of our strengths is the international food scene,” Stacey Sun, the director of dineLA, told me. With her job promoting chefs and restaurants in L.A., she stays abreast of the best and brightest new places–and has a drool-worthy Instagram feed to prove it.
Plus, Sun notes, there is a “casual sensibility” to the L.A. restaurant scene. “You can roll into anywhere wearing jeans and sneakers and have incredibly good food.”
Here’s a brief tour of L.A.’s burgeoning international offerings:
On a walking tour of on-the-rise Koreatown with Urban Adventures, my guide, Sabrina, felt like a friend revealing secrets. At Ham Ji Park an assortment of banchan, side dishes of pickled zucchini and sprouts, starts the meal and the gamjatang, a spicy pork bone stew, is not to be missed. But the real treasure at Ham Ji Park is its hospitable owners, Mimi and Adam, who cook family specialties in the restaurant’s kitchen–and at home for their six children.
And Roy Choi may be best known for his roving Korean-Mexican taco trucks at Kogi BBQ, but he’s upping the ante at The Line Hotel with the can’t-miss concept restaurant Pot (dinner waits have been two hours long) and a lobby cafe serving sweet custard buns and mochi cakes.
My Urban Adventures tour made a few stops in Little Armenia in Hollywood but I can’t stop thinking about the deceptively simple beorek, stuffed lightly with quesa fresca, onion, and parsley, I discovered at Sasoun Bakery. Also worth trying here: lahmajune–Armenian-style “pizza” topped with finely chopped meat, vegetables, and herbs–a common street food in the Middle East.
Longtime favorite Angelini Osteria is housed in a simple room that allows their gorgeous pasta dishes (lasagna verde is a local favorite) and fresh fish to shine. Angelini’s former head chef, Ori Menashe, stepped out with his pastry-chef wife Genevieve Gergis to open trendy Bestia (“ultimate hipsterville” according to Sun), where he is a hardcore farmers market devotee.
A more recent darling is Bucato in Culver City, where the highlight is handmade pastas dreamed up by master Japanese pasta expert Kosaku Kawamura.
Downtown L.A.’s restaurant scene is a story all its own, but I absolutely loved Bar Amá, a Tex-Mex cantina taken up a few notches with dishes like spicy braised short rib chalupa, chile-pork pot pie, and a great slate of vegetable sides (order the fried brussels sprouts). The must-have starter is the chunky, decadent guacamole flavored with serrano ham and served with house-made tortillas.
The San Gabriel Valley is one of the largest hubs for Chinese food outside of Asia and one of the hottest restaurants in L.A. right now is Chengdu Taste, which is known as much for its epic wait times as it is for its food. Good thing it’s worth it. There is hope on the horizon, though; a second location, Chengdu Taste 2, is due to open this spring.
Once home to Charlie Chaplin’s offices, this cathedral-like space now houses République. The restaurant, anchored around long communal dining tables, is decidedly French (it’s named for the Paris Metro station), but also more than that, serving up fresh pastas and charcuterie alongside escargots and steak frites. Don’t miss the bacon, gruyere, and caramelized onion Alsatian tart, the scrambled eggs and sea urchin served on a house-made baguette, or the best-selling rotisserie chicken.
I tucked into a sushi dinner at Sugarfish with reckless abandon and returned for lunch the next day. The warm rice, fresh fish, and delicate hand rolls are that addictive. And you might not have to travel too far to sample them: Rumor has it this small chain is on the verge of expanding its empire across the U.S.
In Tarzana, Sushi Spot has been serving up consistently delicious delicacies–and churning out great chefs that have gone on to other endeavors in L.A.–for 25 years. My pick? The chef’s omakase is delicious–and a great value.
> Home Base
For a global food crawl around Los Angeles, you need a central location and The London West Hollywood is ideal. While it’s 100 percent L.A., with one of the city’s best rooftop pools, it also pays homage to London design, fashion and, yes, food, with Gordon Ramsay at The London. Bulldog statues stand at attention in the glossy lobby, walls are adorned with jewelry-inspired decor, and recessed doors make you feel like you’re returning home to your apartment.