PHOTO: Dishes from Los Angeles Oaxacan cuisine specialists Guelguetza. (photo by Michelle Rae Uy)
Whether you’re jonesing for a steaming bowl of pho, hankering for larb or looking to sample Filipino food—or all of the above, if you’re being honest with yourself—Los Angeles is the place to do it.
La La Land might be best known for its film industry and its glistening coast. Yet, it’s also one of America's top cities for the ultimate culinary experience. Its streets are simply peppered with restaurants that serve cuisines from Mexico to as far as Ethiopia.
That means picking and choosing places to eat can be a tad overwhelming.
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Luckily, you can count on LA Weekly to point you in the direction of the best local stomping grounds—restaurants, wineries, watering holes and juice bars (because, well, Los Angeles). The publication’s food and wine festival, The Essentials, was held on March 26 and once again showcased over 50 essential gastronomic spots in the city.
We popped into the California Market Center in Downtown LA to check out the event, sampling LA’s best of the best. Here are ten of our favorites:
The communal, family-style dining spot in the Miracle Mile area is a little corner of French heaven in Los Angeles, both in its décor and cuisine. Reservations might be hard to come by if you’re dining during peak hours, but the food is certainly worth the wait.
It’s best-known for its Organic Roasted Chicken, but everything on offer must be sampled including its Purple & Green Brussels Sprouts, Cook Ranch Pork Chop & Belly, and Charcuterie Board. Its cocktails are also on point.
Pine & Crane
While its name may sound like an independent boutique shop, Pine & Crane in Silverlake is actually a popular Asian restaurant that serves excellent Taiwanese-Chinese fares. It’s set in the heart of hipsterdom, which might cause skepticism, and you might have to get in an hour-long line, but you’ll be glad you waited.
Popular dishes here include the Minced Pork on Rice, Pot Stickers, Jidori Chicken and Scallion Pancakes. Vegan options are naturally on hand (because it’s LA).
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It has a few locations on the East Side, but if you’re experiencing Guisados for the first time, it’s best to head down to Boyle Heights where it originated. The very popular taco joint is all about simplicity and gluten-free items (again, because you’re in LA), along with its take on the classic Mexican dish—on the lighter but still tasty side.
The Steak Picado, Pescado and Chorizo tacos are excellent choices, as are the Hongos con Cilantro and Calabacitas tacos if you’re vegetarian.
More and more folks are turned on to Filipino food, and it’s about darn time. It’s certainly just as delicious and comforting as Korean, Vietnamese or Thai. That’s why we’re happy to witness the growing number of Filipino restaurants in the city, which include Ricebar in Downtown LA.
Its tiny accommodations may be a bit of a squeeze, but it’s definitely a shoo-in with dishes including the Pork Longganisa with Garlic Fried Rice, Bisteg Tagalog and Pancit Luglog. See if they have those yummy Pork Adobo over Sticky Rice they were serving at the event available.
It might be a bit of a drive from the city of LA, but Summer Rolls in Rosemead is currently the spot to go if you’re craving Vietnamese food. Formerly Nem Nuong Ninh Hoa, this place lets you DIY your own summer rolls to wrap in rice paper by serving a tray of meats with herbs and lettuce on the side.
If that sounds tedious, they also serve pre-made ones.
The dish to get, of course, is the summer roll, but the Marinated Beef Rice Plate, Marinated Pork Chop Rice Plate and the Rice Cakes topped with Pork Cracklings are terrific options as well.
From Asia, we head on to Spain’s Basque region with Racion, a small plates spot that celebrates sustainability and local ingredients in its Spanish-inspired fares. The menu at this Pasadena restaurant changes regularly, depending on which ingredients are in-season, but one thing is constant: the food is incredible.
For tapas, the Salt Cod Fritters, Roasted Brussel Sprouts with Caramelized Goat Milk, and Chicken Croquettes are fan favorites. On the other hand, the Beer Braised Octopus is popular for a racion plate to share.
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It’s essentially an LA institution. Everyone who is anyone in the city either knows of or is a fan of Kogi BBQ, the iconic food truck that might have launched Chef Roy Choi’s career.
Half of its appeal is having to track down where the trucks will be parked and standing in line with friends. The other half? Well, its Korean BBQ meats served as tacos, burritos or quesadillas. What else is there to say?
Best bets include the Short Rib Tacos, Chicken Tacos, and Blackjack Quesadillas. Don’t forget the Chocolate Tres Leches for dessert.
If you’re looking for an off-the-beaten-path Mexican food experience, you should definitely try Oaxacan cuisine. And the best place to do that is Guelaguetza near Koreatown. The restaurant itself isn’t fancy—in fact, you probably wouldn’t pick it out of a lineup—but the food is nothing short of amazing.
Proof: Jonathan Gold called it “the best Oaxacan restaurant in the country.”
There are many delicious items on the menu. However, if it’s your first time, the Especial de Carnes—which is basically a grilled meat plate of beef, marinated pork, chicken and chorizo served with rice, black beans and salad—is definitely the way to go. Take a jar of mole home with you after dinner.
AOC Wine Bar
AOC in West Hollywood may be on the upscale side, but its dishes are definitely worth burning a small hole in your pocket. Celebrity chef Suzanne Goin teamed up with sommelier Caroline Styne to combine exquisite French small plates with fine wine in a city dominated by Mexican and Asian cuisines. Its excellent cocktails are just cherry on top.
Popular items on the menu include the Bacon-Wrapped Dates or the Spanish Fried Chicken and Cornmeal Waffle. Their cheeses and charcuterie are also on point—a good way to go if you want to sample some wine.
El Silencio Mezcal
El Silencio Mezcal may not be an actual Los Angeles dining spot, nor does it have a physical store in the city, but it needed to be squeezed in on this list. The city is one of the best places in the country to sample the addicting, smoky flavor of mezcal.
The artisanal brand handcrafts its mezcal in Oaxaca, but the bottles are distributed all over LA. That includes its most popular bars and lounges like Thirsty Crow, Beelman’s Pub and The Echo.