Where to Eat in LA

 

Where to Eat in LA

Friends often ask for recs when coming into town, so I've compiled a short list! General rules:

-Nothing is ever worth a two-hour wait

-If you're only visiting for a weekend, don't bother with brunch. You can get that anywhere. LA has so much more and so much better to offer

-The hype over tacos is not just hype. It's real

Sometimes I feel like I don't need to travel because I can eat the whole world in LA. Enjoy: 

 
 
The Boiled Beef in Hot Sauce at Chengdu Taste. Photo credit: Serious Eats LA

The Boiled Beef in Hot Sauce at Chengdu Taste. Photo credit: Serious Eats LA

For a kick in the face

Friends who know me know my Sichuan ass loves spicy food. I need to be sweating, on the verge of tears, and unable to feel my mouth when I walk out of a meal.

One of the best places for blistering spicy food in LA is Szechuan Impression. Order the Old School Hot Pot starch noodles for a good smack in the face, along with the Boiled Fish with Rattan Pepper. The latter may taste mild at first but in a matter of minutes you'll lose feeling in your mouth. 

Chengdu Taste is its close counterpart, a little farther down the street in the San Gabriel Valley. Their Spring Onion Chicken in Pepper Sauce is as mouth-numbing as Szechuan Impression's Rattan Pepper fish. For the best bang for your buck though, get the boiled beef, fish or pork intestines in hot sauce — it's essentially a gigantic vat of meat and veggies spiced to the millionth degree. You'll have leftovers for days. At both Sichuan places, order the plum juice to wash it all down.

For more hot meat, Howlin' Ray's Nashville hot chicken is the spiciest fried chicken I've had in the city. I wouldn't bother waiting if the line is excessive though. The strategy is to go right when they open in the mornings. Check their hours to make sure you time it right. Alternatively, head over to Culver City for Mayura's all-you-can-eat lunch buffet. It's South Indian Kerala food from India's spiciest culinary region. Their sauces pack a delightful punch.

The Bobo chicken at Szechuan Impression. Photo credit: LA Weekly

The Bobo chicken at Szechuan Impression. Photo credit: LA Weekly

 
The chicharoon taco at Guisados. If I were a contestant on a cooking show, I would serve this to avoid elimination. Photo credit: Guisados

The chicharoon taco at Guisados. If I were a contestant on a cooking show, I would serve this to avoid elimination. Photo credit: Guisados

For those on a budget

Leo's Leo's Leo's. Leo's Tacos is $1.25/taco and it is the best damn deal you'll find in Los Angeles. Go for dinner. Wait for them to crack out the al pastor spit with pineapple on top. Then have at least 4 tacos. It'll only cost you $5. Cash only.

Guisados tacos are much better, but at $2.75/taco, they're double the price of Leo's. They're worth it though. My personal favorite is the chicharron taco on a bed of black beans topped with a kick of chile verde.

Those who know me also know I love pho. When I die and they crack me open my blood will consist of 70% pho soup. Our go-to spot in Chinatown is Gigo's Cafe. It's only $6.50 for a bowl of pho; $7.50 at the most. Solid beef brisket and broth. Cash only, so you know it's legit. Prepare to be emotionally abused by the waitstaff. They suffer no fools.

For $10 at Crawford's, you'll get a box of fried chicken that includes two wings and a thigh, a side, a pickle, and a slice of bread. Their best side is the mac and cheese. Don't bother with anything else.

If we're talking real danky and REAL affordable, hop over to Bonnie Brae and 6th for some Guatemalan street food. The night market is 100% delicious and 100% illegal. People hang bike lights from trees as lighting; they warm tortillas on shopping cart stoves. It's beautiful and subversive and you will come away soaked in grease. For $5, you can get a big box of fried chicken and fries. A $5 box y'all. You can't beat that anywhere. Be prepared to operate in cash and be prepared to drop some Spanish. Pollo for days, por favor.

One of my favorite Happy Hour deals in the city is Far Bar's Happy Hour. Their menu is generally pricey, but from 3-7 p.m. on weekdays, everything drops down to $5. Go with a big group and get rounds of the wings, the tacos, and for the vegetarians, the wasabi fries. 

Finally for one of the best bang-for-your-buck scenarios, check out Bud Namu for all-you-can-eat KBBQ. Their menu isn't necessarily expansive for Korean BBQ, but they have all the standards of bulgogi and friends. There are definitely other places that are more interesting for KBBQ, but I think Bud Namu has the best deal — it's priced at $13/person. For all-you-can-eat. Go ham on that beef.

The Guatemalan night market on Bonnie Brae and 6th. Photo credit: Eater Los Angeles

The Guatemalan night market on Bonnie Brae and 6th. Photo credit: Eater Los Angeles

 
Meals by Genet platter. Photo credit: The Delicious Life

Meals by Genet platter. Photo credit: The Delicious Life

For those who are willing to spend and go out of their way for good grub

The spots I'm gonna mention in this section are definitely pricier — be prepared to spend upwards of $25 for a meal. 

Playa Provisions out in Playa del Rey is run by Top Chef winner Brooke Williamson. There are four spaces in one - an ice cream spot, a whiskey bar, a casual market counter, and a fine dining area. Dockside, the fine dining joint, has the best fish tacos I've ever had in my life. Mind you, it's $18 for three fish tacos but I'm pretty sure she stuffs them with crack. Their salmon is also excellent.

Meals by Genet is superb Ethiopian food produced by one woman — Genet. If you're there until the end of service, she comes out and makes the rounds and says hi! It's a small space and reservations are recommended. The platter of food is definitely meant to be shared, so go with friends. Make sure to order chicken tibs too.

I'm generally not the biggest fan of Med cuisine, but Marouch is an exception. Y'all, I did not know it was possible for baba ghanoush to be next-level, but their baba ghanoush is truly next-level. It's Lebanese-Armenian food and an LA establishment. I know my list so far has been pretty vegetarian-unfriendly, but both Meals by Genet and Marouch would be great spots for vegetarians, as the latter's veggie dishes are far more impressive than its meats.

Finally, Michael Voltaggio. I've been following this guy's career since Season 6 of Top Chef. He recently relocated his restaurant ink to the more spacious ink.well. This is definitely one of those meals that's in the area of $50-$75/person, but you'll be watching an artist at work. Funny enough, I find Voltaggio's appetizers and entrees to be hit or miss, but his desserts are something else. Innovative and fascinating and so fucking good. Would recommend going with a group and ordering all the desserts on the menu so you get to see just how creative he gets with fruit and crumbles and sugar.

Dessert by Michael Voltaggio. He's not messin' around here. Photo credit: StarChef.com

Dessert by Michael Voltaggio. He's not messin' around here. Photo credit: StarChef.com

 

A note on overrated spots/places to avoid:

Here are a couple places that are on a bunch of lists but which I find middling at best:

-Eggslut. It's very much for the Instagram. The last time I went I spent $15 on an okay egg thing and orange juice. Not worth.

-Silverlake Ramen. Yeah their ramen is good but it's not THAT good that it's worth waiting for. Or even returning for.

-Din Tai Fung. There are an interminable number of places in the San Gabriel Valley where you can get delicious dumplings at a much more reasonable price. You also won't have to waste your whole morning waiting for them. Don't be DTF with DTF.

-Sawtelle. Yep, I'm blocking out that whole street. Nothing there justifies the headache, parking hassle, and excessive wait times. I would rather die in Koreatown parking hell than navigate Sawtelle on a weekend. At least in Koreatown, you won't be dropping Tubmans on mediocre brunch.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: Nothing is worth a two hour wait. Nothing. Not even if Jonathan Gold walks in. Don't bother. You'll thank me for it. Now go forth elsewhere and enjoy.