Depending on who you ask, Los Angeles is either the epitome of American dining or the antithesis of it. Speaking to NPR, the Los Angeles Times food critic Jonathon Gold claimed that "Los Angeles is the anti-melting pot." Meanwhile, Professor Jonathon Kun, an expert in the history of Los Angeles menus, points out that many of the integration issues that the country as a whole is currently struggling with have already played out in Los Angeles thanks to the city's inherent diversity.
And it is diverse. The first thing you'll notice when flipping through a Los Angeles restaurant guide is that sushi restaurants sit next to artisanal pizza joints sit next to places serving toast from morning 'til late. Hyper-regionalism contributes to the sense of diversity. A diner in Los Angeles doesn’t just choose Mexican food—they opt for Oaxacan over Jaliscan. Or Tokyo-style Japanese instead of Osaka-style.
These identifications aren't a marketing ploy. Rather, they highlight one of Los Angeles' secret dining weapons: the people making food are cooking for their communities. Those Thai joints tucked away in San Fernando strip malls aren't worried about intimidating diners with too much spice just like taco trucks know their customers won't stand for anything less than the freshest ingredients. Cooks prepare what they want to eat.
Of course, LA is subject to dining manias just like any other city. From kale salads and green juice to fast-casual sushi and gourmet toast, there are plenty of trends to be found in the LA food world. Just like anywhere else, some are good and some are forgettable.
Here's your day of perfect LA eating, including everything from Instagram-worthy eats to those hole-in-the-walls that you'd never expect to serve stand out fried chicken.
Sqirl - Beat the brunch crush and start your day with an early breakfast at Sqirl. The all-day cafe has a smattering of communal seating inside, but you'll want to grab a seat in the outdoor patio—all the better for snapping an Instagram worthy photo of your mile-high brioche toast overflowing with ricotta and homemade jam. If your tastes run more savory than sweet, opt for the rice spiked with sorrel pesto and topped with a poached egg.
Verve Coffee - From the exposed piping and communal wood tables to the ample bar and floor to ceiling windows, Verve Coffee's cafe in Downtown Los Angeles hits all the marks you'd expect from a third wave coffee bar. Free wifi gives you little incentive not to camp out with a creamy cappuccino. You can also get a bag of beans to take home so you don't have to battle for parking before getting your caffeine hit.
Grand Central Market - LA's sprawling Grand Central market will spoil you for choice. But you can't go wrong with a bowl of carne guisado or a couple of pupusas (thick corn tortillas stuffed with savory fillings) from Sarita's Pupuseria or an egg-topped hamburger from Eggslut. Of course, if you'd rather just get a double scoop of salted caramel cream from McConnel's fine ice cream, we understand.
Guisados - Guisados opened in 2010 with a simple mission: to provide Los Angelenos with the kinds of simple and satisfying meat stews the owners relished growing up in Mexican-American households. Fast forward to 2017 and Guisados is now an LA institution with locations around the city to sate that taco craving without the travel. While each of the 15 tacos have their merits, the steak picado or pescado are perennial favorites. The secret ingredient? Tortillas made fresh next door.
Republique - Republique's high-vaulted dining room resembles a medieval French church, but the atmosphere is all 21st-century. The restaurant is operated by husband-and-wife team Walter and Margarita Manze and serves French bistro classics by way of Asia with a distinct LA accent. Start with the sweet potato beignets, then move to the spaghetti with lobster and uni or the roast chicken with smoked eggplant, fava beans and cherry tomatoes. Be sure to save room for dessert, which ranges from the old favorites like a chocolate souffle topped with hazelnut ice cream to experimental treats like the tropical halo-halo, a riff on the classic Filippino combo of shave ice with sweetened condensed milk loaded with toppings.
Birds & Bees - This recent addition to the LA bar scene changes atmosphere depending when you go. Mid-week, it's an industrial-cool underground hideout for top-notch cocktails. At the weekend, it morphs into a clubby scene with bouncers out front to ensure the crowd stays sane. Drinks riff on 50s favorites with a nod toward tiki. Try the pineapple-laden Royal Haiwaiian, or the Ella Fitzgerald, a dirty martini with pickle juice instead of olive brine.
Dan Sung Sa - Step into Dan Sung Sa and you might as well have left the expanse of LA behind in favor of the bustle of Seoul—and it's not just because the majority of patrons are korean. There's Korean records hanging on the walls and Korean papers plaster the windows. Slide into a dark wood booth and fill your table with small plates such as skewers of grilled pork belly, rice cakes cloaked in spicy sauce and crispy korean fried chicken wings. There's plenty of soju to wash it down.