I hate staycations. Why stay in the city you see everyday when you can jet to Tokyo, Paris or Hong Kong?
That used to be my attitude until I really started to feel really ragged this year from the demands of work and life. So, I resolved to use the time during the holidays to discover and re-discover my favorite LA eats and complete all my personals tasks! I will not bore with you with my personal tasks but here's a list of some of the best places to eat if you too should decide on a staycation or you're visiting Los Angeles for the first time. They are organized geographically for the sake of maintaining sanity while driving in LA.
Happy New Year and may we all find many delicious eats in 2013!
$15 sashimi lunch special @ Sushi Gen.
Sushi Gen has been in LA forever (at least 20+ years) and it's a beacon of delicious fish. This lunch special is a steal and I guarantee you'll be full. There's always a long line but if you're a planner like me, call and make a reservation at least a week in advance. Arrive 15 minutes before your reservation to get in the long line. When you get to the front of the line, there will magically be a table waiting for you.
Best Fish Tacos @ Ricky's Fish Tacos
Ricky Pina's Baja-style fried fish and shrimp tacos are worth braving cross-town traffic for. It's crazy delicious and won't hurt your wallet - $12 should fill your belly. Located in Silverlake (adjacent to Downtown LA), Ricky serves out of the same parking lot on most days of the week and his hours can be tracked on his Twitter feed. I've written about Ricky's fish tacos before (post here) and he's just too good not be mentioned again.
Italian Dinner @ Bestia
Nestled in the Arts District of Downtown LA, this new darling of Italian cuisine will leave you smitten with Chef Ori Menashe's food and the beautiful dining room. Parties of two should try to nab a seat at the stylish long bar and watch the charcuterie get plated or the bartenders do their magic. I can't wait until the it gets warmer so I can sit in one of their long tables outside while sipping one of Julian Cox's kickass cocktails. A must-get on the menu is the housemade pasta: Cavatelli alla Norcina which comes dressed in an umami-rich suace of pork sausage, black truffles and grana padano cheese. Make sure you have some pizza crust or grilled bread on hand to soak up that extra sauce.
Donut Heaven @ Bob's Coffee & Donuts (The Farmers Market / The Grove)
It's worth waking up early and beating the crowd to park at The Farmers Market / The Grove and settle in with a warm Apple Fritter and coffee from Bob's on the weekends. Their Apple Fritters are rich and perfectly caramelized. And if you want to get fancy, there are plenty of other coffee shops in the market that'll serve you a espresso or a cappuccino instead of the regular cup of joe.
Nancy's Backyard Burger @ Short Order
Hey, get some shopping done while you're at The Grove. Guys can hit the Apple Store while the gals can see what all the fuss is about at Madewell. I personally prefer Anthropologie (hint, hint for the boyfriend). All that shopping will make you hungry for lunch and Short Order is the perfect place to feed that hunger. It's no secret that I'm a big fan of Chef Nancy Silverton's food. I think Short Order is spot on with the medium-rare burger and extra-thick malted shakes.
Epic seafood @ Son of a Gun
Can Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo do anything wrong these days? In Son of a Gun, they've given LA a place to eat creative seafood dishes without breaking the bank. Finally! That Lobster Roll is reason enough to keep me going back. One of my favorites is the Linguine & Clams smothered in a rich uni butter sauce. And there's even an amazing Fried Chicken Sandwich on the menu.
Korean BBQ @ Genwa
Sure, there's Parks and the slew of AYCE joints in Koreatown but Genwa has won my heart with excellent prime beef, delicious banchans, a variety of bibimbap, jap chae and Korean dishes and top-notch service (the servers all speak English!). Best of all, I don't feel like I need a Silkwood shower after I eat there.
Hipster dinner @ The Hart & The Hunter
Every food blogger and writer in LA was sweating with anticipation until The Hart & The Hunter finally opened its doors in October 2012 and since then, it has topped all of their lists for favorite restaurants of the year. Hailing from the chef duo Kris Tominaga and Brain Dunsmoor who previously ran the Venice pop-up, Wolf in Sheep's Clothing, this new incarnation features Southern comfort food bathed in a hipster aura.
The most outstanding item on the menu are the deceptively plain Biscuits. The biscuits were so buttery good, I ordered it as an appetizer and dessert and luckily someone in the party had raspberry jam in her purse! The rest of the menu are small plates meant to be shared and the Hangar Steak, Chopped Steak Tartare and Fried Green Tomatoes were all good. The scene is indisputably hipster - mismatched, chipped porcelain plates (taken from grandma's cabinet?), vintage-like decor, servers in tight pants, hats and grungy hair and of course, the effortlessly cool crowd. The dining room is way to loud to carry serious conversations (please get rid of those tiled walls!) but I'm still recommending The Hart & The Hunter for the service, the biscuits and overall menu, which I suspect will get better and better judging from their food at Wolf in Sheep's Clothing.
Burning dinner dollars @ Ink
I'd like to make a special note about Ink even though I didn't go recently. I went earlier in 2012 and the meal never left me. Well, how could I when we spent almost $250 per person? But seriously, Michael Voltaggio puts out amazing food and the tasting menu was a great way to try the favorites. We went before the foie gras ban and the foie gras was served sandwiched between two waffle cookies and dots of sriracha sauce. Sadly, the foie gras has since been replaced by something else thanks to that numbskull ban in July. The only thing I don't recommend is the dessert. There was too much "molecular gastronomy" going on and the dessert part got lost in the techniques.
WESTSIDE / WEST LA
Delicious shared plates for dinner @ Fundamental LA
Run by a couple of chefs who've put in time with some of California and New York's best restaurants, this blink-and-you'll-miss-it restaurant is not to be missed if you're in the Westwood/UCLA area. Lunch features hearty gourmet sandwiches and dinner is a variety of modern dishes reflecting these chefs' fine-dining training but the food never gets lost in the technique. Favorite dishes include the ultra-smooth chicken liver toast, a new take on gnocchi topped with a sous vide egg and anything featuring duck. Their thoughtful wine and craft beer list is a big plus.
Japanese Cuisine @ Shunji
Shunji is not your usual sushi bar. Sure, you'll find very good sushi here but the star is Chef Shunji Nakao's omakase tasting menu featuring anything from unusual vegetables like lotus root, monkfish liver, sashimi to squid-ink pasta dressed with uni and a quail egg. The food comes artfully plated - almost too pretty to eat and demanding at least moments of admiration before you dive in with your chopsticks. Shunji's location in a former grungy rib shack with limited parking and restroom facilities you have to access from outside the restaurant might be unsettling to some but their fear is our gain!
(photo from Mercado website)
Excellent contemporary Mexican @ Mercado
It's really hard to find good Mexican food on the Westside, especially if you don't want to be sitting on the curb while chowing down on tacos. Chef Jose Acevedo makes a mouth-watering variety of small plates (Dos Gringas al pastor tacos, an addictive Choriqueso dip) and large plates (slooooow-roasted Carnitas, Carne Asada and Pollo Chipotle) and you can enjoy it all while sipping a cocktail in their stylish dining room just off the Santa Monica Promenade. And do yourself a favor, order the Flan dessert even if you're full. If I'm watching my wallet, I go to their Happy Hour from 5pm to 7pm which features some of the menu favorites like the Dos Gringas.
(Pork Tsukemen from Tsujita)
I inhale noodles. The Westside is weirdly and luckily well-populated with excellent ramen shops and recently, I've been happy to add a Vietnamese pho shop to the list. Seriously, I'm thankful for that every day! Here is short list of my favorites.
- Santouka - I'm referring to the one on Centinela Ave., inside the Mitsuwa Market.
- Tsujita - Ramen is only served during lunch and the line gets very, very long for good reason. The noodles are thick and al dente - unlike it's many competitors - and the pork chashu is tender with just the right amount of meat to fat ratio and just look at that egg! Dinner is completely different menu and it's not worth it but do keep telling them that we want noodles for dinner. Tsujita has the most beautiful dining room of the bunch.
- Ramenya - This is the only one on this list that doesn't specialize in some kind of pork bone broth boiled for a million hours. I've been coming to Ramenya for at least 15 years when they were pretty much the only ramen joint on the Westside and I appreciate the variety and simpler noodle soups, especially the Shrimp Omelette and Tan Tan Ramen.
- Nong La - Without Nong La, I would be forced to brave at least an hour of roundtrip traffic each weekend to inhale some decent Vietnamese pho, banh mi and egg rolls. This is not the bland, "inoffensive" pho that you'll find elsewhere in the Westside. The broth is strong, the beef is thinly sliced and served still pink when it reaches your table and there's even a good Bun Bo Hue on the menu!
- Jinya - Thanks to Jonathan Gold's ringing endorsement, this ramen shop has exploded with its rich, pork bone broth noodles from one location to four locations in LA in a little under two years.
- Daikokuya - Just kidding! All ramen-lovers wish Daikokuya was on the Westside. The closest location to the Westside, is located in Little Tokyo in Downtown LA. That doesn't stop me from wishing every day that they'd open a Westside shop.