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The LA food scene is something everyone should experience. While some places are restaurants in search of a theme (e.g. “They serve you everything while you’re blindfolded” or “Every dish on the menu is white”), LA is also home to some of the best food from around the world. Whether you’re looking for superior exemplars of your favorite ethnic dish or you’re just trying to see what a particular cuisine is all about, here is some info to get you started. Disclaimer: This isn’t every cultural cuisine in LA, but are some of the best represented in the area.
LA has a vibrant and visit-worthy Chinatown. However, it’s not the go-to spot for food. The San Gabriel Valley (SGV) is home to the largest concentration of Chinese-Americans and the best Chinese restaurants in LA. Check out Full House Seafood Restaurant for Dim Sum (Chinese tapas) and try pork buns, congee, and whatever else rolls by on the carts. Go to Din Tai Fung for the best pork dumplings this side of the Pacific – just be prepared to wait for a seat. If you see a Tapioca Express or other drink shops, go in and get a boba or a slush drink.
This one is easy: K-town! Korean BBQ is a meat-lover’s dream with Galbi (short rib) and other cuts cooked at the table (by you, not like Benihana) and served with side dishes including kimchi (spicy pickled cabbage). Dong Il Jang is my favorite for KBBQ but there are so many high-quality competitors. Look around and try something new – preferably something with sweet potato in it. Find a dessert place like Café Tous Les Jours or Yellow House and have a pastry and a shaved ice (not the syrupy kind – this is made with condensed milk, azuki beans, and fruit).
This one is tricky because it’s spread out into three areas: Little Tokyo, Torrance/Gardena, and Japan Town. Little Tokyo is fantastic but not the first choice. That said, the sushi scene is pretty good and Orochon Ramen is worth visiting – but don’t try the spicy ramen challenge on your first try! Torrance/Gardena is arguably the best choice given the number of high-quality options like Hakata Ramen for creamy Ramen, Shinsengumi Yakitori for meat skewers, and Matsui for Soba and Udon noodles. Japan Town (aka Little Osaka) on Sawtelle is my top choice because my favorites are there: Hurry Curry of Tokyo for Katsu Curry and White Spaghetti (just try it) and Asahi Ramen for Curry Ramen. Wherever you go, check the hours first – they are likely closed between lunch and dinner.
Tehrangeles (aka Persian Square) is on Westwood Boulevard between Santa Monica and Wilshire and is the center of Iranian-American culture. Check out The Flame for an authentic Chelo Kabab, grilled meat (beef, lamb, or chicken) with fluffy long-grain rice. If you are feeling more adventurous, go to Attari and try a beef-tongue sandwich. If you want to know what ice cream flavors are favored by the culture who invented ice cream, go to Saffron & Rose Ice Cream and try – you guessed it! – saffron-and-rose-flavored ice cream.
Little Ethiopia on Fairfax is home to several great markets and restaurants. When dining, be prepared to eat without utensils and be sure to use your right hand. Perhaps you would prefer to ease into this cuisine by going to Industry Café and Jazz in Culver City, who serve Soul Food alongside traditional dishes and host jazz and poetry performances.
Thai food is an LA staple and the most authentic stuff is in Thai Town, which is actually the only one in America. My favorite, Palms Thai, is actually a few blocks west of there. The food is fantastic and Thai Elvis is a sight (and sound) to behold. Try the papaya salad, the assortment of curries, and of course, the Pad Thai.
The largest concentration of Vietnamese folks outside of Vietnam is just outside the LA county limits in Garden Grove and Westminster, which means there are countless spots for your Pho cravings and Vietnamese Coffee fix. However, Quan Hop is my favorite and Bun Thit Hanoi (Vermicelli Noodle Bowl with Pork Patty) is my usual.
Wait a minute?
Isn’t all of LA great for Mexican food?
Yes, but the best is undoubtedly in East and Northeast LA. Go to King Taco for Spicy Tacos, Senor Fish for Burritos and Fish Tacos, and Huarache Azteca for Huaraches (open-faced corn tortillas with DIY toppings). You may even be able to find a good California Burrito (Burrito with Fries in it) or Carne Asada Fries (Nachos but with fries instead of chips) in the area if you look hard enough.