Simply put, Los Angeles is a fantastic place to eat. More than 20,000 restaurants in the city dish out every type of cuisine, fusion, and culinary trend imaginable. Trying the following 15 foods and drinks is an essential part of any LA itinerary; it’s one of the best and most authentic ways to get to know what the city and the diverse people who populate it are all about. In fact, if you don’t know the difference between a danger dog and Dodger dog before you leave, were you even really here?
No single food is more representative of Southern California than tacos. You can get them fast or fancy; for breakfast, lunch, or dinner; Cal-Mex or Asian fusion; with or without meat (Guerilla’s sweet potato with feta and fried corn coexists peacefully with the pork terrine taco); soft-shelled or crispy; and in a restaurant, from a food truck, or farmer’s market. Just about every region of Mexico is represented: Baja (battered fish), Jalisco (the braised birria scene is particularly hot right now!), Sonora (carne asada with flour tortillas), and Oaxaca (all the moles). As there’s no one taco to rule them all, you might as well work your way through our best tacos list.
Despite its Gallic epithet, this sandwich—typically made with piled-high thin-sliced roast beef, a soft French roll, and a vat of hot au jus—is a native Angeleno. However, the identity of its birth parent has been under debate for decades. Two downtown diners, Philippe’s and Cole’s, claim it as their own and both attribute an accident in the early 1900s to its invention. Locals usually pick a side, but both put out quality sammies of the classic and tweaked varieties (using other types of meat or adding cheese).
Come hungry; leave with the meat sweats! That might as well be the unofficial motto of the many smoking hot BBQ joints found in Koreatown, where much of the largest Korean population outside of South Korea resides. Gather round the in-table grills, generously sample from bowls of banchan (all-you-can-eat side dishes of mostly pickled fermented veggies), and then feast on whatever fine cuts of meat or seafood float your boat. Beginners should start with sweet-savory marinated kalbi (short rib) or bulgogi (beef) while the adventurous can brave items like ox intestine or cow stomach. Wash it all down with soju (rice alcohol). There are seemingly endless places to grab Seoul food, so start with these 11 sizzle stalwarts, including Kang Ho-dong Baekjeong and Park’s BBQ.
From vegan offerings at fonuts and Blue Star’s boozy creations to celebrity-backed Trejo’s, there’s a doughnut for every palette. But one towers above them all as a must-eat treat: the strawberry doughnut from The Donut Man. Braving traffic out to the Glendora original is worth it to sink your teeth into warm raised rounds sliced in half and stuffed with local berries slathered in glaze. (You can avoid the drive by hitting up the recently-opened Grand Central Market downtown location.) When strawberries aren't in season (mid-summer to early winter) opt for peach or pumpkin instead.
Wolfgang Puck’s meteoric rise started when he opened the first Spago on the Sunset Strip in 1982. Shortly thereafter, legend has it that the Austrian-born celebrity chef created one of his signature dishes—the caviar-topped smoked salmon pizza with dill crème fraiche, red onions, and garlic oil—when Joan Collins requested lox and he realized he was out of bagels. It isn’t always on the menu at Puck’s flagship (now in Beverly Hills), but regulars know that it can always be requested. And is there anything that will make you feel more rich and famous than ordering something indulgent off-menu from your seat on the sun-dappled patio?
Despite the perpetual line, eating at In-N-Out Burger is one of Californians’ favorite pastimes. And unlike McDonald’s and Carl’s Jr., which also started in the Golden State, you can only find this fast food chain in the West. Visit a replica of the teeny-tiny (10 square feet) original location in Baldwin Park, which opened in 1948. Thirteen years after opening, they started offering burgers Animal Style. The mustard-cooked beef patty is topped with lettuce, tomato, pickles, grilled onions, and extra secret spread. You can also give fries this popular messy treatment.
The combo of crispy fried chicken and sweet buttered waffles might sound strange, but it always hits the spot whether you seek comfort food, a late-night meal, a hangover cure, or brunch. The place to try it is Roscoe’s House of Chicken N Waffles. The original Hollywood location has been frying and flipping since Harlem native Herb Hudson opened it in 1975, and the now six-outpost-strong chain constantly pings in pop culture. Even if none of its celebrity fans—President Obama even has a plate named after him—are in the house, the people-watching is mesmerizing.
LA is a big-time brunch town and as such there's no shortage of places to grab a quality breakfast. One of a.m.’s heaviest hitters is Eggslut, where the sandwiches are as tasty as the name is sassy thanks to cage-free eggs, house-made sausages, seared wagyu, and warm brioche buns. The Slut, a coddled egg and potato purée poached in a mason jar, is topped with gray salt and chives and served with baguette slices. And now that there are four locations (downtown, West LA, Glendale, and Venice), lines aren’t nearly as terrible as they once were.
Created by the ballpark’s first concessions manager the year Dodger Stadium opened (1962), the Dodger Dog is almost as beloved as the baseball team. (Seriously, there's even a statue of one at the ballpark.) The classic option is a grilled Farmer John foot-long with a squirt of ketchup and/or Morehouse mustard. If you’re feeling saucy, try variations like the Doyer Dog (jalapeños, nacho cheese, and salsa), Frito pie dog, or the LA Extreme. The Danger Dog, which pays homage to the LA street food scene, is a bacon-wrapped wiener cooked on a baking sheet grill, covered in grilled peppers and onions, and topped with mayo, mustard, ketchup, and a whole poblano. Found outside concerts, sporting events, tourist attractions, bars, and parks, try this tipsy tradition at your own risk.
Nashville Hot Chicken
LA can’t take credit for this dish as the name implies, but its diners are fired up over the trend. Usually accompanied by white bread and pickles, patrons choose the delivery method (i.e. wings, thighs, tenders, sandos) and the heat level from nothing to “can’t feel your face.” The best places to try this bird are Howlin’ Rays and Hotville Chicken, a new Baldwin Hills joint run by Kim Prince, whose great great uncle kickstarted the movement in Music City in the 1930s.
After eating one of these bad girls at Bay Cities Italian Deli & Bakery, you’ll never look at Jimmy John’s or Subway in the same way again. The old-world sandwich starts with house-made crusty roll and ends with thin slices of Genoa salami, prosciutto, mortadella, coppacola, ham, and provolone cheese. The works (mayo, mustard, Italian dressing, onions, pickles, tomatoes, lettuce, and chopped peppers) add zip. Pro tip: Order online to avoid the time-sucker that is the deli counter (pick-ups are on the store’s opposite side), grab chips and a drink, and then picnic a few blocks away on Santa Monica Beach. Cash/Debit only.
One of the most important names in LA food is Jessica Koslow, who got her start in pastry before serving up local, seasonal, and flavorful dishes at her Eastside restaurant Sqirl. You’ve likely seen her exquisitely plated toasts (including the avocado and the ricotta), with a rainbow of jam, porridges, healthful salads, and colorful desserts. You can’t go wrong with anything there, but if you commit to waiting (inevitable especially on weekends), do not miss the crispy rice salad. Kokuho Rose brown rice is tossed with mint, cilantro, scallion, lacto-fermented hot sauce, and topped with a fried egg. It can be made vegan or with sausage.
Pizza is having such a moment in LA that even New York transplants now begrudgingly admit to enjoying a life of pie on the West Coast. You can’t go wrong with any of the pizzerias on our best list, but chef Daniele Uditi offers a unique twist on cacio e pepe pasta at Pizzana in Brentwood and West Hollywood. Fermented and proofed for two days, the dough is made from a 64-year-old starter Uditi brought over from Italy. Then parmigiano crema, cracked black pepper, provoloncino d’agerola, and fior di latte mozzarella (shipped fresh from Italy several times a week) are added.
LA’s breakfast game is strong, and The Griddle on Sunset is further proof. Celebrities, tourists, and morning meal lovers endure long waits and cramped tables to get their hands on pancakes the size of their face in a wide variety of creative flavors. Much of their street cred is owed to the decadent red velvet buttermilk pancakes, finished with cream cheese icing swirls and a dusting of powdered sugar. And while you can now buy the mix on Amazon, it will never compare to the hot-off-the-spatula experience.
The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf is to LA what Starbucks is to Seattle. They’ve been supplying the city with a caffeine buzz since 1963, but it wasn’t until 24 years later that CBTL found its true calling. In 1987, a Westwood barista invented the iconic Ice Blended, a frozen fix that mixes coffee extract, flavored powders, milk, ice, and whipped cream. It now comes in a multitude of flavors like vanilla, mocha, chai mate, pomegranate blueberry, matcha, and caramel—perfect on hot summer days when you need a pick-me-up and a simultaneous cool down.