Mengsha here. We recently moved from LA to Chicago, which meant saying goodbye to all of our favorite LA restaurants. As homage to some of our favorite watering holes – many of which we’ve written about before, but some which we’ve discovered since we last posted – we present you with this list in the hopes that people will go enjoy them in our stead.
These are the places that are cheap, quick, and delicious, and include some of the things we crave the most. For the most part, these restaurants do not take reservations.
Kang Kang Xiao Mei – We go to Kang Kang almost exclusively for the Sheng Jian Bao (pan-fried pork buns), which are *chef’s kiss* perfection. Although everything else that we’ve tried from Kang Kang has been good, the Sheng Jian Bao are a must-order. Don’t be intimidated by the food court feel or if you don’t see any white faces. You’ll forget all about feeling out of place when you bite into one of these beauties and burn your tongue on the scalding soup dripping out. We also recommend their home-made frozen dumplings for a quick meal at home. Place dumplings into boiling water, and each time the water starts boiling again, add a cup of cold water to the pot. After the third addition, the dumplings are ready to eat.
Golden Deli – This is the go-to place for pho. A Vietnamese friend of ours gave Golden Deli the following review: “It tastes like the food I ate growing up.” If you don’t have a Vietnamese family who will make pho for you, Golden Deli is where you should go. It gets busy though, so expect to wait 30 minutes or more.
Hanbat Sulangtang – One of our newest favorites, Hanbat serves only one dish: Korean bone broth soup. And boy do they do it well. It is simple and warm and comforting, and really is the food equivalent of a hug. The broth is served with beef cuts of your choice, rice, as much green onion as you could want, and their homemade kimchi, which is some of the best we’ve ever had. We recently tried to recreate this soup at home and we don’t quite have the hang of it yet, which just makes us miss this more.
Tsujita on Sawtelle – Tsujita is commonly recognized as one of the best ramen joints in LA, and you can read our review here. We recommend going by yourself, as you are much more likely to be seated quickly as a party of one. Otherwise, expect a wait.
Mediterranean Cafe – This is one of my favorite lunch spots in Pasadena, and makes for great take-out. My favorite thing on the menu is the rice (really? rice?) which is perfectly cooked, savory, and amazing when mixed with the accompanying garlic and hot sauces. There’s a line out the door during the weekday lunch rush, but it moves quickly.
In N Out – This one is obvious, right? We’ve already talked about it here. Only get the fries if you’re very hungry or plan to douse them in animal-style sauce. Also, since we’re in the midst of the pandemic as I’m writing this, expect a long drive-through line.
Eatalian Cafe – We were introduced to this place by an Italian friend, and the pizza here is legit. It was a bit out of the way from where we lived in LA, but we never regretted making the drive. This place takes reservations, so don’t be afraid to bring all of your friends. Obviously you would want to order as many pizzas as possible so as to try some of each.
Chinchikuri – Sometimes comfort food comes in the form of a fat pancake stuffed with cabbage, egg, and pork belly cooked in front of you and topped with Japanese mayo – aka okonomiyaki. When that’s what you’re craving, take the metro down to Little Tokyo and have a seat at Chinchikuri. Don’t forget a side of takoyaki while you’re there!
Congregation Ale House – It’s a late night and you want roasted artichokes. Beer. Brownie a la mode. Easy parking. Need I go on?
Yama Seafood – We’ve already waxed poetic about Yama here, so I’ll just say here that it’s the best sushi for the best price that we’ve found in LA. There’s just the caveat that you have to eat it at home. If you go in the afternoon, expect to wait as Chef personally cuts the fish for every single person. After work on Valentine’s Day, I stood in line for 2 hours with every other person who had the same idea. No regrets.
Bring a Friend/Date
These are a little bit higher-end. You might be looking for a place with ambiance as well as great food. You might want drinks. Look no further.
Kings Row Gastropub – Sitting out on their patio on a warm Southern California morning with your dog at your feet eating a breakfast burrito and a bloody mary (or a waffle and mimosa, pick your poison) is one of the greatest pleasures in life. In the evenings, the food and alcohol are great too, and there’s often live music. To us, two introverts, it’s a bit too loud for conversation, so we prefer to go for brunch, which is only available on weekends. We’ve reviewed King’s Row here.
Quality Seafood – There are two types of people who go to Quality Seafood – those who go for “traditional” seafood – your clam chowders and fish and chips – and those who head for the raw bar – your oysters and live sea urchin. Quality Seafood does both incredibly well. If you’re in the latter camp though, expect to spend quite a bit of money, especially on the uni. We’ve reviewed it here.
Osawa – We’ve reviewed this one already too. Call ahead to make a reservation for the shabu shabu counter (Japanese hot pot) – you won’t find wilting leaves or sad mushrooms here. Osawa serves some of the freshest ingredients to ever grace a shabu pot. Everything at Osawa is wonderful – salads, sushi, sake, tea, and dessert, though the sushi is perhaps a tad expensive.
Izakaya Ozen – For a different Japanese food experience, Ozen is where we go to fulfill all of our Japanese pub food cravings. Go for skewers, nabe, and rice dishes in this moody and charming little spot. Make a reservation ahead of time, and prepare to park quite far away as the lot in front of the restaurant is tiny and always busy. Head over to Van Leeuwen’s ice cream a couple of doors down for dessert.
Genwa – We always go to Genwa for Korean BBQ with friends from out of town, for the variety of banchan (small appetizers) and the great service. It’s the kind of place where you don’t have to worry about the food and can focus on the conversation. We’ve written about it here. I believe small parties can’t make reservations, but you can call ahead to get on the waitlist before you arrive.
Little Beast – For a while we went to Little Beast every other week. New American food was all the rage for a while, but most places tried to be trendy rather than good. Little Beast is good without showing off about it, and we almost asked them to cater our wedding. If you’re into cheeseboards and pates, they make a good one.
Maestro – Los Angeles is full of great Mexican food, but it’s harder to find Mexican food with a modern approach. Good ethnic food is worth paying for, and if you’re looking for a different perspective on sit-down, fancy dining, take a trip up to Old Pasadena for Maestro. As a bonus, they have a wide variety of Mexican spirits – tequila, mezcal, etc.
n/naka – Obviously. If you have the money and can get the reservation, get your butt over to n/naka. If not, you can read a detailed account of our experience here.
Boba/Bubble Tea/Milk Tea/PM Tea
I like boba that tastes like tea, is not too sweet, and is flavored with fresh fruit instead of syrup when applicable. Out of all of the boba shops in LA, I present you with three.
Cha Redefine – A relatively new acquisition for Old Pasadena, Cha Redefine quickly became my favorite boba shop of all time. Which is funny, because their drinks do not come with tapioca pearls. Go for the high quality teas (many sourced from Taiwan), floral and nutty flavors, and an incredible avocado-based milk cap. Everything is good, but my favorite drink is by far the strawberry cloudy.
Home Brewed Bar – Another Old Pasadena shop, come here if you’re into flavors like Chai, Earl Grey, and cookie butter. They have a great seasonal menu too, with flavors like lavender, apple spice, and Nutella. It’s also a great place to hang out with a book.
Labobatory – Probably both the most traditional boba shop on this list and the most experimental. They have classic flavors like brown sugar, matcha, taro, lychee, and Thai tea. They also have mango and chili, horchata, and sea salt caramel. Drinks are a little on the sweet side but very Instagrammable.
Los Angeles really is an amazing food city. We already miss the plentiful and omnipresent fresh produce, the diversity of ethnic cuisine (especially Asian cuisines), and just the sheer volume of restaurants in the city. It’s always hard being in a new city and having to start over the trial-and-error process of finding good food. At least you all will have the benefits of our years of experimenting with food in LA. 🙂