Escape: Where to eat in LA

Well, this is actually Venice, but I guess you know what I mean.

Okay, LA! You monster of a city that knows no limits! You’re definitely not easy to grasp for someone only equipped with old-timey European city-managing-skills. Someone who wants to stroll around to enjoy the (admittedly fake) impression of discovery, to soak in the atmosphere. Instead, you demand planning and patience, you want me to know where I’m going before I get into the car, to plan my day so I won’t be endlessly stuck in traffic because I decided to hit the ten at the wrong time of day, or went down Pico Ave because I hoped to avoid the jam on the 405 (no idea what I’m talking about…). I did plan for this, even more than for my trip to Tokyo last year (which already was my personal record for holiday-prep). Thanks to the LA-issue of Lucky Peach, which was published just a few weeks ago, and the tips of trusted friends from LA, I managed to eat exceptionally well on this trip and here’s what I had.

Still, I haven’t even seen a third of it, and I had to leave without eating at Destroyer, Here’s Looking At You, POT, Jitlada, P.Y.T., Petit Trois, to name a few. I also didn’t go hiking thanks to an annoying and persistent bronchitis, I didn’t manage to see The Broad because I was scared of the line outside, I visited Hauser Wirth & Schimmel on a day it was only open to private viewing, was often too late for the sunset at Venice beach (except once, see above), and missed out on Erewhon, the wholier Whole Foods.

But this shall not be an article complaining about what I did not get to do in LA, because besides all the difficulties I have with this boundless conglomerate of houses and freeways, I do love the sunshine, the soft air, the incredibly charming light, the palm trees, succulents, and enormous fiddle leaf fig trees, the colors, the abundance of produce (delicious raspberries in winter, I’m all for it), and, above all, the lovely people, their creativity, courage, and warmth.

Sqirl

I couldn’t have gone to LA without going to Sqirl, right? We went fairly early on a Tuesday morning – I wanna say it was about 9:00, which means we had to leave the house at 08:00, which is late for LA standards. We queued for about 15 mins, which was absolutely fair (and way less than expected), and also quite entertaining because the queue slowly proceeds past the open kitchen. Which means endless discussions of what we would end up ordering, because the menu is way bigger than the rather small dining space would suggest. Yeah, in the end I couldn’t help myself and went for the avocado on toast with pickled carrots, green garlic creme fraiche, wood sorrel, and house za’atar, as well as a brioche toast with house made ricotta and blackberry jam, and my friend got the The Mosca Breakfast Sandwich with a nigella whey brioche bun, sheeted egg, chicken sausage, and herbs. What can I say, it looks gorgeous and everything’s very delicious. Even the brioche toast, that looks as if out of a comic-book, and is – surprisingly – not really toasted, but it grew on me after the first bite was somehow underwhelming. Well, the combination of buttery brioche, very fresh ricotta, and a pretty good jam is hard to beat. So yes, this one’s a must.
720 N Virgil Ave #4, Los Angeles, CA 90029; Mon–Fri 06:30–16:00, Sat & Sun 08:00–16:00

Trois Familia

There’s more to brunch than Sqirl, though! In fact, LA is all about brunch, with several places all over the city, who only serve brunch (and/or lunch) and close at 2pm. Like this pretty one on the infamous Silver Lake part of Sunset Boulevard, that is a self-described French/Mexican café, and heavily influenced by Californian cooking. Out of various reasons and to my regret, I ended up ordering just one item from the menu, however, it was wonderful: churro french toast, vanilla ice cream, covered in light flakes of Mexican chocolate. While I did expect a dish a little more lavish than what I received, I have no complaints about the deliciousness of it. Also because I luckily got to taste Salt & Straw’s ice cream! If I had the chance again, I would get the potato tacos with lime, crème fraiche, carrot pico, and jack cheese, and maybe even the tres leches birthday cake, because why not.
3510 Sunset Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90026; daily 09:00–14:00

Winsome

Another great option for brunch is this place in Echo Park that comes with a stunning interior (very likely my favorite of all the places I visited), with an extra pretty wall painting in the back, that will remind you of Seurat’s La Grande Jatte, but is probably Echo Park. Winsome is actually a place I’d like to spend a lot of time in, slowly eating my way through their whole menu from morning to night, when they bring out plates with roasted squash with toasted lemongrass, or maitake mushrooms with fuyu persimmon, as well as a big range of breakfast. But we went for brunch and I left the city shortly after, so I went for potato rosti with two sunny side ups, spinach, asparagus, avocado, and basil tahini, as well as the slightly heavy buckwheat pancake with chestnut honey and jam. I also took a peanut butter chocolate bar to have on the plane on my way back which was a very good decision.
1115 Sunset Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90012; daily 08:00–14:30, 17:30–23:00

The Apple Pan

Thing is, I don’t even like bananas very much. I mean, I have nothing against them, but I wouldn’t ever have the idea to order a banana cream pie. Unless I’m at The Apple Pan, which I will put on my list of must-do-LA-places forever. This pie is a sheer indulgence, and so, so very good, I still dream about it. But I won’t dare ordering it anywhere else, because it will very likely disappoint. Additionally, many people say that this is where you get the best burgers in LA. Fabian, whose face I observed while he munched the simple steak sandwich topped only with extra crunchy iceberg lettuce and tomato, would agree. The place itself is an experience, it’s nothing more than an u-shaped counter, which surrounds the food preparation area. The waiters are friendly in a very efficient way, the guests are interesting, and soft drinks are served in a can, which is poured into a white paper cone held by a metal funnel. This and the simple, short menu have been this way since this place opened in 1947. And now I want a slice of cream pie.
10801 W Pico Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90064; Tue–Sun 11:00–24:00

Chengdu Taste

Some say this is the best Sichuan restaurant in the US, and while I can say nothing about that, it certainly is very, very good. All three of their LA spots are out East, two of them in Alhambra, where you’ll find loads more interesting Chinese spots like No 1 Juicy Dumpling, and Mian, Chengdu Taste’s new noodle shop, so it’s worth the travel. The aubergine was fantastic, as where the green beans, and the mung bean jelly with chili sauce. Also, the drive back west will give you a stunning panorama of Downtown, especially at night after rush hour. This was my favorite drive in LA and I’ve obviously done loads.
8526 Valley Blvd #108, Rosemead, CA 91770; daily 11:00–15:00, 17:00–22:00

Musso and Frank Grill

Before going to Musso & Frank, I’ve never been to this part of LA – this is where the stars are, those personified by aspiring actors in costums to entertain the massive crowds, and those embedded in terrazzo and brass on the sidewalk. It’s not that I avoided this part intentionally, there was just nothing of interest to me. But Musso and Frank, located a five minute walk from the Kodak / Dolby theater, finally presented a reason: it’s the one place that’s “the most LA” according to an unrepresentative survey by Lucky Peach. And I will come back because of its decor, atmosphere, audience, staff, and especially its ninety-seven-year-old history. Maybe it’s just my touristy filter, but I definitely felt some of the spirit of Hollywood’s golden age while sitting on a red leather couch in one of the booths and ordering a grilled cheese sandwich and romain salad.
6667 Hollywood Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90028; Tue–Sat 11:00–23:00, Sun 16:00–21:00

Gjusta

Last time I went to LA, I fell for Gjelina’s kale salad. It was a time when kale was not yet a trendy vegetable in Berlin (and I feel it also never really got there), but still considered a too sturdy green which no one really knew what to do with it except cooking it for way too long until it was grey and sad. Gjelina marinated it in lemon and massaged it until it was all tender and delicious. I bet Gjelina is still great, but it’s also a bit posh, and you will have to wait to get a table, so why not wander off Abbot Kinney Ave and head to Gjusta, their bakery and deli housed in an industrial structure with a giant open kitchen. Their menu features excellent salads which come with a serving of their very good sourdough bread. It was my first night in LA, I came off the plane and went to Gjusta, where we had a plate with broccoli rabe, cauliflower, and the best Brussel sprout salad ever.
320 Sunset Ave, Venice, CA 90291; daily 07:00–21:00

Blue Star Donuts

I’m not a donut-person, I feel like I said this before, however – I will never cease to try and become one! This self-described “gourmet donut” shop hailing from Portland, OR, is the place to continue my mission. If you’re a donut person, this is your haven: freshly baked brioche donuts, smothered in sumptuous dulce de leche, covered in lemon poppy seed frosting, filled with jam, or doused in cinnamon sugar. Watch the donuts being made while you wait for your order, even!
1142 Abbot Kinney Blvd, Venice, CA 90291; daily 07:00–20:00

Night + Market

Well, another place you shouldn’t miss… Located in the former restaurant called Talesai of the parents of Night + Market’s owner and chef Kris Yenbamroong, this Thai place engages in the art of aharn glam lao, or serving food that “facilitates drinking and fun-having amongst friends”, which I support fully. I immensely enjoyed Khao Soi Jay, a spicy and intense curry noodle dish with tofu and oyster mushrooms topped with pickled mustard greens, loads of red onions, cilantro, bean sprouts, and chili jam, that had so many layers of flavors, I just wanted to shrink myself and dive into that bowl of food. Also, they’re recommending to order the sticky rice, and they’re absolutely right, don’t forget to order the sticky rice.
9043 Sunset Blvd, West Hollywood, CA 90069, Tue–Thu 11:30–14:30, 17:00–22:30, Fri–Sun 17:00–22:30

CaCao Mexicatessen

As much as I’m not a donut person, probably even more, I’m not a taco person. I know, I know, sensitive subject and thus a shocking reveal. I want to blame this on my lack of taco-experience (and a rather traumatizing incident in a forage maize field when I was about six years old), and I’m open to work on it. I even agreed to go out all the way to Eagle Rock to sample what was advertised as LA’s best tacos by an enthusiastic local. And yes, I want to say they were pretty good: one of them filled with Mexican zucchini, squash, corn and tomato, plus an avocado-tomatillo salsa, queso greco, pumpkin seeds and cilantro, the other with panko crusted lightly (!) fried avocado, with pico de gallo, and salsa.
1576 Colorado Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90041; Tue–Thu 11:30–15:00. 17:00–21:00, Fri 11:30–22:00, Sat 08:30–22:00, Sun 08:30–20:00

Bonjuk

Now that’s an unusually unimpressive picture of a dish you might think, and you’re right. This giant bowl of congee and its banchan weren’t created with instagramability in mind. But rather to “maintain customer’s health”, as Bonjuk’s menu explains. In the morning, this place in the center of Koreatown is for rice porridge, or congee, served with seafood, fish, chicken, beef, or vegetables. All of them come with their own health benefits, like the tuna and vegetable porridge, that is “good for the women who are interested in their beauty”. I had had a rough time this Saturday morning after my car got towed (totally my own fault), and my bronchitis making a re-appearance, so I chose the pine-nut porridge that “keeps your stomach warm and comfortable – and is also good for the recovery from several problems.” What can I say, it definitely delivered, the hot barley tea served immediately after I sat down already calmed my mind, and the soft porridge settled my stomach. It came with squid and beef banchan, as well as kimchi (which the very friendly waiter filled up whenever I finished it), and a bowl of clear Korean radish soup. It was way too much to ever finish for anyone, however, the tiny Korean girls sitting at the next table seemed to have no problem accomplishing that. I’ll blame the jetlag.
By the way, just five minutes down the road is a small branch of Honeymee, who’re specializing in “true milk” soft serve drizzled with raw honey and topped with honeycomb!
3551 Wilshire Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90010, Mon—Fri 07:00–21:30, Sat 08:00–22:00

Porto’s Bakery

This one’s a treat – Porto’s display of cakes, cookies, sweets, and more is gigantic, and mouth-watering. I wouldn’t necessarily advice to go all the way to Burbank only to have a giant and delicious sandwich with plantain chips at Porto’s, however – the same street is lined with countless vintage shops, among them It’s A Wrap, who sell costumes from TV and movie sets (and was recommend to me by Fabian Hart), as well as Playclothes, who have an excellent selection of 50s to 80s dresses, accessories and all that jazz. And sandwich plus shopping is a grand combo.
3614 W Magnolia Blvd, Burbank, CA 91505, Mon–Sat 06:30–20:00, Sun 07:00–19:00

Madcapra

Last but not at all least is Madcapra, a vendor inside of the very amazing Grand Central Market, where one could spend hours on end sampling all the delicious offerings from all over the world (even Berlin’s most infamous currywurst makes an appearance). However, I almost missed out on this stellar sandwich because we decided to queue for an eggslut sandwich, which, despite not bad, wasn’t worth the wait to be honest. If you trust me, you’ll skip their line and get a bowl or sandwich around the corner, filled with falafel and either with tomato, cabbage, pickles, and tahini, or carrots, spinach, pickled hot peppers, walnut yoghurt and dill, or feta, harissa, cucumbers, pickled sweet peppers and parsley, or – like I did – with cauliflower, pickled fennel, labneh, cilantro and mint. It was the best falafel sandwich I ever had – also because the bread was freshly done on the open stove top. I did not manage to take an appealing pic of it, just this candid excitement. Thinking of it, though, I should’ve gone back, to take a better picture and also try the other variations. Damn.
Inside of Grand Central Market, 317 S Broadway, Los Angeles, CA 90013, Sun–Wed 11:00–17:00, Thu–Sat 11:00–21:00

Bonus: Shopping

Where to shop in LA would deserve its very own guide, but due to time and budget limitations (and a strong focus on food), I didn’t explore this side of LA fully, so here’s a quick selection of where I enjoyed spending my money. Skylight Books has a tremendous selection of beautiful hardcovers (which you should be careful not to forget under your plane seat), just down the road Otherwild sells everything contemporary intersectional feminists need for their activist-uniform as well as local, slightly spiritual beauty products, fashion, plus LGBTQ+ zines and publications. I always find some item I want at Mohawk General Store in Silver Lake, and if you’re there, check out Le Pink, an organic beauty store.

Comments

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  1. Sunny on

    Reply

    Berlin’s food scene t has a truly long way to go to come even near the food scenes of cities like LA. I’m glad you’re travelling and experiencing high standards.

    1. Mary Scherpe on

      It’s funny that you’d say that because I would’ve agreed before traveling to LA, and as much as I loved LA’s food, my appreciation for what’s happening and developing in Berlin actually grew because of this trip. Berlin has its own challenges, its food scene is rather young, the available produce is quite limited, and the audience is a bit more timid. BUT, there’s so much going on already, loads of interesting chefs are already here or plan to come, and there are so many great things coming up! My love for Berlin is unabated.

  2. Steffi on

    Reply

    My absolute favorite spot to eat in LA is Poke Poke Sushi at Venice Beach. Best Tuna Sashimi street food spot in the world. (http://poke-poke.com/)

  3. jason on

    Reply

    Bummed you missed Here’s Looking At You. I think it’s the best restaurant in LA at the moment. A friend of mine is one of the two founders. Let me known next time you go.

    1. Mary Scherpe on

      I knooowww… We actually had a reservation but I had to cancel it because I felt too sick to enjoy any food at that point. Huge bummer… Will take you up on that offer when I return :)

  4. Kimberly on

    Reply

    Next time you’re in town, you should definitely be sure to check out Amara Kitchen and Kitchen Mouse in Highland Park. Definitely underrated gems! xx

    1. Mary Scherpe on

      Will do! :)

  5. auto Ali on

    Reply

    beautiful

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