Local Bites: the best places to eat and drink in Los Angeles


At the risk of sounding like a culinary simpleton, I’ve always been a fan of buffets.

It’s not the all-you-can-eat draw, but the variety that appeals to me. Finding pasta, orange chicken and enchiladas in the same place? Pure heaven. I think this is the same reason I love dining in Los Angeles so much. Go to a neighborhood known for its Armenian and you’ll also stumble upon superlative Peruvian plus a nearly century-old steak joint inspired by the South Pacific — all within the same block.

The neighborhood described above is where I live: Glendale. Tourists don’t necessarily flock here — unless they’re shopping at the Glendale Galleria or the upscale outdoor mall across the street, the Americana at Brand — but this stunning area of LA county (technically, it’s its own city) that buts up to Griffith Park, the Verdugo Mountains, and the Angeles National Forest is certainly worth a visit. Because these are my stomping grounds, you’ll find my restaurant guide heavy on Glendale-area spots. But I’m not opposed to the occasional Santa Monica dinner either, especially when it combines Malaysian, Thai and Indian in one place. And you’ll also find me in Highland Park for breakfast, downtown LA for lunch and in East Hollywood for drinks. 

Here’s where I eat in Los Angeles…

L: Sausage and egg breakfast at Canter's. R: A strawberry "Pop Tart"
L: Hash brown, sausage and eggs at the legendary Canter’s where breakfast is served all day © Canter’s; R: A strawberry “Pop Tart” from Just What I Kneaded © Just What I Kneaded

Breakfast

Ignore everything you’ve heard about not being able to get a good bagel in LA. The cacio e pepe bagels at Belle’s Bagels in Highland Park would make even a New Yorker weak in the knees. They’re so perfectly chewy and jam-packed with cheesy-peppery flavor, and they often sell out on weekends, so get there before 11am.

You can arrive anytime at Canter’s, a deli that serves breakfast — thick-cut bacon, challah French toast and huevos rancheros — 24 hours a day. This iconic spot has been feeding Angelenos since 1931 and has even been a backdrop in episodes of Mad Men, Curb Your Enthusiasm and Entourage. Another spot to get breakfast all day, something that’s key to my weekends, is the vegan bakery and cafe Just What I Kneaded in Frogtown. While its breakfast burrito — brimming with soyrizo, tofu egg scramble and avocado — is mouthwatering, the real showstoppers here are the baked goods. The strawberry “pop tarts”, often decorated with cartoon characters, are both delightful and delectable.

L: Iced latte and morning bun. R: Iced matcha decorated with dried pineapple
Start your day at Regent Coffee with an iced latte and flaky morning bun at or a Pineapple Matcha Fizz featuring matcha, housemade pineapple syrup, sparkling water, freshly-squeezed lemon juice and garnished with a pineapple crisp © Regent Coffee

Coffee

For a high-quality cup of caffeine in Glendale, I head to Regent Coffee, where the small shop on Brand Ave is no frills, but the small-batch, bourbon barrel-aged beans are exceptional, as are their seasonal specials at their Eagle Rock branch infused with fresh ingredients and housemade syrups. Grab a fresh cup of brew and a bag of beans for home. For all the frills, there’s Bloom & Plume Coffee in a historic building with a purple facade about a 10-minute walk from the Echo Park Swan Boats. Maurice Harris, aka LA’s most stylish florist, is a co-owner, so you can expect bold monochromatic bouquets for sale along with innovative “dranks” like the Channel Orange Latte which tastes like a chocolate and orange Creamsicle.

L: Aerial shot on dim sum laid out on a taple. R: Zoomed-in image of spiced okra
Looking for lunch? Try Chifa for dim sum (L) or spiced okra (R) with braised spare ribs © Chifa LA

Lunch

I often joke that among Glendale residents, the season’s “it” bag is always a to-go sack from Porto’s Bakery & Cafe — the Cuban hot spot that constantly has locals clamoring for carry-out medianoche sandwiches (slow-roasted pork, sweet ham, Swiss cheese and pickles) and crispy potato balls. Wander the streets around here and you’ll spot a number of the ubiquitous yellow bags with brown type. When you get to the bakery, don’t worry if you see a line; it moves quickly.

If you’re looking to linger over lunch, head to the 1920s Spanish Colonial Hotel Figueroa in downtown LA. Visits here are part-culinary excursion, part-art walk. The lobby, which is lined with artwork that’s part of a rotating exhibition, is also home to Cafe Fig, where even the grilled cheese (served on sourdough with caramelized onions and slightly spicy mustard) feels like a creative endeavor. If it’s Sunday, however, I’m reserving my appetite for Chifa, a Chinese and Peruvian outpost in Highland Park. It does a dim sum lunch, where you can wash shrimp dumplings down with Inca Kola, only on Sundays.

L: Plush, Art-Deco themed lounge of Bar Lis: R: A peach-hued cocktail
L: The lounge area of Bar Lis at the Thompson Hollywood © Michael Mundy / Bar Lis; R: Cocktails are served at The 1894 at Vroman’s bookstore © Vroman’s

Aperitivo

For a drink pre-dinner or post-shopping, the 1894 in Pasadena is my go-to. It’s inside Southern California’s oldest and largest independent bookstore, Vroman’s, and, as you might expect, cocktails here are inspired by literature. Whiskey lovers should try the “Pitcher In The Rye”, while soju fans will like “Paradise Sauced”. Bar Lis, the rooftop lounge in the Thompson Hollywood hotel, is less literary, but more of a scene for people-watching — locals get dressed up to perch on striped bar stools and a famous face or two has been spotted here. The decor is Southern California meets the French Riviera, and the Summer Spritzes (Casamigos Blanco, Lillet Blanc, grapefruit, orange blossom water and bubbles) are as appealing as the Hollywood Hills views.

L: Dinner table featuring dry-aged branzino. R: plates of fried chicken
Head to Cobi’s for habenero fried chicken (L) or dry-aged branzino (R) with yellow-curry and mint © Cobi’s

Dinner

Cobi’s — a Santa Monica restaurant offering South Asian cuisine, including pork dumplings, wok-tossed veggies and curries (don’t leave without trying the butter chicken) — is worth the traffic. Plus, the homey decor (floral wallpaper, fringed lampshades and mismatched china) makes it feel like a meal at your favorite aunt’s house… if your favorite aunt was an antique collector in Thailand. 

It’s always a party at Carousel in Glendale, which serves up Middle Eastern feasts with convenient family-style ordering and per-person prices (from $28). When I’ve invited friends here, at least twice they’ve whispered as we entered, “I think this is a private party.” But that’s just the perpetually festive feel at this Lebanese–Armenian restaurant.

While you’d expect Middle Eastern food in Glendale, which is known for its Armenian population, you might be surprised by the neighborhood’s top-notch Peruvian. Lola’s Peruvian Restaurant offers authentic ceviches and saltados (stir fries) plus sides of yuca fried to crispy perfection. Across the street, tiki-decorated Damon’s, which has been around since 1937, will transport you to the South Pacific for a prime rib roast (Friday to Sunday only) and fruity cocktails — peruse the menu with a mai tai in hand.

L: Interior of Lolo Wine Bar LA featuring a leather couch looking out onto an LA street. R: Plates of olives, melon, ham and wine
Sink into the comfy leather couches at Lolo Wine Bar where you can enjoy natural wines (and seriously good food) © Lolo Wine Bar

Bar 

Bar Chelou is perfectly situated next door to the Pasadena Playhouse for a post-show drink. For martini lovers like myself, I recommend the Olivette (gin, St-Germain, dry vermouth and bitters). If you’d like a bite, the place is also a full-service restaurant (self-described as a “weird kinda-French bistro”), but the dedicated lounge area, surrounded by tropical plants, means you can wander in for only a cocktail. Another favorite spot of mine is Lolo Wine Bar in East Hollywood. Take your pick from the extensive wine list — I’m always a fan of a natural orange — and settle into the candle-lit, couch-lined bar area. Finally, if you’re looking to cut loose, Zebulon in Frogtown is an indoor-outdoor, not-too-cool-for-school dance spot with live music and themed DJ sets, like ’80s nights and “indie sleaze dance parties.” Boogie for a song or two, then pull up a barstool or hang outside in the beer garden-style portion of the venue to enjoy the LA night air.



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